Herald’s ethnic affairs reporter and devoted foodie Lincoln Tan visits unique restaurants around Auckland.
Herald Lincoln Tan, ethnic affairs journalist and devoted foodie, introduces you to a world of restaurant delicacies hidden around Auckland.
Getting Iranians to dinner at a Persian restaurant is not easy, says Reza Sarkheil, because most believe that the best food is at home in their mother’s kitchen.
But what happens when the restaurant’s chef is an Iranian – Reza’s mother – and the dishes she prepares come from family recipes handed down from generation to generation?
“Iranians find solace in home cooking, especially when they are abroad and away from their families, what they crave the most is authentic home cooking,” said Reza, 38, owner of Rumi, a Persian restaurant in Parnell.
His mother Shahla Sarkheil, 64, runs the restaurant’s kitchen as a chef.
Persian cuisine in Rumi is actually Iranian, but Persian is used as Iran is historically known as Persia in the West and often used by the Iranian diaspora.
When some Iranian nationals who worked on the the Lord of the Rings The film set came to Rumi to ask for some home cooking, they jumped at the chance for a dinner of dolmeh felfel (stuffed pepper) and dolmeh bedemjoon (stuffed eggplant).
Dolmeh, or stuffed dishes where vegetables like peppers and eggplants are used as containers filled with other foods, have been eaten for centuries in Middle Eastern countries.
In Iran, it dates back to at least the 17th century, when eggplants, cucumbers, cabbage leaves, and quinces were cooked stuffed with minced meat, rice, saffron, and sautéed mint.
In Rumi, dolmeh felfel and dolmeh bedemjoon are two of the traditional dishes available by special order for Iranians keen to taste at home.
Reza says that preparing and cooking dolmeh takes time, and its stuffing can also vary based on individual preferences, which is why they are only available by special order.
“Dolmeh is grandma’s food, and is usually lovingly prepared by the grandmother who cooks dinner for their grandchildren,” he said.
“I grew up eating this, especially in the winter when it gets a little cold, but with every bite you can feel grandma’s love and it warms you up.”
The filling may vary, depending on the level of spice and whether the consumer is a vegetarian.
Traditionally, the ingredients used for the stuffing include ground beef, chopped parsley, mint, tarragon, rice, leek, onions, turmeric and green onions and boiled in a chicken-based sauce. or vegetables with tomato paste.
“It takes a bit of skill and knowledge of how to cook for the texture of the vegetables to become soft enough, without collapsing, however,” he said.
Reza first moved to New Zealand in 2006 and sponsored her parents who came in late 2014.
Three months after their arrival, Reza launched Rumi with a menu largely inspired by his mother’s cooking and family recipes handed down from generation to generation.
“I honestly think my mom’s cooking is the best, and of course I couldn’t wait to share it with the rest of Auckland,” said Reza.
“My father, who is now 68, has been in the hospitality business since he was 18 and he supported the idea of opening Rumi because there is a lack of authentic Persian food here in New Zealand. . “
He said they took a risk and opted for an all Persian menu that people “would love or hate”.
“But I’m sure after six years, and judging by the number of regulars, including the Iranians, I think people like it,” Reza said.
Reza said he opened Rumi for two main reasons: to give his parents something to do in New Zealand and to share his mother’s mouthwatering Iranian dishes.
“I know that few New Zealanders can get the chance to go to dinner with an Iranian, but I think they can have something even better in Rumi and my mother’s kitchen,” Reza added.
• Rumi, 251 Parnell Road, Parnell; https://www.rumi.co.nz