By Kuheli Bhattacharya Rane
One of the best things about living in a popular holiday destination is the opportunity to meet people from interesting places and backgrounds. Many who journey through Goa have lost their hearts to this place and found themselves a new home. One such couple is the Irani duo Anita and Sam, who now run a bed and breakfast called Café Tehran in Candolim and they are open for lunch and dinner for guests as well.
Anita and Sam Khosroshahi had originally thought of opening an Indian restaurant in Iran, lucky for us then that they decided to open an Iranian place in India instead. Thus, Café Tehran. The seating is very much like sitting in the backyard of a house, open air, and under the trees. The house itself is the lodging where they have four rooms to let. Done up in complimentary colours and paintings of elfin women, the interiors are eclectic and reminiscent of Persian mystique.
It is said that every Persian dish is a pretext to break in to verse. Persia is well known for it’s gastronomy and poetry. The names of the dishes itself have a lyrical quality. We began with Doogh, a savoury yogurt based drink with dried mint and Mohammedi flower; it is not unlike the gujarati chaas.
The omnipresent hummus and another dip known as Kashke Bademjan made from roasted eggplants hint towards the Ottoman influences in the Persian cuisine. Aubergines in fact are known as the “potato of Iran” due to its popularity in their cuisine.
The kebabs are the highlight of café Tehran and are a carnivores dream come true. Vegetarians I am sure they have options for you as well, but we enjoyed our meat fest too much to enquire about the vegetarian options. Succulent chenjeh kebabs, which were charcoal grilled chunks of lamb, were followed by shishleek, which tasted a lot like the Indian Seekh kebabs but with saffron and a middle eastern spice mix. The joojeh kebabs were moist tender pieces of chicken in a tangy tomato dressing. The kebab roli, which are roullades of chicken with crunchy carrrots and crisp cucumbers in the centre, give a sense of healthy balance.
Delightfully different and yet comfortingly familiar, these kebabs were reminiscent of the northern frontier cuisine, so very loved and appreciated in India that we call it all ‘Mughlai’, but there are finer nuances to each of the regions in the middle east, including Iran.
Accompaniments or mokhalafat are essential to every Iranian meal and it includes a plate of fresh herbs known as sabzi khordan. The sabzi khordan on our table were plates full of fresh coriander, cilantro, basil, mint sprigs, and radish. Mouthfuls of fresh greens between morsels of meat are the Iranian way to a balanced meal of meat and veggies.
Next came the rice dishes. Tahchin or rice cakes are essentially steamed rice cooked with yogurt and chicken or meat. The golden brown rice at the bottom of the pan turns crisp and when the pan is served upside down while the crusted crisp rice from the bottom of the pan ‘tahdig’ holds the rice together in the form of a cake. The tahdig not only looks visually appealing but adds texture to the savoury pulao type dish.
The zereshk polo was a sweeter rice dish with carrots, pomegranates and dry fruits. Both the tahchin and the polo reminded me of the Indian pulao and biryanis. Just when I was craving for some ‘raita’ to go with my ‘biryani’ along came the mast-o’khiar, which is a yogurt and cucumber dip with salt, sugar and dry mint and tasted not surprisingly just like the familiar raita.
Dessert of sholezard an overcooked rice and sweet milk payassam-kind of dish. Yakh dar behesht which loosely translates to ice in paradise is a delicately flavoured cold pudding of milk, sugar and starch along with spices. They were cold and smooth and literally skated along the tongue to their most satisfying end.
Irani cuisine has been celebrated across India, whether in the form of the renowned chelo kebabs of the iconic Peter pan on Park Street, Kolkatta, or the Irani chai in the by lanes near Charminar, or the kheema pao breakfasts at the Irani cafes in Mumbai. Falooda and sheeshas have been ambassadors of the Middle East for long, and for a taste of the Arabian nights we now have Café Tehran in Candolim.
Candolim can be tricky to find stand alone Bed and Breakfasts since there are so many this time of the year, but follow the road behind Ducle hospital, and along Sonesta Inn to get here.
By Kuheli Bhattacharya Rane