With cheesecake in one hand and Iranian tea in the other, my co-worker April and I felt extremely welcome as we sat with Golriz Boroomand and her mother Haideh on Monday afternoon.
“What brought your family to Vancouver?” I asked.
This question sparked what turned out to be hours of shared stories on their history, Persian food, recipes, and art.
In 1972, Haideh and her husband Kayoomars moved to Kingston, Ontario with their 1 year old daughter, Golriz, so Kayoomars could finish his medical degree.
The 70’s in Kingston were not the most exciting of times. The winters were long and cold, and apples, oranges and bananas were the only types of fruit you could find in stores. The Boroomand Family moved to Vancouver where Dr. Boroomand started his practice in Cardiology. , They lived in a 3 bedroom house in West Point Grey, and after the Islamic Revolution in 1979, many of their family members fled Iran and came to join them in Vancouver. The house had as many as 14 people living in it at one point.
At first, it was difficult to find the foods the family was accustomed to eating back in Iran. Pomegranate, eggplant, fresh figs (or “fruit of heaven” as they were called), were not readily available. Rice, the Iranian food staple, had to be bought in Chinatown in huge burlap bags that felt like “lifting a body”. Frequently used in Persian cooking, these ingredients were not available in Vancouver in the late 70’s early 80’s. Adapting to her new home, Haideh developed a taste for using oregano and paprika, spices that were found easily in Vancouver.
We asked to see Haideh’s kitchen. There, they showed us a range of unique spices like quince seed, which is great for a sore throat, and dried lime, an essential ingredient in Persian chicken soup. Rose water, real Persian Ceylon tea (‘not the tea bag kind’), saffron stick rock candy for stirring the tea, and Turmeric are other Persian ingredients that the family no longer have any trouble finding in Vancouver’s many Persian markets.
In the living room where we devoured our lemon and coconut cheesecake, this family has collected many captivating works of art that speak to their Iranian heritage. Brightly colored paintings were befitting to our conversations about culture, food, identity and migration. We were grateful to hear the fascinating stories and recipes that our hosts shared with us and we left with filled stomachs and hungry minds. Talking with Golriz and Haideh made us reflect on our relationship with food. Have you made compromises when making a dish from your heritage under different circumstances? What ingredients, tastes and smells remind you of home?
As we continue our investigation and research for the upcoming podcast on food & Jewish identity we look forward to the unpredictable pathways that will take shape.
Alisa Lazear and April Thompson are JMABC Museum Assistants for summer 2016. Through the course of the summer, they will be researching the ways that food plays an integral role in continuing family traditions within our community. If you would like to contribute to this project, or be interviewed for it, please contact the JMABC office at 604.257.5199. Alisa and April’s positions have been made possible through the generous support of two programs offered by the Canadian Government: Canada Summer Jobs and Young Canada Works.