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Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Home From Iran With Fresh Spices — And Hopes

photo
Street vendor stalls in Caspian, Iran. (Azita Bina-Seibel)Azita Bina-Seibel, right, is pictured with her mother, Aghdas Zoka-Bina. (Courtesy Azita Bina-Seibel)Jams for sale. (Azita Bina-Seibel)View of Tehran, Iran. (Azita Bina-Seibel)A garlic vendor in Caspian, Iran (region on the Caspian Sea). (Azita Bina-Seibel)The road to the Caspian Sea from Iran. (Azita Bina-Seibel)A woman walks with eggs in the Caspian Sea port city of Nowshahr. (Azita Bina-Seibel)Scenic road to the Caspian Sea, at 10,000 feet. (Azita Bina-Seibel)A homemade samovar on the street at the Caspian Sea. (Azita Bina-Seibel)Azita Bina-Seibel talks with a worker near the Caspian Sea. (Courtesy Azita Bina-Seibel)A roadside restaurant in the countryside. (Azita Bina-Seibel)Finally at the Caspian Sea where sturgeon caviar comes from. (Azita Bina-Seibel)Roadside restaurant that serves soup, cooked on a wood-fired flat iron stove. (Azita Bina-Seibel)Garlic aged in vinegar. (Azita Bina-Seibel)

Azita Bina-Seibel was born in Tehran, but has owned and operated Lala Rokh, a Persian restaurant in Boston, for the last 18 years.

She returned this week from a visit to Iran, laden with suitcases of herbs and spices, as well as observations about modern day Tehran.

“You can find cumin here…but it’s not the same.”

It was Bina-Seibel’s first visit to Iran in five years, and it filled her with hope.

“It was sad five years ago when I went. I felt guilty for living the way I do here,” Bina-Seibel told Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson. “And now I see, well, they’ve adapted. They’re living and they’re successful.”

Families still picnic on the river bed, traffic still crawls along. And, Bina-Seibel noted with enthusiasm, artists are painting with more colors.

“Five years ago, I didn’t see that in their pictures,” she said.

Bina-Seibel started her career with an Italian restaurant, but her husband encouraged her to open a Persian restaurant.

Jams for sale. (Azita Bina-Seibel)

Jams for sale. (Azita Bina-Seibel)

She was hesitant because the Iranian revolution and hostage crisis were in the headlines.

“All the Persian restaurants at the time were closing,” Bina-Seibel said. “Some were being harassed.”

Today, she’s proud of her restaurant — not only the food, but the ability to share Iranian culture with Americans.

Bina-Seibel brought back four suitcases of herbs and spices to help her create those authentic flavors.

“You can find cumin here,” she said, “but it’s not the same.”

While the U.S. and Iran have a mutual mistrust, Bina-Seibel tries to be an ambassador of Iran’s rich culture of food, art and poetry.

“We wanted to bring that to people.”

Note: To see photos from Azita Bina-Seibel’s trip to Iran, including a drive to the Caspian Sea, click on the slideshow at the top of the page.

Guest:

  • Azita Bina-Seibel, owner of Lala Rokh restaurant in Boston.

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Robin and Jeremy

Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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