Umpteen years ago, Foodie Spouse and I were married in a garden in Tehran, Iran, after finishing up a stint with the Peace Corps teaching English. So it seemed appropriate to have an anniversary meal the other day at Pars Restaurant here in Albuquerque.
Fesenjoon with rice, roasted eggplant, yogurt with cucumber----all those years ago, mind you, we were eating chicken and lamb--this time, amazingly, we were able to have fesenjoon--a sublime sauce that combines pomegranate juice with orange juice, onions, and ground walnuts--just as a vegetarian dish. ( We do sample organic critters some, especially after our book-researching trip to France, but rarely.)
The Persian owner of Pars left Iran in 1976---I asked the waiter if we could speak with him and he came out from the kitchen, a weary-looking man, who indicated that he must tread warily when talking about Iran. Many diners love the food but have no clue about Iran---Persians are not Arabs, for example--or Iraq for that matter. ( Iran/Iraq, same thing. Kind of like Iowa and Idaho. ) I joked, lamely, that we figured we might have taught English to some of the young Iranians who held hostage the Americans during the Carter administration.
The combination of the anniversary and the increasingly bellicose language in the media towards Iran pushed me to seek out this man, a PhD-holding teacher, and to acknowledge his country's ancient culture, tasty food, the positive interest of its well-educated young people in America, and so on.
Despite all, however, even with geography no longer taught in schools, increasingly I think Americans who travel and sample differing cuisines are appreciative of the colorful cultural histories of places and people.
An excellent book on Persian cookery is this one by Najmieh Batmanglij, an Iranian we knew in Washington, DC.
BTW Has anyone else noted that in recent years the term "Mediterranean Cuisine" is often used instead of Persian Cuisine in restaurant signs?