The crackling of saffron-colored rice fried on the bottom of an old saucepan was the sound of dinner in my household when I was growing up. The intense scent of a herbal stew called Ghormeh Sabzi wafted through the rooms as it simmered for hours. These are some of the most moving memories of my childhood. Like most American-born Iranians, I probably won’t be walking the streets of Tehran and seeing the crowded Grand Bazaar where my parents buy roasted pistachios or walking along the Darband River where local teenagers hang out in the near future. But the intense flavors of Persian cuisine are forever anchored in me – my connection to my Iranian roots was nurtured through the food and close community in my hometown of Los Angeles.
Iran is a country with a complicated history and people who are widely misunderstood and mired in geopolitical turmoil. It is estimated that during the Islamic Revolution in 1979 nearly 2 million immigrants left Iran in exile in hopes for a better future. Over 500,000 of them have found refuge in LA, where they now belong to the largest group of Iranians outside of Iran. “My family, and probably many families who are fleeing their country, think they will return,” said Maz Jobrani, an Iranian-American comedian and actor in Los Angeles. The reality is that most of the Iranians who left during this period would never return to their homeland.
Many Iranian families settled in Southern California in the 1970s, although large communities also exist in New York, Washington, and Texas. “I think it’s so funny how culturally we are all similar, even though we are so many scattered all over the world,” says Jasmin Larian Hekmat, founder and CEO of the fashion brand Cult Gaia.
Since the first Persian store in LA opened on the corner of Westwood Boulevard and Wilkins Avenue in the early 1970s, the area has become a hotbed for juicy kabobs and expensive ruby saffron threads at specialty markets, earning Westwood the nickname Tehrangeles. In 2010, the City of Los Angeles officially recognized the corner of Westwood Boulevard and Wilkins Avenue as Persian Square.
To really understand the essence of our culture, one has to sit down to eat. “For us, everything revolves around food,” says Larian Hekmat. This local guide to the Iranian neighborhoods in Los Angeles gives you a sneak peek of the intimate community that surrounds them – through what many consider to be the best Persian food scene in the country, of course.
Kabobs are a staple in Persian cuisine.
Where shall we eat
On a drab strip of Santa Monica Boulevard in West Los Angeles, Darya is a no-hassle eatery that serves up the juiciest kabobs many locals claim to be. Order the Naderi Soltani, a combination of koobideh (beef) and barg (filet mignon) skewers, or go lighter with the salmon kabob. However you order, the restaurant “transports you to Tehran,” says Sam Nazarian, founder and CEO of the food and beverage platform C3. He also loves the tahdig – the burnt rice delicacy of my childhood.
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