For Creative Loafing Atlanta. September 2018.
“Get yourself a Persian friend. Just show interest in their culture, and the next thing you know, they will invite you over to their house,” says Samira Shakib Bregeth, an Iranian-American English teacher at Roswell High School and advisor for news and opinion website VOX. She and others I spoke with assured me that Persian people in Atlanta love to interact with people from other countries and welcome them to learn about Persian culture.
Bregeth has seen the Persian Festival in Atlanta grow from a few hundred to over 13,000 attendees, transitioning from Red Top mountain to Piedmont Park as its new venue. There are tents made to look like a bazaar with food, vendors, music, and dance, and it is always held on the first day of spring, which also marks Nowruz or Persian New Year. Festivities are held for 13 days at the Persian Cultural Center – Kanoon. These include a shopping festival that offers things Bregeth says are hard to make at home. “This is where you can buy things to put on your haftseen (ceremonial table) ),” she explains, “such as fruit, puddings, coins, candles, painted eggs — each symbolizing spring or renewal.”
Because their new year symbolizes the rebirth of nature, Persian families and friends spend a lot of time outdoors during this time. “You will see us at the Chattahoochee River enjoying picnics eating kotlets made with meat and potatoes; Persian sandwiches made with French bread, mint, and feta cheese; and lots of watermelon,” Bregeth says. They also make a bonfire and jump over it to get rid of sickness and to “burn away” the past year’s bad energy and welcome the new.
Leila Safay was homesick when she first moved to Atlanta in 2010. She, too, saw Kanoon as an opportunity to meet people from her community, and she enrolled her kids at the center for Farsi language and piano lessons. “We celebrate winter solstice, called Shab-e Yalda, by getting together with family and friends, eating watermelon, seeds and nuts, and predicting our fortunes from the poetry of Divan-e Hafez (a book of divination),” she explains. “Here people postpone the celebration to the weekend and host Yalda parties at their homes.”
Both Safay and Bregeth are happy to go out of their way for the Persian products found at the Super Global International market, a Persian grocery store that started in a strip mall and has expanded to three locations over the years. It carries imported products that are found in most Persian kitchens — saffron, cardamom, turmeric, loose-leaf teas, Persian rice, lavash bread, traditional cheese, pickled cucumbers, sweets, and more. Safay, who left the country to be an independent woman and is now a successful realtor, says the spices and foods “just taste different, and make you nostalgic for growing up in Iran.”
When not cooking at home, both women like to go to Rumi’s Kitchen for a meal. “Everyone loves it, Persian or not!” says Bregeth. “It’s consistently delicious.” The establishment has grown into a hip restaurant that the Persian community is proud of, known for its quiet, intimate meals featuring favorites such as Zafron’s koobideh kabobs and ghormeh sabzi (an Iranian herb stew)
Leila’s 12-year-old daughter Jasmine, who was born in the U.S., gives me some tips on Persian etiquette: “We allow elders to talk first, eat first, and we show them utmost respect. We don’t address men and women by their first names, but call them ‘Aunt’ and ‘Uncle.’ Also, when you meet someone for the first time, you may shake hands and bow, but close friends air-kiss on both cheeks (mostly not to spoil one’s makeup),” she adds with humor. It is also customary to take sweets and flowers when invited to a home, and to call to thank your guests on the following day.
Making friends in the Persian community is easy. It starts with a passing conversation, a slight compliment, and ends in a dinner invite and long-lasting friendships.
Where to Experience Persian Culture in Atlanta
Super Global International Food Market
11235 Alpharetta Hwy., Ste. 109, Roswell. 770-619-2966.
The go-to grocery store for Persian ingredients such as loose-leaf tea, flatbreads, and baklava, at reasonable prices.
6435-A Roswell Road N.E., Atlanta. 404-257-9045.
One of the oldest Persian grocery stores in Atlanta, founded in 1985. They moved from Doraville to Sandy Springs and sell herbs, spices, pastries, cold cuts, etc.
Sandy Springs: 6112 Roswell Road, Atlanta. 404-477-2100.
Avalon: 7105 Avalon Blvd., Alpharetta. 678-534-8855.
Modern Persian restaurant popular with locals and out-of-towners. It has an open kitchen and an impressive wine list.
236 Johnson Ferry Road N.E., Sandy Springs. 404-255-7402.
Most popular restaurant among the Persian community, serving traditional cuisine in an elegant setting.
1814 Peachtree St. N.W. Atlanta. 404-888-9699.
Good option for in-towners craving kabobs, Cornish hen, and aromatic rice.
Divan Restaurant and Hookah Lounge
3125 Piedmont Road, Atlanta. 404-467-4297.
In 2017, Iranian chef Peyman Rostami returned the restaurant to its traditional roots, adding a modern twist. He formerly cooked for the King of Oman and has a culinary show on Persian TV Channel 7.
Culture and Festivals:
Persian Cultural Center of Atlanta – Kanoon
3146 Reps Miller Road N.W., Norcross. 404-303-3030.
To learn Persian language, celebrate Persian holidays such as Mehregan, Yalda and Nowruz, as well as special Province, Poetry, and Music nights.
Atlanta Persian Festival
Piedmont Park, 1320 Monroe Dr. N.E., Atlanta.
Annual cultural event held in spring at Piedmont Park showcasing music, ethnic food, crafts, and kids’ activities. Free to public.
Ballroom-style ticketed event that brings together Persians, Afgans, Kurds, Turks, and whoever celebrates Nowruz. Parties organized by the Persian Cultural Center of Atlanta feature folklore dances, live performances, food, drinks, and more.
Joseph & Friends (hair salon and spa)
Five locations. www.josephandfriends.com
Started by Iranian immigrant Joseph Golshani, this multicultural, full-service salon has been around since 1989.
~ Written for Creative Loafing Atlanta