Updated 19th Nov 2014; This restaurant is closed according to Urbanspoon.com.
Of late, Suanne and I had been trying to make our dining out a learning experience. This all started from our gastronomic tour of Spain. In the tour, we had taken on an entirely new perspective of food. We had come to appreciate the origin of the cuisine and how it had evolved over the years — stories behind food.
Growing up, we carried the view that Chinese cooking is supreme in the culinary world. We thought it had by far the widest variety and the longest history. Even the culture of the Chinese people are centered around food … i.e. the Chinese celebrate the new year, birth, marriage, birthday by banqueting. Why, even at a funeral, food is part of the ceremony. Fasting? Virtually unheard of.
So we were intrigued by cultures which has a long history in the area of culinary arts. The more we read about them, the more we wanted to find out more. One of them is the Persian cuisine. In the learning process, we understood the pride that Iranians have in the rich heritage of their cuisine.
Suanne and I arranged to meet up with Mohammad and his lovely wife, Ilham. I asked that he recommend his favourite Persian restaurant. Being such an overly considerate person that I had known him to be, he suggested one place that is the most convenient for us … in downtown Vancouver instead of North Vancouver where the best of Persian restaurants are situated.
We met in the Darya Restaurant. Darya is located on a side street called Pendrell, just off busy restaurant row of Denman. The location of Darya is somewhat hidden and you will most certainly miss it unless you drive into Pendrell from Denman.
One tip about parking here … you know how difficult it is to get parking around the West End. Now, if you could not find a parking spot, you can actually go in and ask the owner and he will let you have the keys to the car park underground.
Darya labeled themselves as a Persian AND Mediterranean restaurant. This is quite common practice for Persian restaurants in Vancouver because not a lot of people understand and appreciate pure Persian cuisine. So to broaden the appeal to western customers, some Persian restaurants tag on the “and Mediterranean” label to the name. I felt it is unfortunate because the Persian cuisine is one of the richest and oldest in the world.
Darya is a very clean and pleasant restaurant. It is a self-service restaurant where most customers order and pay at the till. When we were there, we did not even had to order at the counter. Instead, the owner asked us to get seated and came by to take our orders.
We started the meal with some appetizers. We got something called Dolmeh Grape Leaves ($10). It is leaves wrapped with rice. We get a choice of hummus or salad.
There are many variants of Dolmeh with a lot of regional differences. This is a simple dish and is stuffed with rice. It is served cold and taste-wise, it is sourish.
The other appetizer is called Mirza Ghasemi ($9) which is an appetizer unique to North Iran. North Iran has the richest in culinary history and the region is rich in food produce.
Mirza Ghasemi is smoked eggplants, tomatoes, garlic & onions sauteed in extra virgin olive oil.
Suanne and I did not understand this part where it says “sauteed in extra virgin olive oil”. There are many types of olive oil for different purposes. For all we know, extra virgin olive oil is meant to be used for salad and for dipping. We thought that one should never use extra virgin olive oil for cooking because it burns easily.
The Mirza Ghasemi was really delicious eaten with the pita bread … and a healthy appetizer too.
The Baghali Polo Mahicheh … oh man, this dish is awesome.
I would just call this the Lamb Shank Rice but Mohammad was saying that it is not just any rice. It is basmati rice with fava beans. When he said that it just dawned on me that Persians take a lot of pride in preparing their rice. I learned that there are many ways that rice are prepared and many of them involve a complex process.
For the Chinese who eats a lot of rice, cooking the rice is a simple affair and often it is the only no-frill items on the table. Not in the Persian Cuisine. The rice must be perfect. I remember Kazem (an Iranian friend at work) used to tell me that rice used to be a food for the privileged and for special occasions. As such a great deal of care is placed in making it perfect. I remember I was quite amused when Kazem told me that in Iran, a prospective daughter-in-law is often judged by her ability to make the perfect rice (and tea).
I like the flavour, fluffiness and texture of the rice. It is not starchy like those in East Asia. As much as I thought this was perfect, Ilham complained that there were … (more…)