“Shiraz (1) – a city in southwest Iran situated near the ruins of ancient Persepolis, a centre of Islamic culture and trade.
Shiraz (2) – the name used in Australia for Syrah grapes and wine, from Shiraz (place name), where the wine supposedly originated.” (Collins English Dictionary)
One word; two meanings… In different cultures, each meaning is not only presumed, but is culturally significant. Change cultures or context and you could quite easily be misunderstood.
Shiraz, the name of this restaurant, is only the start of our cultural education. We are visiting Shiraz to learn about Persian cuisine; to find out how the history of an ancient civilization has influenced the culinary traditions of Iran today.
Iran is a mountainous country with an ethnically diverse population, holding considerable power in world politics due to its huge reserves of natural gas and petroleum. It’s the centre of the kingdom formerly known as Persia, one of the world’s oldest continuous major civilizations. Iran forms a bridge between the Middle East and the Far East in the centre of the ancient Silk Road, a major trading route for tens of thousands of years. As Ancient Persian traders took their wares to the corners of the world they traded goods, bringing back the eating habits and products of Greece, Rome, Turkey, Russia and India. So, Persian cuisine carries many influences, just as Persian products such as pomegranate, saffron and spinach were adopted into other cuisines.
We’re eager to learn more about the food and culture of Iran, and ask Erfan Jalilian, son of one of the restaurant’s owners, to guide us on our journey. He’s just completed a Master of Event Management, and is presently fulfilling the role of Marketing Manager of Shiraz. We ask Erfan whether Shiraz’s menu is typical of food eaten in Iran today.
“Iranian cuisine is very diverse,” he tells us. “Dishes as well as food habits vary from region to region. Kebabs are the best known Persian food in Australia, but for most Iranians they are a ‘going out’ food, eaten only at festive events. In south-west Iran, however, they eat kebab frequently.”
“In large cities, rice and bread are the favourite staple dishes. Rice is slow-cooked, a process involving washing, boiling then steaming. Much of our meat is slow-cooked as well. We have both Chelo (plain rice) as well as Polo rice here at Shiraz. Polo is like a pilaf, cooked with other ingredients, and there are many variations on this dish. Our very favourite rice is Tahdig, the crispy rice or golden crust which forms on the bottom of the pot.”
With kebab already well known to us, we look elsewhere on the menu, deciding on one of the rice dishes: Baghali Polo or Green Rice – rice cooked with a mixture of broad beans, dill, herbs and Persian spices. Served with slow-cooked Lamb shank, it reminds me how a humble staple can be formed into an inspiring dish in the right hands! (At $18 this is the most expensive dish on the menu!) We also enjoy Fesenjān, a thick chicken stew made from pomegranate paste and ground walnuts, served with rice and salad garnish ($15). The Shiraz Special Mixed Plate offers a great opportunity to try a mix of meats, together with rice and salad – a great dish to share.
Each dish contains the balanced subtle flavour of spices both known and unfamiliar, as well as varying textures – not haute cuisine, but the home-style comfort food of another culture. This is a great place for vegetarians to enjoy, the mains supplemented by dips, breads and soup. All food is Halal.
As Erfan speaks of food his face lights up, laughing as he describes Iranian versions of food from other cultures: ‘Persianised spaghetti’ macaroni, boiled then steamed like rice, soft and mashable; Persian pizza with loads of topping and tons of cheese; a Halal ‘ham’ sandwich; Halal hot dog, again with lots of sauce, onion and cheese.
“Most of all, in Iran food is indulgent and extraordinary. It makes up a major part of both our family festivities and our nightlife. It’s common to go out to a movie, then to dine out; the streets are full of people, with restaurants closing around midnight. For us, food is a great hobby and a major part of life.”
As we sit sipping Persian tea from an exquisite cup, enjoying tiny sweet morsels of baklava, listening and learning, I’m reminded of the words of Fernand Point, the Master of French cuisine:
“If the divine creator has taken pains to give us delicious and exquisite things to eat, the least we can do is prepare them well and serve them with ceremony.”
We could have walked right past this unpretentious restaurant however, if we had, our journey would have been far less interesting.
3106 Surfers Paradise Boulevard, Surfers Paradise Ph: 07 5679 3941
Open: Sun – Thurs 12 noon – 10pm; Fri – Sat 12 noon – 11pm
Note: Shiraz is not licensed; neither does it allow BYO. There is 2 hours’ free parking available just around the corner in the Bruce Bishop Car Park.
This review is updated from a post first published in August 2013.