Bahar Anooshahr is the Arizona Republic’s newest food reporter

Food is a central theme in my life and always has been. I don’t just eat food. I read it, watch it, listen to it, give and receive love through it. Food inspires me.

As the firstborn of an Iranian immigrant family, I was expected to be a doctor or an engineer (nowadays Iranian parents also accept lawyers) while getting married, being the best wife and having awesome kids. No pressure!

Of course, I followed the rules. I became an oral and maxillofacial surgeon, the only woman in our male-dominated program, while getting married and at least trying to be the best wife. But neither of them felt well.

I found myself increasingly dissatisfied with the life I was meant to live. What gave me joy during this difficult time was discovering new restaurants, cafes and food stores. This is where I met friends and discovered new flavors.

It took time and some internal work to realize I was on the wrong track. That’s where Phoenix comes in. The Valley has a special meaning for me because that’s where I discovered my calling.

Armenian and Iranian flavors: This Little Phoenix Showcase Serves Up Huge Skewers

A key meal in the Sonoran Desert

I moved to Phoenix in 2014 and started writing freelance while working at a cancer center. Then, in 2019, I attended a Cloth and Flame community dinner in the Sonoran Desert.

As I was walking through the nature reserve, my eyes fell on a 100 foot long wooden dining table. Delicate lights hung from poles above the table. Servers decorated place settings with flowers and plants from the surrounding terrain. Half of the guests faced the mountains of Rincon, the other half faced the sunset. The setting was breathtaking.

Our dinner turned out to be a multi-sensory experience: the layers of flavors and aromas of the food mingled with those of the desert evening. The sound of new friends’ voices as they told stories was punctuated by the occasional touch when someone asked me to pass a plate.

During that meal, I realized that for the first time in years, I felt like I was where I needed to be.

As I wrote about the experience, I decided it was time to commit to food writing full time. Since then, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting so many people in the Valley doing unique things with food. By telling their stories, I fell even more in love with the flavors of the desert.

How my cultural background has shaped my relationship with food

It turned out that my Iranian background prepared me well for a career in food writing.

In Persian culture, food is at the forefront. Iranians plan lunch while they have lunch and plan dinner while they have lunch. Meals are seated, either at the table or around a sofa on the floor. No televisions. No device. Just friendliness.

We solve every disease with food, or at least we try. There are specific foods for celebrations and others for mourning.

Iranian cuisine is all about balance. Foods are divided into warming and cooling categories, which are independent of temperature, intended to bring harmony to the body. The best way to describe it is that foods that increase metabolism or blood pressure heat up and those that decrease it cool the body. Dates (not the ones you’re continuing on) warm up, while grapefruits cool down.

Iranians take this concept seriously. I was once in a restaurant in northern Iran and asked for yogurt. They refused to bring it to me because my dish, sabzee polo and mahi contained fish, which cooled, just like yogurt.

“We can’t risk you getting sick,” they told me.

Every memory I have of friends and family members is related to food.

Auntie Z loved different cheeses and charcuterie. She preferred to order on the spot, because her time was too precious to be wasted in the kitchen.

Aunt G cooked my favorite rice dish, albaloo polo, sour cherry rice, with perfectly even penny-sized meatballs, which she served to me on Disney plates.

Mom recruited me as her sous-chef when she was baking sweets for Nowruz, the Persian New Year.

At a recent gathering, my cousins ​​reminded me of when we climbed the mulberry tree in their backyard in Tehran and ate so many blackberries we had stomachaches.

I now have a mulberry tree in my garden, one of my favorite lights. A few afternoons a week, I stand in its canopy, chop down the branches, and savor its sweet berries.

What I’m trying to say is that for me, food was never just food. It’s who we are. It’s history, identity, culture, community. These are differences, but also similarities.

The stories I’m most looking forward to sharing

The love of sweets is in my DNA.

In “The Language of Food,” writes Dan Jurafsky, “it was the Persians whose love of desserts was the impetus that ultimately transformed those simple wafers and nuts into our modern desserts.”

Nowadays, when you visit an Iranian’s house, your host insists on dessert because “it helps digestion”. I don’t need such an excuse.

For me, dessert is a daily ritual. A small piece of chocolate every evening. Struffoli, an Italian Christmas dessert consisting of small fried balls of dough arranged in the shape of a wreath, drizzled with honey and sprinkled with Christmas-themed sprinkles every December. Torta de la Nonna, the Italian cream tart with a flaky crust and velvety cream, a nod with the hint of citrus from Grand Marnier on days when I feel like it

Because of my sweet tooth, I’m especially excited to share the stories of the valley’s amazing bakers and pastry chefs. But beyond my own desires, I simply like to listen people’s stories and audience why they entered the food or beverage industry. Their creativity fascinates me.

I care deeply about celebrating diversity and advocating for greater food security and equity. My goal with each story is to provide you, dear readers, a new nugget of knowledge. Maybe the story of an ingredient, or how a particular protein works, or an intimate detail about a culture you didn’t know before. Something that reminds us that food isn’t just food – it’s the stuff of memories, comfort and connection. It’s a reason to put aside our differences for a moment and share a delightful experience together.

Read my first story: A huge luxury grocery store is coming to Scottsdale

Contact the reporter at [email protected] Follow @banooshahr on Twitter.

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