I’m American Now, but This Persian Dish Will Always Feel Like Home

Joojeh kabab is a classic grilled chicken kabob from Iran.

August 12, 2019
Photo by James Ransom. Food Stylist: Olivia Mack McCool. Prop Stylist: Amanda Widis.

When I was packing my suitcase in May 2015 to come to the United States, I decided to pack light. I was starting a new life with my husband and knew that we wouldn’t have a permanent place for some time, and I dreaded the thought of carrying one massive suitcase around the country.

A few shirts, jeans, a couple pairs of shoes, and a dress were all I decided to pack, alongside ruby barberries and a small jar of saffron, for times of emergency—and by emergency, I mean deeply missing my family and where I come from.

From the day I moved to the U.S., I knew I had to blend in if I wanted to make it work. And I was excited about everything: the people, the music, the food! Never in my life had I seen Korean, Indian, Mexican, and Middle Eastern restaurants sitting next to each other on a street, across from a Scandinavian store. It was all new, and it was all exciting. I didn’t have time to stick to my Persian food for every meal because there was so much else to try. And I appreciated my husband, Kyle, who enthusiastically tasted each cuisine with me and made my early years in America a wonderful experience.

Shop the Story

But then it hit me. As I was going around trying all the different food and soaking in the diverse cultures around me, I started missing everything back home. In particular, I was desperate for one taste of home: saffron.

Luckily for me, I had brought some saffron and knew just a pinch of it would be enough to bring my happiness back. That day I made my saffron-barberry rice, which was the right antidote to pull me out of my homesickness. I realized then that as much as I wanted to blend in, a part of me was always going to be Iranian, a part that will just get bolder and bolder as I spend more years in the U.S.

Fast forward to April 3, 2019, when I walked into the Citizenship and Immigration Services building to give up my green card and become a U.S. citizen. It was a surreal event, seeing all these people from different countries and cultures, all gathered in one place to take an oath to become Americans, and to call this land home. It was a bittersweet day for me.

As we took the oath, it felt like I was entering a new phase of the American Dream, where I’m actually not 100 percent American, nor 100 percent Iranian anymore either. I’m something in between.

It’s a strange feeling, this being part of two worlds. You can’t choose one and stick to it, and you can’t give up either of them. It’s like going back and forth between your past and your present, trying to bring pieces from the former and stick it to the latter, to make sure your future is some semblance of both worlds.

I still haven’t had my first McDonald’s (and I probably never will), nor have I had a Pop Tart yet. But I visit farmers markets and sip my coffee on the porch on Sunday mornings like my American neighbors. And I think that’s the beauty of becoming a citizen of a new country later in life: You can choose home, and home can choose you.

I’m now an American citizen, and I’m going to barbecues like one. But there’s one difference: alongside the burgers and hotdogs, I’m going to make a large batch of saffron grilled chicken kabobs every time I turn on the grill. Because I come from the land of saffron, but the land of burgers, I call home.

Have you ever tried these grilled chicken kabobs? Let us know in the comments below.
Listen Now

On our new weekly podcast, two friends separated by the Atlantic take questions and compare notes on everything from charcuterie trends to scone etiquette.

Listen Now

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

Shadi HasanzadeNemati is a food writer and recipe developer at Unicorns in the Kitchen. She loves a good tahdig and her favorite spice is saffron.

1 Comment

Mark R. August 12, 2019
Welcome. This is how it works, and thanks for bringing the saffron.
Don't discount McDonald's, I've found over the years that the pickle can make the burger, and they stick to the canon on this, you may find some interesting intersections there (the burger not necessarily MickeyD's) with tomato, pickle, and mustard. 'Tis America - the meat is but the platform.