Ideene, another good friend from Michigan State who now lives in LA, is a first generation American. Her parents immigrated from Iran in their twenties. She has close ties with her Persian relatives, and travels to Iran to visit them almost every year.

I stayed a night at Ideene’s apartment in Beverlywood. The next morning, while drinking tea at the kitchen table, we tossed around ideas for lunch. “Have you ever eaten Persian food?” asked Ideene.

I mulled it over. Nope. I didn’t even know what Persian food was.

Little Persia, LA (a.k.a. Westwood Boulevard) was only a couple miles down the road. Ideene, a fluent Farsi speaker, played tour guide. There was no better time or place to try Persian food — unless I was in Iran.

Little Persia - 1

Ideene picked Shamshiri Grill. After consulting me on what types of meat I liked and what sauces I thought sounded tasty, Ideene ordered for us, speaking to the server in both English and Farsi.

Almost every other patron was Persian or Middle Eastern. The last time I felt so out of place speaking English in America was when Kirk and I first moved to Rodgers Park, Chicago, where Spanish trumped English, specifically around North Clark Street.

We ate until we were stuffed. In the photo above, Ideene prepares to dig into the Koobideh Platter: a skewer of minced lamb seasoned with onions and spices with sides of Basmati rice and flame broiled onions and tomatoes. We also ate Shirazi salad (chopped cucumbers, tomatoes, onions and parsley), house stew, and doogh. Doogh?

Doogh is yogurt soda. It’s also one of the strangest things I’ve ever ingested through a straw, or ingested, period. Ideene ordered both the house doogh and a bottled doogh. The house doogh was flavored heavily with mint, which I preferred, because it gave the drink a refreshing bite.

I liked the food, though I don’t see myself craving it like I do Mexican food or sushi. Like any new cuisine, the more you eat it, the more familiar it becomes, the better chance you have at enjoying it.

If Persian main dishes took some getting used to, the Persian ice cream did not.

Little Persia - 2

Walking a few blocks north on Westwood took us to Saffron & Rose Ice Cream. It’s not the ice cream’s texture (which is similar to gelato) that makes Persian ice cream ‘Persian,’ it’s the the flavors — orange blossom, double date, saffron & pistachio, lavender, cucumber & watermelon — that make it unique. Orange blossom was my favorite, saffron & pistachio a close second.

I’ve always thought of ice cream — giant scoops of chocolate dripping down the sides of a waffle cone — as very American. Actually, the Persian Empire is credited with developing the first ice cream — grape juice concentrate poured over snow. (Read more on the history of ice cream.)

Thanks, Ideene, for the tour through Little Persia! ☼