Life in Tehran in the 70's was not always easy for us foreigners. If you think Bali can be frustrating for business then think about a city that had grown from one million inhabitants to six million in less than 8 years. There was no infrastructure, not even a telephone directory.
One of the fun simple things to do was to visit one of the thousands of cello kebab houses with local Persian [now called Iranian] friends. Persia boasts a cuisine that goes back thousands of years and one that has influenced many others over the centuries.
Cello Kebab is the simplest of all! Unlike the way it is prepared in other cultures the rice is first washed in salted water. It is boiled and then drained. In some households even soaked overnight or the boiling/draining process repeated more than once. A large flat pan is buttered and the rice layered on top, sometimes using a pasta-type sieve leaving a cone of wet rice above the pan. Holes are then sometime drilled down through the rice mound and more slivers of butter are introduced, most of which finish on the bottom of the pan resulting in a burnt brown butter crust at the base of the rice, This crust [tah-dig], is often served cold the next day with salads of pickled garlic and fresh vegetables.
The resultant rice [cello] is the softest and fluffiest you have ever eaten. The accompanying kebabs [a mix of marinated meat served in whole pieces and in minced form] can be of lamb [the most common in Islamic Iran], chicken or beef.
Now you can eat Cello Kebab in Bali! The Persian owners of Passargad try to replicate the style and taste as much as is possible, I think they do a great job! Why the name Passargard? That was the first capital of the Persian Empire, the original name for the city that is now referred to as Persepolis.
Before the kebab try their Kashke Bademjan. Now I hate eggplant! Only number two in my book to courgette as the world's most boring vegetable. But this dish at Passargad is wonderful. The eggplant has been mashed and combined with mint, and topped with the most unusual liquid 'white herb' and finally with shredded fried onion. The result is most unusual and so appetizing.
Salads include a local one, the so-called Shirazi Salad, combining cucumber, tomato, onion and dry mint with lemon juice. Another memory stirred of Tehran, the incredible cucumbers filled with fresh pure water from the melting snow [yes, Tehran is at the end of The Himalayas with heavy snow in winter, up to -20 degrees, and temperatures of 40+ in the dry summer].
Being in a tourist area the café has to cater for a general trade as well as the specific Persian cuisine. Hence the number of general items on the menu, including Chicken Lollypops, Spring Rolls, etc. Even the compulsory offering of their kebabs with 'French fries' as an alternate to the wonderful Persian Rice.
At your first look at the menu you may think that the kebab prices are high. They are not. The kebabs are big and meant to be shared by all but those with the biggest appetites. The Passargad Special Kebab is in fact three kebabs, beef pieces, ground beef and chicken tikka. Certainly enough for 2-3 people when combined with an earlier starter or two. The Soltani Kebab combines one long skewer of tender marinated chunks of beef tenderloin with another of ground beef, again meant to be shared. The Barg is just the beef pieces on their own and the Bakhtiari combines pieces of beef and chicken tikka interspersed with slices of capsicum. There are also Lamb, Ground Chicken [a regular for me], Chicken with Saffron and Chicken Breast Kebabs. All have one thing in common, the meat is so tender. The marinade, spices and herbs used only add to the wholesome taste.
Along with your kebab comes a pile of that soft fluffy rice [do not even think about ordering French Fries!]. Beside the rice is a tub of butter. Forget your cholesterol problems, the butter is not for the toast but to add to your rice, chop it up and work it through with your fork. With the heavier kebabs [lamb and beef] an egg yolk may also be presented, also to be added to the rice mound.
Now experience the simplest of food ecstasy; tender chunks of meat with the world's softest rice!
And then there is the Ghaliyan [water-pipe, bubble pipe, shisha, call it what you may?]. Another part of the centuries-old Teherani way of life. Even if you are a lifetime non-smoker this is an experience you will enjoy. Scented tobacco is placed on top of the hot coals, the smoke is drawn down through the bowl of water and comes through cool and fresh. You could now be sitting at one of the many cafes surrounding Tehran's Grand Bazaar in the south of that ancient city.
Bali is forever adding to its broad range of cultural offerings in the ethnic cuisines that are available. Persian is one of the world's oldest cuisines and a welcome addition, particularly as it is being done with such care, at all times trying to be as original as possible. From time to time they may even offer such Persian culinary delights as Fesenjan, chicken cooked in pomegranate juice and ground walnuts. They only thing that can not be replicated here in Bali is that wonderful unleavened Barbari bread, eaten hot from the clay ovens.