(Persia Digest) – In an interview with Persia Digest, Ruzbeh Zahraei from the editorial staff of “Nashr-e Karnameh”, said: “The cookery book by Najaf Daryabandari entitled ‘Ashpazi-e Mostatab az Sir ta Piaz” [A-Z of Delicious Cooking] currently in its 26th print represents the culture and civilization of a nation for the author. It is not merely a question of satisfying hunger.”
In honor of World Food Day, we turned the pages of Najaf Daryabandari’s cook book – one that has become a source of reference for all Iranians. The publisher was the late Mohammad Zahraei at Nashr-e Karnameh Publishers. Talking to Najaf about writing his book and asking his views on food and cooking in our days was also not possible due to health reasons. We contacted Ruzbeh Zahraei, the eldest son of Mohammad Zahraei, at the publishing house to discuss the book. As he said, although he was just a little boy then, he is perfectly familiar with the A-Z of the cook book and Mohammad Zahraei's promises and talks with Najaf.
Ruzbeh is on the editorial staff of the publishing house. This is what he had to say about the book: “I was just a child then, but still remember the A-Z of the cook book. Nafaj and his wife, the late Fahimeh Rastkar, together with my parents cooked every recipe in the book over and over again to reach a good result for the book. The book was published in 1999, but I must say that it took nearly fourteen years to get everything ready before actually writing it. It all began when we were invited to dinner at their house one night. Najaf had made a delicious fish dish for us. He cooked as a hobby every now and then was truly a good cook. Fahimeh Rastkar set the table and said ‘Here we go, Najaf has made this. He cooks sometimes and makes notes’, and she winked. But my father wouldn’t let go after that and asked him to sort out and organize his notes on the dishes he had made.”
Ruzbeh Zahraei pointed out that Najaf had learned how to cook when he was in prison, and said: “Najaf was in charge of cooking for his inmates when he spent time in prison in the 60s; this sparked his enthusiasm for the art. He went on to cook as a hobby and make notes of what he made. Later, these very same notes became his cookery book.”
Zahraei continued: “Najaf’s handwritten drafts were 30 pages altogether. This was enough to get the book going. After fourteen years of experimenting and nonstop follow-ups by my father, Najaf finally produced his ‘A-Z of Delicious Cooking’. My father’s insistence that the cook book should be printed by a particular literary publisher was scorned by some. There were those who laughed at Najaf as soon as they heard the great translator and penman was writing a cook book. But the two of them carried on relentlessly and achieved their goal, because their outlook on food and cooking was important. Not only did they not consider it as a mere process of making something to eat, they believed that cooking was a pillar of civilization and culture. Twenty years ago, cooking was just to satisfy hunger. Today, the top chefs in the world are looked upon as artists.”
On the subject of food being a symbol of civilization, he said: “A culture that has foods from ‘ash reshteh [legumes, fresh herbs, and noodles] to ghormeh sabzi [meat, beans, and herbs] to gheimeh [diced meat, split peas, tomato paste], and can also produce Persian carpets filled with imagination and uniqueness, when the oldest ‘pazirik’ carpet is from Iran, these are all the signs of an ancient civilization and maturity.”
Zahraei points out to the chapters of the book which looks at various schools of cooking and studies their roots: “Why are we indifferent to food and cooking when part of our being, our physique, must remain healthy through eating. If you read the introduction to the book, you will see that it deals with Persian and Roman cuisines amongst others. Najaf has a different outlook on cooking and says that Persian cooking is one of the pillars of this art; and now, we have a long list of dishes made in Iran.”
Najaf Daryabandari wrote the book ‘Ashpazi-e Mostatab az Sir ta Piaz” [A-Z of Delicious Cooking] with the help of his wife the late Fahimeh Rastkar. In August 2017, the book was registered as a ‘Legacy of Food Preparation as a Living Human Treasure’ by the Cultural Heritage Organization of Iran as an intangible human heritage. Daryabandari is one of Iran’s most prominent literary translators who has translated many valuable books by great authors, such as Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, Mark Twain, Samuel Beckett, Federico Garcia Lorca, and many more, into Persian.