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August 23, 2013

Cultural Night: Iranian/Persian

We had our date night on a Friday. After work, we went straight to the only Persian restaurant in Tucson listed by Yelp called Ali Baba. We passed through several alley ways before finding the restaurant. Kelangan dumaan ng "Ali" bago "Baba" ng kotse. Wakoko!
First, we ordered an Ali Baba Platter containing several kinds of appetizers.

Hummus: This is a dip made of chickpeas.
Babaganush: This is a dip made of eggplant and yogurt
Pita bread (not pictured above): This is a common flat bread served with the hummus and baba ganoush dips. Pop is not really a fan of dips but he liked them in this case.
Tabbouleh: This is a vegetable salad with a vinaigrette-like dressing.
Falafel: These looks like a meatball but is made of beans. It has some similarity to buchi.
Stuffed Grape Leaves: This looks like a suman with grape leaves as wrapper and sour rice as stuffing. Although I like sour foods, this one is somewhat weird tasting for me.
Overall, there were a lot of flavors on the platter.

For our drinks, I ordered the cucumber lemonade (since I saw that it had a good review on Yelp) and Pop initially ordered yogurt drink but they ran out of stock so he ended up with saffron lemonade. The two lemonades looked very similar to each other so I don't really know the difference but they were both very refreshing. I will try to replicate that cucumber lemonade someday.

For the main course, I ordered Lamb Shank with Saffron rice while Pop got the Beef Shawarma Plate. The plates were huge so we weren't able to finish it and had the leftover for takeout. I didn't know that saffron rice is just a fancy name for yellow rice so I was expecting rice with actual saffron in it. As expected, the lamb was gamey which was somewhat a mistake on my part as my teeth were sensitive at that time. Since I am not a usual lamb eater, I thought I was just too full from eating the appetizers that's why I didn't taste it as much. But when I ate it as leftover, I realize that the lamb is not really that flavorful. As for Pop's shawarma, this was actually under "Mediterranean Specialties" not "Persian Specialties" on the menu (which we have a separate draw lot category for) but he has been craving for it so I allowed him to order it. His comment: the meat was not tender and it was not the shawarma he was used to back home.
They also have some Persian desserts on their menu but since we were already full we passed.

For our activity, we tried hookah. Ali Baba also has a hookah lounge beside the restaurant but we later found out that it was already closed. :(
The restaurant referred us to another nearby hookah bar named Casablanca. As we have no experience with Tucson's nightlife, the place looked shady to us but the server was really friendly and helpful, always fixing our hookah and telling us about the dynamics of the place. According to her, we were on the "laidback" area of the place and the party/music are usually out back.

It's a good thing we ate dinner somewhere else judging from the "cleanliness" of their toilets but it was an ok place for hookah and free wifi which allowed us to do some last minute research on hookah smoking which is not as harmless as we thought it was so feeling hipster lang kami for a moment there. 
Disclaimer (to our future kid/s who might read this): We are only mimicking the Iranian culture by trying some hookah from a legitimate establishment which only contains the smallest amount of tobacco with fruit flavoring. Smoking is still dangerous to your health. 

Some other aspects of Persian culture include that can be explored:
  • Poetry: According to wiki, Persian literature is one of the world's oldest and best known literature. Unfortunately for us, none of the titles seem familiar to me.:p
  • Carpets: We could have gone carpet shopping but they do not come cheap and we do not have a necessity for it as of now. Carpet cleaning also doesn't seem to be a sexy thing to do on a date night.:))
  • Gardens: The Taj Mahal is one of the largest Persian Garden interpretations in the world. Given this, I initially suggested going to the botanical garden but we already did that when we went to Tohono Chul.
  • Soccer: I believe this is a popular sport in Persia but it is also a popular sport in other countries.
  • Persian cats: I thought of going to an animal shelter to find one but I have no plans of adopting a pet.
After the our night out, we headed home to watch the movie. Going with the supposedly Ali Baba pattern, we watched Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves from Amazon. 
While watching, I later realized that Ali Baba is not really a Persian movie. They keep mentioning "Baghdad" which is in Iraq! Since it was already late, we did not bother to change it to Prince of Persia, Aladdin or Sinbad which could probably have been more appropriate. We still don't know the differences between Persian/Iranian, Mediterranean, Middle Eastern and Arabian. If there is a Venn diagram out there on these then it would help us on our succeeding cultural date nights.:))

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