Every few years my maternal grandmother would replenish our pantry with essential goods from Tehran. A brown box covered in stamps depicting the Islamic Republic’s propaganda or faces of its leaders, would arrive on the shores of our doorstep like a bottle from the sea. An ancient message from a distant land, “Don’t forget us.”
The box’s modest size was deceptive. You could feel that it was ready to burst like a distended belly after Thanksgiving dinner. Mom would run a knife through the packaging tape. The box exhaled the unmistakable scents of Iran – a melange of turmeric, rose, saffron, kashk, ghara-ghoroot, zereshk, various roasted and salted nuts, dried herbs (dominated by tarragon and dill), esfand, and the sharp tang of lavashak. Bless the Lord!
Buried somewhere deep in the heart of it all was my grandmother’s advieh.
Advieh is the Farsi word for spice, and like most Persian grandmothers mine had her own special blend. This would have been her “secret spice”, the je ne sais quoi of her cuisine.
The aroma from grandmother’s advieh triggers episodic memories encoded in the bridge of my nose. Memories of a perfect steaming spread at some mehmooni (dinner party): gormeh sabzi, fesenjoon, khoreshteh ghaymeh, a large platter of morasa polo, a clear glass bowl of Shirazi salad, and torshi on the side. It’s an intoxicating whiff.
Mom just returned from Tehran. She believes this might be her last visit with grandma – it’s almost sunset. She returned bearing gifts. A trove of the old familiars, including a large clear plastic bag of advieh.
This was a precious gift. I had been using my supply from years ago sparingly, but was nearing the end.
Yesterday, I was pouring the advieh into a Mason jar and before the bag was emptied, I stopped and looked up at my daughter, “This might be the very last jar.”
A lump started to form in my throat.
She put her hand firmly on my arm. “Save some to remember,” she said, “we don’t have to use it all.”