In my husband’s suitcase there are sixteen different kinds of homemade jams and pickles, mostly made by his five older sisters, some of fruits that do not even grow outside of Iran. One such is the Cedrate citrus: an orange without segments. There is a jar of ‘lité’ chutney, made of aubergine, grated carrot, black cumin seed, parsley, coriander, and several vegetables we don’t even have names for here. There are five kilos of white rice, a lifetime’s supply of tart, ruby-red zereshk (barberries) and fruit leathers made of sour cherries and barberries so tongue-shrivellingly sour you need an Ibuprofen to be able to eat them. There are boxes of kuluché biscuits stuffed with walnuts and pistachios, balls of cotton candy in vanilla and chocolate, and bars of nougat. He even brought back digestives. Apparently they are better from Iran.
Food. Most of what his enormous clan has sent him back with is edible. It is as though this effect on our stomachs is the three thousand mile long embrace of the warm, generous, slightly over-concerned family I think fondly of. Even in my attempts to learn his language I am practising my verb drills on the template of ‘I am cooking pancakes’: man daram pancakes dorost mikonam.
I am not a natural chef. My dinner tonight, sitting at the computer, has consisted of two scraped carrots, a lump of goat’s cheese and a handful of sunflower seeds. It sometimes irritates him that I am thrilled to get in an hour’s reading instead of flustering about the kitchen, preparing the next ingestion. Food is not a language we communicate in well. To make things even more complicated, we don’t speak to each other in English, or Persian, or culinary metaphors, but Spanish. We met in Spain, the only place he’s lived outside of Iran. I was born in Granada, but grew up in Essex, land of my Viking-blooded father. Coming back, I wasn’t sure if I was coming home or going into exile.