Whenever people first meet me, they always want to know what ethnicity I am. I’ll admit, the combination is rare; my mother is Chinese and my father is Iranian.
Both of my parents immigrated to the United States in their youth and their relationship bloomed in Los Angeles, where I was born and raised. The cultures are radically different but one element ties them together: the strong food culture and affinity for rice.
For me, a life without rice seems unfathomable and unreasonable. Two of my favorite rice dishes from each of my cultures are Chinese sticky rice, or nuomi fan (糯米飯) and Persian chicken rice, tahchin polo (پلوته چين) — both of which have a sort of sticky consistency. Persians use fragrant, long-grained basmati rice, which is cooked in a pot with dollop of butter. A bit of saffron is added to the top of the plain rice to give it a vivid orange color which is strikingly similar to that of the robes of Chinese monks. Persian food combines sensations within the palate. You can often find a sour element within an aromatic stew. Tahchin polo is rich and savory and uses regular Persian basmati rice cooked with saffron, chicken, eggs, and yogurt.
The Chinese use medium-grained rice, which is great plain or with some seaweed. My recipe for nuomi fan is derived from my maternal grandmother, who says everything is simple as long as you prep the ingredients beforehand. She’s right but nothing compares to her own cooking. Her hands are like magic and her recipe for nuomi fan incorporates sweet rice with Taiwanese sausage, peanuts, dried shrimp, and dried Shiitake mushroom.
Below are the recipes. Ingredients can be sourced from any local Persian and Chinese market in Los Angeles. Westwood houses some of the best Persian restaurants and markets in LA County. I like to go to Super Sun or Jordan for my Persian supplies. Chinese food and markets can be found almost everywhere in San Gabriel Valley but I generally go to 99 Ranch Market for my groceries.
Growing up in a melange of cultures has expanded my tastes and given me a better appreciation for Los Angeles’ diverse food scene.
Chinese sticky rice, or nuomi fan
Iranian saffron and chicken rice, or tahchin polo