Madi Jahangir – In my last trip to Ardabil, I wandered around the Sheikh Safi mausoleum to buy some Black Halva, Ardabil’s traditional sweet confection. I was also looking for a place to have a local meal for lunch. After spending some days in the city, I had come to realise that finding a restaurant in Ardabil could be quite a challenge. I should have possibly spent more time in the city to learn the lifestyle, but unlike the way I was used to in Tehran and Caspian provinces, Ardebil’s residents did not seem to have such culture of dining out.
However, it was very easy to spot the Sheikh Safi Halva store just the other side of the historic place. The old shop owner was very generous and offered me to taste some Halva for free with his sweet Azeri accent. “Is there any traditional restaurant around here?” I asked. He did not even think twice and showed me a direction: “Sheikh Safi Dizi house. You can eat best Shurba in Ardabil.” Name of the restaurant did not surprise me though. Many shops around the area were named after Sheikh Safi, the famous Sufi scholar and the pride of Ardabilis. Meanwhile a girl who had just arrived at the shop, jumped into the conversation: “Go now. The Shurba is nonexistent after one PM.” I asked if the food is good. She nodded her head with pleasure: “It tastes heavenly.”
Heavy, oily and calorie-wise not so friendly! They say Dizi, which is often called Shurba in Azeri provinces, sustains the workers through a long day, because it is very filling and has high calorie count. It is a thick stew made from lamb,chickpeas, potato, tomato, onions and Iranian spices. They often eat Nan Sangak (stone bread) dipping in Dizi liquid. To be honest, I am not much fan of such heavy Iranian dishes. But the shop owner and the girl insisted that Sheikh Safi is something which I shouldn’t miss out.
We walked 200 meters away from the Halva shop and almost at 12:00 PM found the sign of Sheikh Safi Dizisara aka Dizi house . We went down the stairs and were welcomed by the smiley receptionist: “You want Dizi, right?” Seemed it was a common question because even though the restaurant offers a menu of different Iranian dishes, most costumers come to taste the Dizi.
There were many types of pickles and yogurt on the counter to choose, from which we ordered some and the home-made yogurt drink as well. The restaurant was clean and simple. There were benches available decorated by Iranian rugs and cushions for those who want to have a complete Iranian experience. They brought our Dizi in those typical heavy ceramic pots on a metal tray. For each of us there was a metal masher available to mash the thick stew, an empty bowl and bread on the side.
They say Iranians are very romantic about their food. Every Iranian dish has a story behind it and special tradition for serving. Eating Dizi has its own techniques too. First the soup and the ingredients are separated and the liquid is poured into the empty bowl. The flat bread – which is often Nan Sangak – is cut into small pieces and dipped in the soup. Then the leftover in the ceramic pot is mashed by masher. The two are eaten by pickles and yogurt drink.
Following the traditions, the process of eating Dizi went well and we enjoyed the food before the peak time. I learnt from the friendly staff that Dizisara is a rendezvous place for many people in Ardabil, including the university students. I was very happy that I listened to the advice of the girl. Unlike my previous experience, the food was very light and not too heavy. The price was as cheap as five dollars for two servings ( including pickles and those huge yogurt drinks topped by dried mint and dill.) The bread was excellent enough that we ordered some more as take away. And Sheikh Safi Shurba, indeed, tasted heavenly!