Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Dizi at Nersses Vanak

Let's expand our knowledge of Persian cuisine a bit, shall we?  Dizi, also known as ab-goosht, is a Persian soup dish that my mom used to make when I was a kid.  I haven't had it in well over a decade. I returned to dizi after this gaping hiatus, last week, at a strip mall Armenian Persian spot on San Fernando called Nersses Vanak, and I'm extremely glad I did.

Let me tell you about the dish.  Dizi is a tomato-based soup, long-simmered with chunks of lamb meat, chickpeas, and potatoes.  It's got a dark acidity that sometimes borders on intense bitterness, from limoo amani -- small limes boiled in brine then dried in the sun until they're hardened and black in color.  Just a few ingredients, but the magic is in the eating.  After everything's cooked together, the meat and chickpeas (and sometimes the potatoes as well) are strained out of the broth.  They're pounded together to make goosht-o-nokhod, a dense, nearly-spreadable mash that's served alongside the broth.

As we entered Nersses Vanak, we walked into a smallish, slightly fancy dining room with red and pink walls with a bit of ornate trim.  On the far wall, World Cup was playing on a flatscreen, and as the lunch crowd rolled in, every diner was a minor variation on my own dad.  

The young guy manning the whole room -- speaking English to us, Persian to another table, and Armenian to the guys in the kitchen -- started us off with bread. It was the restaurant's spin on taftoon, and it was excellent: fresh from the oven, thicker than lavash, less dense than Indian naan, softly pillowy, and especially delicious when we sandwiched in a bit of the fresh basil and sweet onion that accompanied it.  

Then he brought out my dizi, and I felt a little hesitation. There is a bit of ritual to eating the dish, and as much was I wanted to appear real-deal Persian, I was a little rusty.  At Nersses Vanak, you can have them make the goosht-o-nokhod for you, or you can opt to mash it yourself.  I'd gone with the latter, curious about the unusual gadget they'd give me for the job.  

So, he brings out my dizi in a very old-country looking metal mini-urn, along with a bowl for serving and the masher, something like a round meat mallet, but with its handle up-and-down instead of sideways.  (I didn't ask, but I'm pretty convinced that both of these contraptions come from Iran.)

He also brought out a basket of yet more bread, in this case lavash that had been dried in the oven until crisp.  "For tellit," he said in an adorable mix of English and Persian, the idea being that you break up the bread into pieces and throw it into the hot broth, oyster-crackers-in-clam-chowder style.  

He graciously strained the broth from the barrel-thing into my bowl for me, saving my fingers from the burning hot vessel. I got to mashing, getting hungrier by the second, the scents of the soup wafting up as I worked.  I threw in my lavash bits, scooped in some of my meaty garbanzo-y mash, and dug in.  

My dizi was comforting and delicious, and for the first time, I really got it:  you start out with a bowl of somewhat insipid broth, but the lavash melts into and thickens it, the goosht-o-nokhod slowly spreads through, getting moistened by the broth, and the texture of the whole thing changes completely.  Each element gives to and takes from the others, and you end up with a singular, fully integrated food, hearty and filling.

Nersses Vanak is at 6524 San Fernando Rd., just south of Western in Glendale.


  1. This dizi looks incredible! I have to try it out next time I'm in L.A. Definitely agree with you that there are so many layers to Persian cuisine. I love that you are revealing more of them.

    1. thanks Sara! you should definitely try it out!