Maman’s Homesick Pie: A Persian Heart in an American Kitchen by Donia Bijan
“My mother had been dead eight days when I showed up in her kitchen.”
Bijan caught my attention from her opening line, and never released it. The blunt notice of her mother’s death warned me that the book was likely to be bittersweet, and that is precisely how I found it. Her story is heart-wrenching at times as she is caught up by the Iranian revolution and forced to forge a new life in America. Her father’s struggle to accept and adapt to his life outside of Tehran and his beloved hospital and work. Her mother’s strength and courage and adaptability.
I loved the stories of food, and the recipes after each chapter that relate to the stories told in that chapter. I never tried any of them, and according to her notes, they aren’t truly authentic Iranian recipes. Because her life was spent not only in Iran, but also France and America, she reflects these three cultures and cuisines in her food.
Bijan’s tale made me want to go into the kitchen and cook the food that reminds me of home and family. It made me want to call my parents and tell them I love them. It made me want to start teaching my children about our food and history. And it made me want to cry for her, for all she lost both as a teenager, and as an adult.
For Donia Bijan’s family, food has been the language they use to tell their stories and to communicate their love. In 1978, when the Islamic revolution in Iran threatened their safety, they fled to California’s Bay Area, where the familiar flavors of Bijan’s mother’s cooking formed a bridge to the life they left behind. Now, through the prism of food, award-winning chef Donia Bijan unwinds her own story, finding that at the heart of it all is her mother, whose love and support enabled Bijan to realize her dreams.
From the Persian world of her youth to the American life she embraced as a teenager to her years at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris (studying under the infamous Madame Brassart) to apprenticeships in France’s three-star kitchens and finally back to San Francisco, where she opened her own celebrated bistro, Bijan evokes a vibrant kaleidoscope of cultures and cuisines. And she shares thirty inspired recipes from her childhood (Saffron Yogurt Rice with Chicken and Eggplant and Orange Cardamom Cookies), her French training (Ratatouille with Black Olives and Fried Bread and Purple Plum Skillet Tart), and her cooking career (Roast Duck Legs with Dates and Warm Lentil Salad and Rose Petal Ice Cream).
An exhilarating, heartfelt memoir, Maman’s Homesick Pie is also a reminder of the women who encourage us to shine.
Love food memoirs? Luisa Weiss’ My Berlin Kitchen was featured earlier in the series, and I included links to lots of my favorite food memoirs in that post if you still want more.
To see all the books featured in 31 Days of Great Nonfiction, go to the series page.
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