I love reading books that marry a good story with good food as these are two of my favourite things (books/reading and food!). So when I saw this book a few years ago I just had to have it. But like many of you I buy books, buy more books and then as if I didn’t have enough I actually buy yet more books. Then the TBR pile just gets bigger and bigger and finally a couple of years after you found that great book you actually read it.
Pomegranate Soup by Marsha Mehran is a book about family, life, hardships, friendship and how food becomes a language most people can and will relate to. The story revolves around three sisters, Marjan Aminpour (the oldest sister), Bahar (the middle sister) and Layla (the younger sister) who escaped Iran during the revolution fleeing to London then onto a small Irish village called Ballinacroagh. From the first paragraph I was drawn into this new world, this sleepy Irish town, the scents, sights and sounds that leap off the pages and into your heart.
Marjan, Bahar and Layla are all so very different yet they all hold the same family values, always looking after each other even when times were tough. Having fled the revolution they realised they would have to make a new life using the skills and knowledge they had from their past and for Marjan this would revolve around food. She talks of the smells of herbs and spices, the healing powers of these same herbs and spices and the use of food in bringing people together, making people feel welcome.
Marjan has a real love of food, planting and growing herbs, cooking wonderful fragrant recipes and sharing her spoils with others. Bahar is a nurse who escaped a bad relationship when they left Iran and is still trying to find her way in the world but struggles because of the fear. And Layla, still young and adventurous, is excited by the prospect of a new life and a new love. Although this is a story of their life they aren’t the only great characters in this book and that is why it is such a wonderful tale. From the first page (quote page 1:- Had Thomas McGuire stopped to admire the fanfare of saffron rays, he might have missed the beginning of the end of his rule over the sleepy seaside town) you’ll find Thomas McGuire is going to be a force to be reckoned with. A publican and business owner he believes he owns and rules Ballinacroagh, averse to change if it isn’t his idea!
And so the story begins, the three sisters moving to Ballinacroagh, renting the old Delmonico pastry shop from Mrs Estelle Delmonico and changing it into ‘The Babylon Café’. Mrs Delmonico, the widow of Luigi who ran Papa’s Pastries for many years until his death, misses her husband, loves a good feed and believes in the same ideals as Marjan, that food brings people together and heals the soul. She becomes a frequent fixture in the café and in the story.
Other great characters are Dervla Quigley (town gossip and busybody) along with Father Fergal Mahoney (the cafes first customer and all round good guy), Malachy McGuire (one of Thomas McGuire’s sons) and mini-mart owner Danny Fadden (who has a liking and belief in Fairies and fairy tales). The characters (and there are more) in this novel are what makes it a joy to read. They each bring a tale, a personality and laughter to the story, they fill the pages with life, love and in some cases even hate.
But one of my favourite things about this book is it revolves around food. Each chapter begins with a Persian recipe which is related to in that chapter. It doesn’t overtake the story, it is there, it is part of the story, it is an ingredient in that chapter (and beyond). This is not just a story of the lives of three women but a story about food, about bringing people together, about experiencing new ways of life and about healing.
Your senses will come alive with each page you read, you can almost smell the fresh herbs and spices, the pots of Red Lentil Soup bubbling on the stove top or that sweet honey syrup that has just been poured over warm baklava. You can see the flames dancing and hear the pans hissing making you feel as if you are right there in the kitchen with Marjan, you can almost taste the Abgusht, the Elephant Ears and the Torshi. But best of all you feel the friendships made over food, with food and because of food. Have I made you hungry yet?
There are many ups and downs throughout with moments of laughter, sadness, grief, joy and love. It will make you think of others and the hardships some people did and still do endure to start a new life in another country but it also brings out the good in people, the kindness and friendship that is handed out by the many decent and moral people of the world.
It is a wonderful, joyous book to read and a book for those that may be adventurous with their cooking as there are numerous recipes you can try. I just loved the names of the dishes and even though I may not try to make them all (I may try a couple and if I do I will share the results with you) they all sound exotic, tasty and wonderful.
“She liked to remember that above all else, above all the unfortunate connotations of death and winter, the pomegranate was, and always would be, the fruit of hope.”
I now look forward to reading the next one ‘ROSEWATER AND SODA BREAD’.