Op-comic: Family traditions and acquired tastes

A man with an "Iranian Cooking for Dummies" book on the phone ordering two pizzas.
On my first trip with Emelie to visit my parents, my mom made us my favorite Iranian dish. I'd never noticed it was sour.

The flavors of Emelie's childhood are pepper, garlic and mayonnaise. Mine are cardamom, rose water and dried lemon.

They are also mysterious. In my twenties I tried to learn to cook Iranian food, but it is labor intensive and I am impatient.


Iranian food is associated with the sofreh, a cloth on which food is served. To spread the sofreh means to "set the table."

But in my childhood the appearance of the sofreh usually meant someone had died, usually someone who lived back home in Iran.

My parents left Iran as teenagers, early in the revolution, not knowing they would not be able to return home for a decade.

After my parents were allowed to visit Iran, they'd go to attend funerals. They'd return to America as ghosts themselves.

My 3-year-old Elika and I are learning to cook together. Like her mother she has grown up with mayonnaise-based flavors.


Elika and I set the sofreh often. [Man and daughter, both wearing headbands, sip tea.] A tea party is enough of an occasion.

Navied Mahdavian is a cartoonist and writer. He is a contributor to the New Yorker and author of the forthcoming graphic memoir “This Country: Searching for Home in (Very) Rural America.”