So here is another review that is a long, long time overdue. I have been cooking from Sally Butcher’s book, Persia in Peckham (Sunday Times cookbook of the year) for over a year now and it remains one of my favourites. For those of you not familiar, the book contains not only some incredibly exciting recipes, but is also jam packed full of passion – for the food of Iran and its culture but also for the community in which Sally and her husband live, Peckham. She brilliantly conveys the message that, although Peckham gets a rough deal in some respects, it is still one of the most vibrant and buzzing communities in London – and I agree. After all, it is practically my manor – being just a short walk away.
I’m not the only one who is a massive fan of Sally’s recipes. Sam and Sam Clark of Moro fame are firm friends and fans. The first time I wrote about Persia in Peckham (a recipe for Persepolitan roast chicken), I also wrote about Moro East, completely unaware that the respective authors knew each other. Tuned in to some cosmic food energy maybe? My reason for visiting Persepolis on this occasion was for the final ingredient in a recipe I have been working on for years and one that I have finally, finally perfected. What is it? Well you will have to wait until next week to find out. I am going to bask in my own private glory until then. Of course, they had the ingredient. It was like slotting the final piece into a jigsaw puzzle and for that I am eternally grateful.
The shop, Persepolis, is exactly the same as the book in that it is like opening the door on an Aladdin’s cave. On entering, you are greeted with bright colours, floor to ceiling excitement, exotic ingredients crammed into every nook and cranny. Intoxicating smells waft across from the huge selection of sweets and baklava in the window display.
I spied these smoked sturgeon minding their own business in a quiet corner. The shopkeeper (Sally’s husband? sorry I forgot to ask your name amidst my excitement! Edit: Sally has since informed me that his name is Jamie/Jamshid), explained that this Iranian delicacy is traditionally eaten at New Year, fried or steamed and served with herbed rice (usually dill). Apparently it is delicious but is incredibly salty, so you therefore only need a very small piece.
I walked around the shop, frantically scribbling on a scrappy piece of paper, just to make sure I didn’t forget anything.The shelves are absolutely jam packed with all manner of spices, herbs and exciting jars of undiscovered foodstuffs.
There are dried fruits, including sour cherries (SO delicious), sour orange peel, figs, limes and seeds, including roasted and salted and black melon seeds, which I shall be rushing back to get my grubby little mitts on (visiting the day before pay day, perhaps not the best idea….).
I also want to stock up on some of the exotic teas, along with dried flowers – chamomile flowers, rose buds and ‘green flowers’.Time to start working out what to do with them!
You can also buy all manner of legumes, lentils, dried herbs (sabzi) and mixes for falafels, pasta for ash-e-reshteh (a kind of soup) and reshteh polo (Iranian noodles).
All ingredients are offered up with a good dash of humour. This is exactly the kind of thing I love about shopping in small independent shops, the personal touch. You wouldn’t get that in Tesco now would you?
Food isn’t the only reason to visit Persepolis though, you can find tagines, rugs, hookahs, tea sets, books, ‘I love Peckham’ stickers, shoppers, t-shirts and even greeting cards. Yes, greetings cards, specially commissioned with a unique Peckham stamp.
This is what makes Persepolis special, not only do the owners keep their shelves stocked with the most dizzying array of ingredients, they are a true local shop. Sally is a passionate and active member of the Peckham community, hosting story-telling evenings, promoting local events and artists and even producing a newsletter to keep us up to date on the whole lot. Yes, Peckham has its problems but Sally does what many others don’t and that is highlight the positives. The community is a proud, diverse and vibrant one and Persepolis is right at the heart of it.
28-30 Peckham High Street
0207 639 8007
Persepolis is open from 10.35am – 9.59pm (yes really) – 7 days a week.