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North Vancouver sandwich shop specializes in Persian classics

Lonsdale Avenue’s Hidra Sandwich features “Dah-e Shasti,” a category of Persian food that holds a special place for the generation that was born in the 1980s

Nostalgia is “a feeling of pleasure and also slight sadness when you think about things that happened in the past,” as defined by the Cambridge dictionary.

Around eight months ago, a family opened a restaurant in the heart of Central Lonsdale, North Vancouver. They claimed they brought the taste of traditional Persian-style sandwiches. Among Iranians, these sandwiches are known as “Dah-e Shasti,” and this category of Persian food is nostalgic for the generation that was born in the 1980s.

Zahra (Zara) Nikkhah, the restaurant’s owner, was born and raised in Iran and arrived in Vancouver four years ago as a student. She studied public policy and administration with a focus on social justice leadership at Adler University. Before managing the family restaurant, Zahar worked as an English as Second Language instructor in a non-profit organization that served immigrant and refugee women and children.

She remembers recent years after their journey started in Vancouver, “my son, started working as a helper and dishwasher in a Persian restaurant located in North Vancouver. After three years, he became a chef at an Iranian restaurant. Also, my husband started working as a manager at a different restaurant and now we are working together here.”

She finished her studies in April 2022, and then they chose to start their own restaurant. The name of the restaurant is inspired by her son’s name, Hidra. 

“The spark for the restaurant’s concept came from our son, he suggested we introduce traditional Persian-style sandwiches to Vancouver,” she said.

The menu offers a variety of foods, ranging from Persian old-style sandwiches like Sosis Bandari (spicy sausages and onion), Kuku Sabzi (Persian herb frittata), Kuku Sibzamini (Persian potato patties) and Kotlet (Persian meat patties), to modern options like homemade burgers.

“Our menu isn’t just about food; it’s a journey into the past,” says Nikkhah.

After the Second World War, traditional Persian-style sandwiches emerged in Iran. A few shops in Tehran, Iran’s capital, started selling sandwiches, smoked fish, and sausages, established by Armenians. These early sandwiches had sausages, bulky bread, pickled cucumbers, a bit of butter on the bread, and fresh parsley. By 1956, the sandwich trend spread beyond Tehran to other cities in Iran.

One famous fast-food spot in Tehran was Khazar Sandwich. The owner had a delicious idea to attract a wider audience, especially those not interested in sausage sandwiches. They offered different sandwiches like cutlet, chicken, and fish, according to a report published in a Tehran-based newspaper.

Nikkhah explained about maintaining unique ingredients or preparation techniques that contribute to the authenticity of their sandwiches.

“It was quite challenging to find spices that closely resemble the taste we remember from Iran,” she said. “Additionally, the flavors of all the ingredients here are quite different from what we were used to in Iran, especially with the bulky bread.”

They tried out different bakeries to see which worked best before they started the restaurant. “Finally, we found the right ingredients for the bulky. We also found a factory in Toronto that makes sausages just like the ones in Iran,” she said.

She recalls her final project when she was studying.

“The title of my project was Iranian Community’s Development in Vancouver.”

Nikkhah believes that such activities have an impact on bringing Persians closer to their community. The restaurant is more than just a business to them.

“The interesting thing is people from diverse backgrounds find our food [similar to] what they’ve tasted before,” she said.

Many Iranians live on the North Shore, more than 15,000 of them. “We offer not only food, but we’ve also managed to create a homely atmosphere.”

Hamid Jafari is a Vancouver-based freelance journalist who writes about the Iranian community in Canada, art, culture, and social media trends. His work for the North Shore News is supported by New Canadian Media. [email protected]