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Finding Myself Through Tahdig

IRYNA HUMENYUK, HOST: Now for the next in our series of Personal Perspectives, reporter Desiree Nikfardjam tells us the story about how she tried to prove herself to everyone only to discover no one cared as much as her


As an Iranian-Canadian, I am always finding ways to level up my Iranian-ness. I grew up in Toronto, Canada, and I’ve never been to Iran.

Most of my family lives in Germany or the US, and so we’d travel to those places frequently. But never Iran. Any time I would ask “When can we go?” My parents would respond “It’s not a good time.” 

This long distance relationship only made me want it more. I felt like I was missing something crucial to my being Iranian. My mom was always playing Googoosh around the house. She’s like the Persian Beyonce. To this day, whenever I hear her songs, I have flashbacks of my mom and aunt standing in the kitchen belting them out for the rest of the family - completely off pitch. 

I was always surrounded by family. When we’d go to my grandparents' apartment for dinner, you could smell the khoresht - that’s Persian for stew - down the hall as the elevator doors opened. After dinner, we’d drink cardamom tea and often have long discussions about Iran which all fed into my fascination; the history, the politics, the culture. 

But I was worried my family didn’t consider me Iranian enough; I wasn’t born in Iran, I couldn’t read Rumi poetry like my grandfather, and I’d never even tried their street food - like cooked beets with a pinch of salt, after all I’d spent my life in Canada. So, I figured if I couldn’t go to Iran, I would bring Iran to me.

During Covid, I moved back home - where my grandparents were living too. They don’t speak English. Naturally I started speaking farsi more. At one point my sister and I translated the entire marvel franchise for them. Explaining the intricacies of the Marvel universe is already complicated. I had to figure out how to explain a story arc of a character who transforms into a giant ant to help save the universe from aliens - all in Farsi. I started listening to classic Iranian pop music more. I stole a 4’x6' Persian rug from my parents house to put in my room at Uni. 

I was slowly checking off my list of all the things that made me Iranian. But tahdig became my Everest. In case you don’t know, allow me to introduce to you the most wonderful form of rice. Tahdig is the rice from the bottom of the pot. That’s what it literally translates to: ‘tah ye dig’. Tah means bottom and dig means pot.

Tahdig is the best thing ever. And I’m not being dramatic. It’s crunchy and greasy and has a beautiful golden colour, Plus it’s not just rice, some make it with pita bread or even sliced potatoes – my personal favourite. 

The challenge is that you don’t know what it looks like until you flip your pot over and show it to the world. If you do it too early, the form will be weak and break apart. But if you wait too long, you risk burning it, then have to fight with everyone over who will sacrifice themselves and eat the burnt parts – that excessive politeness … is just the Iranian way. 

I’ve only tried to make it on three occasions because to tell the truth, my heart needed a chance to recover whenever I messed up. Each time, I posted my progress on instagram - for all my family to see. I wanted them to say “wow, look at this North American Iranian girl - she crushed it!” And they did, my cousins and uncles sent heart emojis and even gave me tips for next time. But the thing is, I haven't crushed it. Every time I’ve posted it’s been a disappointing tahdig. 

But that’s okay. I realized that I was the only one who was measuring my Iranian-ness. And that’s not something you can measure - like rice. I still haven’t gotten my tahdig that perfectly crispy and beautiful golden color. But I will - one day. In the meantime, you’re all invited for some mediocre tahdig.

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