Upon returning from a recent trip to Iran, Lala Rokh restaurateur Azita Bina-Seibel sat down with the hosts of WBUR’s “Here & Now” radio show last week to discuss her first trip to her native land in half a decade.
“I’m even more energized now after not being there for five years,” said Bina-Seibel, who co-owns Lala Rokh on Mount Vernon Street, Bin 26 Enoteca on Charles Street and BiNA osteria & alimentari on Washington Street with her brother Babak Bina. “It was so sad five years ago when I went. I felt guilty for living the way I do here.”
At her husband’s behest, Bina-Seibel, who had previously operated an Italian restaurant, opened Lala Rokh in 1996 to introduce people to not only Persian foods, but also her mother’s cooking. Among the bounties from her trip to Iran’s capital of Tehran were several suitcases full of herbs and spices that lend Lala Rokh its authentic flavor.
“You can find cumin here, but it’s not the same,” Bina-Seibel told WBUR.
Besides Persian cuisine, Bina-Seibel said she hopes Lala Rokh, which takes its name from an epic work by the Irish poet Thomas Moore, has effectively introduced Americans to the rich cultural history of Iran.
“We wanted to bring that to the people,” Bina-Seibel said.
As for her observations on how Iran has changed in the time she was away, Bina-Seibel said she sensed a new optimism apparent in the country’s artists who are now using far more color in their once-drab palettes.
“Five years ago, I didn’t see that in their pictures,” Bina-Seibel said.