Sumptuous Iranian Cuisine in the Heart of Kuala Lumpur!
I have always been intrigue with food from other cultures! The fact that each and every culture has its own unique dishes symbolizes that everyone is truly unique in their own way. Humans are creatures of survival. The point that we are able to make use of our natural resources to cultivate the way we create each dish and evolve is astonishingly a miracle. The way I see food in every culture is to pay true tribute to each one based on its own merit. No point in comparison. The various cuisines in the world should be appreciated for what it has been come today in our generation and we are definitely lucky enough to be able to savor most of them in our very own country.
A recent invitation led me to Naab Restaurant at Jalan Bukit Bintang. Thanks to Monica and Mr. Hadi, I had a fabulous eye-opener about Iranian cuisine at its very best! Even Middle East is sectioned to various types of cuisine depending on the region and country. Although certain dishes may appeared to overlap, every dish still holds true to its culture’s flavor. A night to remember, we were even treated to a deeper insight of Iranian or Persian cuisine where each dishes were carefully and meticulously explained to us by Naab’s food expert.
What a treat that night was! A sumptuous spread of every famous Iranian dishes were spread out from one end of the room to the other. I am much honored to be able to experience Iranian cuisine or Persian cuisine (used interchangeably) like no others and am grateful to be able to share some notes and experience I had at Naab Restaurant. Iranian cuisine or often known as Persian cuisine shared a history and ingredients with Mesopotamian Cuisine and Mediterranean Cuisine in many ways. Using lots of fresh herbs, dried fruits, nuts, and spices, Iranian dishes feature mostly rice, bread, grilled meats, stews, salads and sweet pastries. Rice and bread are the staples of the region where one counts on these heavily in every meal of the day.
Iranian Cuisine is identified by a few essential elements such as its unique Taste, Aroma, Appearance, Health and Nutrition. Taste and Aroma element s are strongly highlighted by the much use of fresh or dried herbs and spices to flavor and perfume various sauces in the dishes. Iranian flavors are always well balanced and not over powering unlike some other Middle Eastern cuisine. Appearance takes form in Iranian dishes with usage of spices like saffron and fresh bright herbs and vegetables for presentation. Iranian uses healthy and natural ingredients coupled with a balance portion of essential vitamins to ensure that the Health and Nutrition elements are fulfilled in their dishes.
Naab Restaurant has two branches with one at Jalan Bukit Bintang and the second one at Solaris Mont Kiara. The Bukit Bintang restaurant occupies three lots with five floors and features Iranian architectures from its walls to colors and decorative elements. Sectioned into ballrooms for business or pleasure functions, VIP rooms with each one decorated in a different theme and buffet for catering functions, one is really spoilt for choices when it comes to dining at Naab Restaurant at Bukit Bintang.
Be prepared for a long journey on Iranian cuisine which I have tried to section into certain categories for easy reading… J
SALADS & DIPS
One of my favorite dishes in any Middle East cuisines is the fresh salads and robust dips! A whopping eight varieties of salads and five dips graced the long buffet table. Choices were really difficult so I did the next best thing and took a spoonful of every salads and dips. I believed I went back for some serious replenishment of most of the salads and dips… J
Tabouleh, one of the greenest salad you’ll ever see, is a salad made with bulgur wheat or couscous, loads of fresh herbs like parsley and mint and jazzed up with garlic, onion, tomato, cucumber and lime. A vibrant and superb fresh minced salad loaded with lots of aromatics and citrus tang, the version here has more herbs than the bulgur wheat. Hore D’vers sounds a bit weird, so much so I could not even pronounce it without butchering the name. Luckily, the assorted walnuts, cheese and herb salad tasted really delicious. Nutty and richly spiked with feta cheese (at least I think it is feta cheese) and aromatized with herbs, the flavors are a much welcome with Naan bread. Yum…
A salad fanatic? Order the Naab Special Salad which offers lettuce, cucumber, tomato, bell pepper, carrot, baked beans and boiled egg served with house dressing.
Iranian Fatush and Shirazi Salads are simply fresh and colorful vegetables all cubed up with light dressing. Iranian Fatush offers a slight twist with the addition of special crispy bread together with tomatoes, cucumbers, and bell peppers. Shirazi Salad has chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, onions and herbs in its rendition. Both salads are vibrant in taste and aroma, showing off natural juices and textures of fresh vegetables to its max!
You may ask what is a Russian Salad doing in a Persian restaurant? Beats me but the Russian Salad is pretty good. I spied potatoes, carrots, and boiled eggs tossed with a creamy dressing that lends a buttery and luscious flavor the salad. Echoing the Russian Salad is Olivia Salad, a Persian potato salad with eggs and pickles. The version here is covered in a creamy tangy yoghurt sauce. The addition of the pickles added a lovely vibrant touch to the rich salad.
Last but not least, Chef Special Salad showcased sausages, bell peppers, cucumbers, onions and roasted cashew nuts in a creamy sauce. Decent and sufficiently substantial though I really love the cashew nuts in this one!
Not necessarily a salad, more of an appetizer, Dolma takes some getting used to for certain diners. Having eaten Greek Dolmades before, I embraced this with joy. Dolmas are mini cigars of vine leaves wrapped with piquant filling of rice, tomato, onion, garlic, parsley and mint and braised till soft. Naab’s version is slightly too sour for me but I still savor this as the jolts of sourness whets my appetite.
Never underestimate the flavors of dips… Let’s go Dipping!
One can never savor any Middle Eastern fare without savoring Hommus. Whether it’s spelled as Hommus or Hummus, it’s an essential dish that represents Middle Eastern fare. Made from a blend of chickpeas, raw garlic, sesame paste or Tahini, yoghurt, olive oil and seasoned with lime or lemon juice, black pepper and salt, this nutty creamy pureed dip is heavenly on taste! High in iron and vitamins, this dip is a good source of protein and fibers. The version at Naab is bold on flavors with loads of luscious silky flavors of the nutty sesame, pungent garlic and creamy chickpeas all pureed and swathed on a plate to echo a pool holding dashes of virgin olive oil. You’ll want heaps of helpings on this one with Naan!!
Another favorite dip of mine is the smoky puree of eggplant aptly named Baba Ghanoush. A mixture of eggplant, bell pepper and special herbs seasoned with yogurt and sesame oil, this dip exuded a smoky aroma from its grilled eggplant and spices. There are many versions available in Middle Eastern cuisine with each one unique from its own blend of herbs and spices. Naab’s version offers additions of bell peppers for extra sweetness and juiciness while olive oil pumped the smoothness of the dip. There is also another version of this dip called Mottabal Salad, featuring a combination of barbecued eggplant, smoked garlic and bean seasoned with lime juice and special herb also available at Naab. Besides the beautiful eggplant dip, Yoghurt Dip is also essential in accompanying Iranian dishes. Lending a velvety and tangy sensation to the grilled meats and fish, I thought the dip was cooling and refreshing with hints of herbs!
I can concur that Iranians love their eggplants! More eggplant dips in the form of Mirza Ghasemi and Kashk O Bademian were present. Mirza Ghasemi is smoked eggplant, tomato and garlic puree while Kashk O Bademjan is a tasty mixture of fried smashed eggplant blended with Kashk, aged dried thick yogurt, topped with golden fried garlic, onion and decorated with fried mint powder. Both equally tantalizing on its respective flavours and served at room temperature.
PICKLES, OLIVES & CHEESE
It makes sense! After the overload on meats, heavy sauces and spices, one needs a touch of refreshment to perk up the heavy meal. The compilation of the above feta cheese, basil and walnuts are often known as Sabzi Khordan, literally translated to ‘eating greens’, this starter offers a touch of freshness to counter the meat dishes to be served. Iranians also love their Olives and Pickles. Green olives, black olives and stuffed olives go hand-in-hand with assorted pickles of Iranian garlic, cucumber and vegetables.
GRILLED AND BAKED MEAT & POULTRY
My favorite grilled meat of the night was Barg Kebab, sliced beef marinated in olive oil, onions and garlic. Don’t be fool by these modest looking fillets of beef! Ultimately tender and bursting of beefy flavors with great seasoning, Barg Kebab had my adoration immediately. High points for the natural beef juiciness and flavors… a Must-order at Naab!
Koobideh, Iranian meat kebabs, are made from various minced meat such as lamb, beef or chicken and spiced up with onions, herbs and spices. It is usually shaped into one long flat patty in shape with its thin and long flat skewers before being grilled over hot coals. Chicken Koobideh Kebab looked really pretty in golden turmeric color. Savory and well-seasoned, my only complaint was that it was a tad too dry, probably due to the lean meat of chicken. Lamb Koobideh BBQ fair so much better as it was tender and moist with a delicious hint of sweet onions and herbs. Sumac, a spice made from the fruit of a flowering plant, is sometimes sprinkled over Koobideh for an extra lemony flavor.
Chicken Kebab or Joojeh Kebab is lightly seasoned pieces of dark chicken meat grilled. This one fared so much better than the Chicken Koobideh as it was so moist and soft with robust dark meat flavors. After a quick search on the net, I found that it is usually marinated with onions, olive oil, lime juice and saffron. In fact, most of the grilled meats share a common ingredient which is onions that lends the meat its flavors. Roasted tomatos or onions are also usually present alongside the meats.
Another house specialty, Naab Spinach Roll Chicken is basically chicken rolled with a spinach filling and baked. I could see a nice golden sheen of yellow, signifying the presence of turmeric or saffron. Flavor wise is decent but again probably too lean so it was a bit dry. If there were a bit more filling, it may moisten up the chicken.
Two more poultries offerings are Oven Chicken and Chicken with Boan. Both dishes uses boned in pieces of chicken marinated with different spices and baked or grilled.
Meat Rollet featured slices of minced meat rolls covered in a thick tomato spiced up gravy. Managed to savor a piece and found the minced meat a bit too soft but definitely well-seasoned.
If you notice, Iranian cuisine does not showcase much seafood. Probably due to geographical factor, there is some seafood dishes but these are prepared with much simplicity.
At Naab, fish are simply deep fried to crisp. Faultless but nothing out of the ordinary. Naab’s offerings are Fried Fish and Fish Fingers, usually served with rice and yoghurt sauce. I would order the outstanding grilled meats for a true taste of Iranian cuisine.
SOUPS, STEWS & CURRIES
Let’s start with the gorgeous Iranian stews!
Okra Stew with Meat or Khoresht Baamieh is a tomato based stew with okras and meat, usually lamb or beef. One will either like okra or don’t as the vegetable is an acquired taste and texture which produces a slimy gel when cooked and cut open. In this stew, the okra is left whole and stewed with tender meat in a richly spiced up tomato broth.
Although Celery Stew or Khoresht Karafs did not looked appealing at sight but flavors denotes otherwise. Celery took center stage in this stew, flavoring the stew with a sharp distinctive taste. Tender pieces of meat are definitely very enjoyable in the stew with soft celery, celery leaves, onions, garlic, herb, and spices. A light sweetness coupled with savory flavors and a citrus note summed up the flavors for this delicious stew!
Another meaty affair continues with a Meat Stew. Braised huge chunks of meat are tender and savory. Bits of fats provided the much needed flavors. I only managed to savor a tiny bit of the stew and found the flavors to be redolent of the meat dominating the stew.
Another similar meat stew echoing the earlier one is the Lamb Shank. A popular dish at Naab, huge gargantuan lamb shanks are stewed for hours with garlic and spices. Tender off the bone, the exotic lamb shank is served with dill broad bean rice.
Gheymeh Stew or Gheimeh Sibzamini is another famous Persian lamb stew made with yellow split peas and topped off with fries. I find this quite amusing that fries are added to the stew but both seem to match each other well since the fries absorb the gravy well. At Naab, the Gheymeh Stew is richly loaded with tender cubed lamb, creamy split peas and a thick rich tomato spiced up gravy. Not spicy in heat terms but the flavors denoted that a whole lot of spices are used to enhanced the stew beautifully.
Rumored to be the national dish of Iranians, Ghormeh Sabzi Stew is the most favorite Iranian dish according to Naab. A deeply rich looking beef stew relies heavily on herbs for its distinctive taste. Most common herbs used in this dish are parsley, leek, green onions, cilantro, spinach and dried fenugreek leaves although other recipes may incorporate some other greens. Naab’s version also has red beans and is served with Saffron Rice. Strangely I adored this stew while others avoided it because of the unique herb flavors and aroma. The flavors are strongly influenced by the mish mash of herbs and a light citrus note, lending the dish to receive different opinions from foodies there that night.
Curry Chicken also made its way into the menu. Richly tinted in bright hues of red and orange, the curry was nicely spiced up. Laden with chunks of chicken and potato, the curry is not overly creamy or thick. The curry was passable but not memorable since there were just so many fabulous stews that fought for my attention that night.
Soups available at Naab were Barley Soup, Halim and Ash Noodle. Barley Soup or Asheh Jo was lusciously golden from turmeric and fairly thick with creamy flavors of lentils and barley. Halim or Haleem is a typical beef soup or stew with wheat or barley added. Cooked for hours till it reaches a thick and paste-like consistency, Halim is a favorite during the holy month of Ramadhan. Ash Noodle or Asheh Reshteh is another thick soup (or you may even want to call it a stew) filled to the brim with noodles, lentils, beans, vegetables and herbs. Suitable for vegetarian, the soup is topped off with sour cream or Kashk and fried garlic crisp for extra oomph!
RICE & BREAD
Using fine quality Basmati rice, Iranian rice dishes are plenty in flavors. I was really astonished to see the varieties of rice dishes that night. I was told that rice are considered luxury hence it dominates the homes of the wealthy while the rest of the people takes on bread as their staple. Bread is more commonly refer to Naan and these come as many as over 40 types of wheat breads in various forms.
Our spread had us enjoying Beriyani Rice, Noodle Rice, Long Bean Rice, Dill Broad Bean Rice and Saffron Rice while the more familiar Naan was also present. Using Basmati rice in all the rice dishes, these have the longest grains of fluffy rice I have ever saw. All rice dishes share a common feature which is that the grains are well separated and not mushy yet they retained a light and fluffy texture. Beriyani Rice was studded with peppers, cubed potatoes and spices. The version here is fairly light in spices compared to others that I have had before so it actually compliments the curries and stews very well.
Noodle Rice reminded me of the Western Rice-a-Roni where thin short noodles are cooked with rice to give out a soft texture combination. Apparently Noodle Rice is eaten during the eve of Persian New Year but here one can enjoy this throughout the year. Persian thin flat noodle or Reshteh is cooked with saffron tinted rice and some minced meat at Naab. Long Bean Rice had similar ingredients to Noodle Rice except there were long beans instead of noodles and the rice was spiced up with cinnamon and lime. I like the Long Bean Rice flavored with some light spices as it had good aromatic flavors with a nice hint of tangy taste.
Dill Broad Bean Rice or Baghali Polo is heavily scented with loads of dill. Soft mushy broad beans are studded among the rice which also has a portion colored with turmeric or saffron. This one needs some getting use too because it was heavy on the dill. Out of the five, I simply prefer Saffron Rice. The simplicity of the long grain rice with some tinted yellow and the sides of fried rice cake has an earthy and almost sweet starchy flavor. It somehow compliments the stews and curries better for me.
Plenty of toasted Naan bread is served for dips and salads. In fact, one does not even need any utensils but just these fluffy delectable pieces of Naan, torn rustically, to mop up or soak up sauces, dips and juices.
They love their dessert!
Iranian or Persian desserts share some common desserts with Greek and Middle East countries. I spied familiar looking sweets but they are named differently. After a quick Google search, more popular Persian sweets are ice creams, Faloodeh, Pashmak (Perisan cotton candy), Baklava, Zolbia, Bamieh, Cookies, Caramel and Halva. We enjoyed Goush Fill, Zolbia, Bamieh, Halva, Orange Caramel, Fruits and local desserts that night following by Persian hot tea.
Goush Fill is representation of elephant ear pastries where pastry dough are shaped to resemble thin elephant ears and fried till golden brown. It is usually finished off with powdered sugar. Crispy and thin, Goush Fill are fairly enjoyable for its crunchy and sweet combination.
Zolbia and Bamieh usually go hand-in-hand as both are different shapes of pastries deep-fried till golden brown and soaked in sugar syrup. Made from flour, yoghurt, sugar and rose water, these little fritters are sweet and a little crunchy with a doughy finish. Want to see how it’s made? Check out a step-by-step here.
Halva is usually made from grain flour or wheat semolina with butter and sugar while flavored with nuts and carrots. It is cooked till it is dense and grainy. Carrot Halva is quite pretty at sight, sweet in taste and densely grainy. I seemed to prefer Halva with nuts as it is more aromatic.
It was unanimous that Orange Caramel was simple and luscious. Silky smooth and creamy with a beautiful aroma of citrus, it was definitely a favorite that night!
I can’t decide if Stuffed Dates were meant to be a starter or a dessert! Pitted whole dates were meticulously stuffed with slivers of almonds and pistachios so one can enjoy the sweet creamy dates with a nutty crunch. Sometimes, these dates are also stuffed with cheese for a savory touch.
Rounding up the meal with Persian Tea!
Phew… what a feast! Call me anal but I always believe in diving deeper into what I eat. It somehow makes the whole experience more interesting and it is also good to know and understand the ingredients, flavors and efforts that go into each cuisine.
Naab Restaurant certainly opened my eyes to Iranian cuisine. I learned that Iranian cuisine consisted of fresh salads, creamy dips, grilled meats and wholesome robust stews with a sweet pastry finish. Iranian dishes tend to focus on loads of fresh herbs and some spices to signify its distinctive flavors. Overall flavors are well-balanced, fresh and vibrant at Naab, showing a refinement of quality of Iranian cuisine. Besides serving regular diners on daily basis, Naab also provides catering and buffets for private functions. If you are up for some fine Iranian cuisine, check out Naab Restaurant for a feast of Persian cuisine at its best!
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NAAB RESTAURANT AND CAFÉ
No. 130, Jalan Bukit Bintang
55100 Kuala Lumpur
Tel: 603 2143 3949
Fax: 603 2141 5694
No. 13&15, Jalan Solaris 2,
Solaris Mont Kiara,
50480 Kuala Lumpur
Tel: 603 6203 7647/7665
Fax: 603 6203 7656
*Full sets of pictures are available on my facebook link here.