Serious Reads: Maman's Homesick Pie, Donia Bijan
Donia Bijan was just fifteen when, during a vacation to Spain, her family realized that they could not return to their home country of Iran. During their month-long travels, the Iranian Revolution had brought Khomeini to power, and her activist mother was at risk of being captured as a political prisoner. The family was eventually forced to relocate to the United States, which Bijan soon came to call home. She explores how food played an important role in helping her piece together questions of identity, culture, and family, and also to cope with her mother's death, in her memoir Maman's Homesick Pie: A Persian Heart in an American Kitchen.
Bijan's parents were productive and important members of their community in Tehran. Her father was a doctor who knew everyone, and her mother a women's rights activist and nurse. They were well-to-do and respected, which made their abrupt transition to the United States much more difficult. In the wake of reports of violence, unrest, and destruction from Tehran, the family moved to California. Bijan enrolled in UC Berkeley and tried to adjust to American life. She found it hard to blend in as an Iranian woman and was still unsure how to act in such a liberal culture. She spent weekends with her family as a refuge.
Bijan found comfort in learning and preparing her mother's traditional recipes. The more time she invested in the kitchen, the more she realized that she didn't want to be a doctor—she wanted to be a chef. The decision drove a wedge between her and her father, who couldn't get behind a life of cooking. But regardless of her parents' hesitations, Bijan left for France and began her culinary career.
She attended culinary school and worked through a number of stages, eventually accumulating enough skills and confidence to return to San Francisco and open her own restaurant. She ran L'Amie Donia for ten years, during which time she fell in love, married, and had a son.
Bijan introduces and closes this book by talking about her mother's death. She speaks eloquently of her grieving process and shares many recipes from her mother's kitchen. These recipes connected her to her Iranian heritage and family even when thousands of miles separated them from their homeland. This all makes for a beautifully written book, and Bijan possesses a unique ability to bridge the cultural gap between herself and the reader. I couldn't put it down.
About the Author: A student in Providence, Rhode Island, Leah Douglas loves learning about, talking about, reading about, and consuming food. Her work has also been featured in Rhode Island Monthly Magazine.