Childhood memories of food in 1950s and 60s

Image of Palace in Abadan

Childhood memories of food in 1950s and 60s By Nasser Zarrabi

To appreciate the culinary culture of Abadan, it is important to understand the geography, local products, history, and influences on the culture of the region in question. Abadan, an island in the province of Khuzestan, is situated in the south-west of Iran, next to the border with Iraq. This island is bordered on all sides by rivers, waterways and the Persian Gulf.

The local products are predominantly sea food from the Persian Gulf and the rivers to west and east of the island. Dates are the principal agricultural product.

Until the early 20th century Abadan was inhabited by Persians of Arab origin. It gained its geo-political importance due to two significant events. First was the construction of a port and a huge oil refinery for exporting and refining crude oil by the British. They had acquired licenses to exploit Iran’s crude oil reserves and export the crude and refined products. For years the refinery in Abadan was the largest the world. This triggered a flow of British as well as Iranians and local Arabs to Abadan. The second was the creation of Iraq as a new state which added to the importance of this island.

In the said flow of immigration, the British became the key personnel of the refinery. The Indians (India being a colony of the UK), came as unqualified workers. In the case of Iranians and local Arabs, there was a limited flow of qualified and unqualified workers from other parts of the country to Abadan.

The British did not mingle with local inhabitants. They had their designated residential districts and clubs. The Indians, likewise, had their district called Sikh Lane. They used to socialize with their Iranian and Arab neighbors. Each group of immigrants brought with it its own culinary culture.

However, the main influence on the cuisine of Abadan came from Bushehr. For almost a hundred years Bushehr, the main Iranian port in the Persian Gulf, had culturally influenced most of the cities in the western part of the Persian Gulf and Fars province. But in Bushehr, as in Abadan and other cities near the Persian Gulf, many ingredients were not available locally until early 20th century (around 1920s). Products such as rice or tomatoes were new though nowadays they are extensively used.

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