A customer’s perceptions of the person behind the till can be very wide of the mark. Why, one’s mother had a shop for twelve years (yes, it runs in the blood), and her customers never differentiated between the morning lady (herself) and the afternoon lady (Doris, who was a good 6 inches taller). Sometimes familial relations betweem staff are assumed where none exist (“oh yes, I was talking to that man…Is he your son? Anyway he said…”). More often than not the customer simply doesn’t care who is behind the counter as long as there is someone there.
There are currently three of us manning the tills at Persepolis. And one behind the scenes – but we’ve already met him here. Here’s your chance to get to know them. First up is Jamshid, aka Jamie, aka Mr. Shopkeeper….

Defining physical characteristics: well, tough one this. He used to be a lot cuddlier than he is now. A lack of follicular coverage is one feature, and he has twinkly hooded eyes. It has to be said that he does look very Persian.
Often to be found: Trying to work out where he left his last cup of tea. Trying to persuade someone to make him a replacement cup of tea. Strutting round the shop making mental notes of things to tell Mrs. S. whilst she is making him a cup of tea. Doing a jolly little Persian dance when he thinks no-one is looking. On the phone trying to look like an executive (actually taking to his wholesale customers).
What to say to him: “Gosh, your prices are so reasonable. And look at the quality…”
“How was your game last night?”
Best not say: “So Iran. That’s Arabic, right?”
“OK, so what’s the real price. C’mon – I’m a regular customer…”
Potted CV: Although he was born in Tehran, Mr. S.’ family actually come from Kermanshah in Western Iran. His accent will confuse you though, as he spent his teenage years being educated at (and expelled from) schools in France and Belgium. He is a maths prodigy, and the real brains behind the business – when he is allowed to have his way. He is a proud father/grandfather, although patently too young for the latter role. He is an averred carnivore, likes cheesy 80s pop music, and has a serious box set habit.

Coming next: Mrs. Shopkeeper


OK – so the book is here. Some of our sweetest, most loyal customers have already rushed out and bought it. Some of you may have purchased it from Amazon, which is a very sensible thing to do in view of their seemingly unbeatable prices. The rest of you can buy it from us directly if you like (we are assuming, of course, that you will all buy it, one way or another). Because if you do, you get a free VISA to Veggiestan stamped inside the front cover, as in our picture. Which we can get signed for you (we have contacts, you know). How’s that for gimmicks? You’re impressed, huh?

We are hoping to have a fully functioning on-line shop in time for Christmas, but in the meantime there is nothing stopping you from picking up the phone to order your signed copy.

Oh yes. The cost. Hate talking money and all that. It will cost you £22.50 + postage.

You know those tagines we promised you for last Christmas? Er, ahem, well they just arrived. Yup, we know what you’re thinking – but better just-over-a-year-late than never.

Why didn’t we look for another supplier, we hear you cry. Well, the thing is, our current supplier may be the world’s most unreliable Moroccan (he’s actually from Oxford, not the Maghreb) supplier ever, but he’s a jolly nice chap (that’s him, looking sheepish in the photo above), and, most importantly and unusually, he’s honest. Anyone who has ever shopped at Persepolis will know that our prices are always honest: it is, frankly, something upon which we stake our reputation. So we waited (and made you wait – our turn to look sheepish).

Anyway – they’re here now, which means that a) all your Christmas shopping is sorted, and b) you’ll have something in which to cook all those lovely dishes from Veggiestan.

And it’s not only tagines which have arrived. We’ve got tanjias, which are cylindrical pots for cooking lamb (or anything else): the idea is to fill them and then bury them in a fire pit in the sand, so that by the time you come back from a hard day’s shepherding your dinner is ready. Actually, they were more often cooked in the ashes of the hammam. The good news is that if you are all out of fire and sand, and the local spa won’t let you cook there, the tanjia will work just as well in a conventional oven.

There are also fancy teapots, and painted teaglasses, and the most gorgeous serving platters. Rather wonderfully and incongruously, they all came wrapped in Moroccan architectural drawings.

So what you waiting for? Pop in or call before they all go.

Oh, and there are further glad tidings: our on-line shop should be up and running by December. Woop woop all round.

We’ve been playing with vegetables a lot recently. Hardly surprising, seeing as we just brought out a new vegetarian cookbook (Veggiestan, available at all good bookshops and some silly yellow cornershops).

Anyway, we often have steamed, stir-fried or (if we’re really desperate) microwaved vegetables for lunch. Why? Because they’re nice, healthy, fill us with beans and make us feel holier-than-thou all afternoon. (Too many carbs or too much heavy food saps our energy and makes us feel like meh for hours afterwards. And that is not a good thing for a shopkeeper to feel.) They are also easy to prepare the night before. Once the veg are cooked, as we have a shop for a pantry (shopkeeping has its perks), we mix random things with them for variety. This is our top 5 veg perker-uppers: they work pretty well on reluctant sprogs too. Not that we are suggesting that you cook your sprogs and drizzle them with sauce, you understand: rather that these sauces may appeal to kids who won’t eat veg.
As usual the list is in reverse order, thus to build a crescendo of anticipation.

  • At No. 5: Mint sauce + sekanjabin. Oh we’re always banging on about sekanjabin. It is mint syrup, to all intents and purposes. And Iranian shops up and down the country sell it. But if you can’t get any, you can improvise with some honey and vinegar. Whisk the mint sauce and the syrup together, add salt and pepper to taste, and drizzle over your steamed veg. This works especially well with cabbage and greens.
  • At No. 4: One for broccoli. Beat 1 dessertspoon of tahina with about 1 teaspoon of soy sauce and enough water to render it pourable. Well, drizzlable.
  • At No. 3: Pomegranate molasses or pekmez (Turkish grape paste). These are a bit sharp on their own, and so we mix them with a little honey and some mustard to give it oomph. This combo is good with oven-roasted veg: you know, peppers, courgettes, that sort of thing…
  • And at No. 2: Wonderful with beans, asparagus, artichokes… This one involves frying, and so it takes a little bit longer. Sizzle some garlic* into a goodly lump of melted butter in a wee pan, add a couple of teaspoons of dill weed and a sploosh of lemon juice. Dissolve a tiny pinch of ground saffron in a couple of spoons of boiling water, and add it to the pan. Pour the whole buttery mix over your vegetables and enjoy.
  • And at No. 1: Labneh! This is basically thick salted yoghurt, but it tastes like cream cheese. Mix a tablespoonful with half a teaspoon or so of za’atar (sumac, sesame and thyme) and stir it through your veggies of choice. Spinach works well with this. Spiced labneh is also quite good for mashing into baked sweet potatoes (another fave shopkeeper lunch).

If you liked that, you’ll like this. The blog of the book. No seriously – there are loads of short cuts and fun ideas over there. And some music to listen to whilst you read. Better still of course: BUY the BOOK!
*Ah. Yes. Garlic. Most shopkeepers would eschew lunchtime garlic lest they put customers off. Unfortunately Mrs. Shopkeeper actually doesn’t care, much as she loves her customers, and so lunchtime garlic gets her vote every time.

Gosh-there’s-so-much-going-on-at-the-mo. New book out tomorrow and all that… Here’s some of the more important things that you should know about:

  • October 6th: the official publication date for Veggiestan. Still hoping to get our stocks on time…
  • October 20th: the official launch party for Veggiestan. 6.30 – 8.30pm, in the shop of course.
  • November 4th: Mrs. Shopkeeper gets to go on her annual jaunt to Center Parcs. This is the highlight of her year – but it does mean that you’ll all have to look after/be nice to Mr. Shopkeeper over the weekend.
  • November 18th: the 4th Pop-Up Persepolis at Anderson & Co. This one will be entirely vegetarian, as befits a corner shop that has just brought out a veggie cookbook. The cost is £35.00 per head, and you can BYO. Call 020 7469 7078 to book.
  • November 21st – 27th: the fifth annual Peckham Literary Festival. Still sorting out the line-up – if you want to play, do let us know. This year should include a culinary evening featuring Jake Tilson and his new fish book, a literary walking tour of Peckham, a Rumi evening with real dervishes, and some story-telling – amongst other things.
  • December 16th: our 10th birthday. Yes, 10th. There will be jelly and ice cream all round. We will have fun. We expect birthday cards.

Got all that? Jolly dee. Look forward to seeing you soon 🙂

We grimaced a bit. We laughed a lot. We raced. We hobbled. We hopped. We drank a lot of tea. We longed for a G & T. We questioned our sanity. We wondered whether we’d make it to the finish. We made new friends and rejoiced in old ones. We talked drivel. We set the world to right. We marvelled at London. We were flabbergasted by London. We learnt about London. We learnt about ourselves.

Maggie’s Night Hike is just incredible. Twenty miles is such a very loooong walk, but the euphoria at managing to finish it, and the pride, and the joy of (nearly – but there’s still time) reaching one’s fund-raising target – these are worth all the pain and more. The camaraderie of walkers and fellowship of purpose means that it is like walking inside one large group hug for the night.

The fact that it was part of the Open House Weekend gave us privileged (and slightly surreal) night time access to some of London’s most iconic buildings. But the convolutions of the route also gave us a glimpse of every shade of London nightlife, from the optimism of early Friday evening to the sordid repercussions of club turn out time early Saturday morning.

The Maggie organisers are very good at what they do. There was tea, and applause, and massage, and little yellow arrows, and smiles, and water – all at exactly the right time they were needed. If you get the chance to try this extraordinary challenge next year, take it: it is a rewarding experience.

Anyway: enough of what fun we had. Thanks to the generosity of friends, suppliers and customers we have very nearly made our target of £1,200.00. We just need ONE MORE LITTLE PUSH to get there. So if you’ve got a couple of spare bob, just CLICK HERE and chuck it into our kitty. Thank you. 🙂 Now, back to our foot bath….

Apart from Mrs. Shopkeeper, Team P comprised the lovely Ruth, the long-suffering Lisette, and token male/morale officer Mark. We think they rock.

Our kitchen is up and ready. Our dinky little chiller cabinet arrived on Friday, and contrary to the belief of onlookers therein, we managed to get it inside the shop. And now it’s got stuff in it for you to sample/praise/buy. The idea is for us to start behaving more like a real deli, offering a range of salads and meze items prepared in house.

Actually, we’re not just talking in-house: most of this stuff is being made right in front of you by Mr. or Mrs. Shopkeeper (when the mood takes them). So if you fancy a casual seminar on making dolmeh (see pix above), or just want to come along and heckle, shimmy on over here. We’d love to know what you think. Talk to us: what would you like us to make for you? D’ya reckon sandwiches would sell? Or ready-made Iranian meals?

We started, predictably, with houmous. Ours is of course the best you will ever have tasted. And some vine leaves. Tomorrow there will be fresh kibbeh, bean salad and must-o-moussir (Persian garlicky yoghurt). For the first few weeks there will be plenty of try-before-you-buy options (this is insider information, so keep it under your hat).

If it does well, then who knows? We might start doing Persian cookery lessons, coffee, home-made Persian pastries… But we’re going to let the space develop itself, and take it very gently. Because the most important thing is that we enjoy ourselves. Food that is made with pleasure tastes so much better, you see…

A rare, albeit partial, sighting of Mrs. Shopkeeper

OK chaps. Time to start getting excited now. Our trip to Veggiestan is but a month away and counting. Yup – our second book is coming out on October 6th.

We’ll be selling it in the shop at the discounted price of £22.50, although you can pre-order it on Amazon for less (how do they do that? beats us). Any which way, it means that all your Christmas shopping is sorted for this year.

There will jelly and ice cream all round of course: the launch party will be at the shop – and you’re all invited. Official invitation to follow presently.

Anyway, we just wanted to whip you in to a frenzy of anticipation. And to offer a reason as to why Mrs. S. may be found doing a little happy dance around the shop from time to time.

We know what you are thinking – but no, they’re not paying us. We simply love this drink.
What is it? Well it comprises carbonated apple juice packed full of ginseng and guarana and other exciting, entirely organic ingredients. It’s a great on its own, but also makes a good mixer: try it with red wine to make a Calimocho. It’s reputedly pretty good with rum as well.
Why do we like it? Well, it’s got a lot to do with the fact that Mrs. Shopkeeper normally eschews all fizzy drinks (well, soft ones anyway) on account of the chemicals therein, what with her having asthma and all. She once had a Red Bull and was on her inhaler for half an hour. Gusto is chemical free…
But mostly it is to do with the fact that it tastes like a slightly fruity cola (i.e. rather nice), and it really does pack in the zing. Reckon it might also explain in part how Mrs. S.’ hair gets to be, well, as bouffant as it is* every day.
Anyway, next time you feel your energy levels take a dive, you know where to come and what to do.
*for the uninitiated, think Crystal Tips meets Lady Gaga

Dervishes, eh? Conjures visions of that folklore evening in Turkey: blokes wearing funny hats and skirts, spinning to some really rather good music. Or maybe it is the wandering dervish that springs to mind: the inscrutable travelling philosopher who has eschewed worldly wealth.

Well: guess what? There is an active community of living, breathing, whirling dervishes in Hammersmith. On that whirling traffic vortex which constitutes the Talgarth Road no less. Far from being secretive, the group is very happy to welcome new participants and spectators. Another surprising fact: dervishes are not all blokes, wise or otherwise. We asked one of the chief ‘turners’, Helen Oates, for a few whirling tips and wrinkles…

Why do you spin? All movement creates a feeling of freedom. I think this is one reason why people feel drawn to wanting to learn a turning dance. Turning is seen as a mystical dance which takes you closer to ‘God’: the practice is also known as ‘mukabele’, which means ‘coming face to face’.

Traditional whirling dervishes are Sufis. So do you have to follow a religious practice to join in? Rumi was the friend of 73 religions. To be a dervish one doesn’t have to be a Sufi or a Muslim. At Colet House the turners come from many different communities and religions including Christian, Muslim, Jewish, and Hindu – we are inclusive. Or as Rumi himself says:

Come, come whoever you are.
An unbeliever, a fire worshipper, come.
Our convent is not one of desperation.
Even if you have broken your vows a hundred times,
Come, come again.

In all honesty, is it good for you? Does it make you fitter? I don’t think people ae drawn to it for reasons of wanting to “get fit” although I think it’s a positive side effect of turning because it is very physically demanding.

How come there is such a well established group in West London? The turning ceremony was brought to Colet House in the 1960’s by a Mevlevi Sheikh from Konya. This was because he was unhappy about the ceremony becoming a tourist attraction in his own country and aspects of it being taken out so that the tourists wouldn’t get bored. He had made a connection with Dr. Roles (the then leader of the Study Society) and a promise was made to keep the original ceremony intact and pure. This promise has been kept by the members of the Study Society.

If I want to start whirling, how much will it cost me? If you are interested in becoming a whirling dervish please come and see the ceremony first (see below). Full training sessions begin again in January 2012. We do not charge for teaching. And initially you do not need any special equipment.

And I get to study poetry and drumming too? The study of Sufi poets is very helpful in order to understand the business of turning. And rhythmic drumming is very much part of the scene. Poetry groups run on the first Friday of the month, the Mathnevi (Rumi’s multi-volume masterpiece) study group is every Tuesday evening, and for the drumming please contact Nihat Tsolak 07944 489527.

You know, if you live life in a whirl, this might actually help you find a little inner stillness. Let us know how you get on….

The dervishes meet at The Study Society, Colet House, 151, Talgarth Road, LONDON W14 9DA. There is micro-documentary about them here, and audiences are welcome on the first Friday of every month. To get further details of particular classes and study groups, telephone 020 8748 9338, or find them on Facebook, or check on their website. With thanks to Colyn for arranging this interview, which first appeared on Londonist.