Maryam Sinaiee's Perisan cookery book, Nightingales and Roses, was named Best First Book at last night's Guild of Food Writer's Awards. Just before the awards were announced, Maryam had been telling me about her worries for her 81-year-old mother, still living independently – shopping, driving, visiting friends – but for how long? This isn't an unusual worry, but Maryam's situation is: her mother lives in Tehran, Iran, the country Maryam has been exiled from for life. Hearing her worries – told plainly and without a hint of self pity – and then seeing her face light up as her name was announced really brought home to me how special this book is.
As the judges pointed out, this book is not only a collection of delicious recipes, but also a personal memoir about a life and a country now lost to time. Maryam was taught to cook by her mother and aunts, standing at their side as they fried kotlet and gossiped about the neighbours. Nightingales and Roses welcomes the reader in to a typical Iranian kitchen, and in so doing it reveals to us the country – and people – shrouded behind the politics. It's a beautiful, joyful, generous book, and I couldn't be prouder of Maryam.
The judges said:
"A beautiful evocation of Persian cooking, and a memoir of a beloved country. The judges were inspired by well explained, evocative recipes which drew them into the kitchen. The chapter on the basics of Persian cookery was clear and well described, and the appealing design helped this book get its message across."