Page last updated at 17:04 GMT, Tuesday, 31 May 2005 18:04 UK

Iran spices up Canadian culture

Tea and sweets next to Persian language magazines
A taste of Iranian cuisine in North America

Canada has one of the largest and most well developed Iranian immigrant communities in the world, with an estimated 85,000 living in the country, according to recent statistics.

In the final installment of this two-part series on Canada's Iranian immigrant community,'s Mehdi Jami looks at the sights and sounds of Iranian neighbourhoods in Toronto and Montreal.

Preserving the signs and symbols of Iran has long been crucial for Iranian immigrants in Canada, to the point where homesick Iranians create neighbourhoods almost identical to their native land.

Although always willing to mix with their host community, they retain a strong sense of identity through their own cultural traditions.

Iranian marketplaces or bazaars are where one can see these elements of Iranian identity. It is in these bazaars where one can see thriving Iranian shops, restaurants, tea-houses, bookshops and beauty parlours.

Symbolic designs

There are many traditional Iranian elements in the interior design of places frequented by Iranian expats.

Iranian restaurant in Montreal
This Iranian restaurant in Montreal has all the trappings of a Tehran eatery

And all this is enhanced by the mesmerising effect of Persian music and painting.

The interior design of a restaurant in Montreal follows the example of traditional Persian tea-houses.

There is a large samovar - an urn used to boil water - with little thin glasses of tea which are served with cube sugar. The chairs have been replaced by coaches covered by Persian rugs.

This traditional style, which dates to the 19th Century, is mixed with ancient looking frescos and other architectural ornaments such as a tabarzin, a tool or form of symbolic axe used by dervishes.

Even the restaurant menus of this restaurant follow the example of the Persian art of book-binding and are handwritten to look like old manuscripts.

Music and handicraft

Iranian handicrafts are mainly produced for export. Enamel is the best known example of Iranian handicraft, but there are other works made of glass and wood, along with textiles, rugs and carpets.

Video shop customer shows Iranian film DVD
Business is booming in Canada's Iranian video and DVD stores

Another type of Iranian handicraft available at shops in Toronto and Montreal is cast iron metal work.

The finest examples of Persian handicraft are Iranian musical instruments, which look beautiful as well as sounding good.

And Iranian music on tapes and CDs can be found in dozens of shops.

Some of the shops play Iranian music videos to entice more customers and shops selling Iranian films do a roaring trade, as international attention becomes increasingly focused on the quality of Iranian cinema.

Persian cuisine

Iranians have taken few steps to make other nations familiar with their food and the Iranian expat community is relatively young and inexperienced when it comes to exposing others to their cuisine.

Iranian spices and nuts for sale
Iranian food is beginning to make an impression on Canadian cuisine

This may explain why so many Iranian food shops offer little to customers other than traditional breads and kebabs.

However, the new phenomenon of Persian take-away food shows how Iranians are embracing some aspects of modern Canadian life.

And in recent years shops selling traditional Iranian pickles and confectionary, including the country's famous pastries, have been springing up in several Canadian cities.

Language and script

Persian script is the most distinctive cultural aspect of Iranian life.

Convenience store with signs in English and Persian languages
Bilingual signs show you're entering an Iranian neighbourhood

This characteristic makes any Iranian shop very well known - even outside the Iranian community.

Iranians can now find Persian shops in Canada's cities with ease - when you see the Persian script, you are almost there. And if you see too many signs in Persian, then you must be in a Toronto Iranian neighbourhood!

Language is another strong national element. One could live in Canada without ever needing to speak English or French.

There are Persian-speaking pharmacists and doctors whose patients can watch blaring Persian TV while waiting for a new patient.

The "little Iran" created by Iranian immigrants in Canada will always remain a smaller scale model of the homeland, but those who have left Iran for a new life seem happy to have a model which embodies all the desirable elements of Persian culture in a condensed form.

Iranian penfriends: Tehran to Toronto
20 Feb 04 |  Middle East
Country profile: Iran
31 Mar 05 |  Country profiles
Timeline: Iran
14 Apr 05 |  Country profiles
Country profile: Canada
20 May 05 |  Country profiles
Timeline: Canada
20 May 05 |  Country profiles


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