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Hail halal! 

The new halal persian menu at China Town - now co-named Zafaran's Place - is absolutely enjoyable.

In the midst of a minor kitchen reno,I discover the best thing about having new flooring laid and off-limits is that it provides a wonderful new excuse for doing the take-out thing.

Because we’re not close to downtown our choices are a little limited but, while debating the merits of pizza versus Chinese, I recall that China Town has a new Persian section of its menu known as Zafaran’s Palace.

Iranian food it is and it’s not long before I’m choosing several dishes from the take-out menu.

Zafaran’s Palace advertises itself as halal, a boon for Muslims who like to eat out while adhering to Islamic principles. Halal is an Arabic word meaning “permissible” and when applied to food means that it has been prepared following strict guidelines about what foods are used and how. (It’s similar to, but not the same as, Jewish “kosher.”)

Halal means the menu has lamb, chicken and beef but no pork or shellfish, among other things. The Iranian taste profile is like that of many other Middle Eastern countries, plus there’s a special love of saffron. The expensive spice is used liberally throughout many of the dishes, especially basmati rice, where the strands of saffron lend agolden colour.

We’re starting out with kashk-e bademjan ($7), an eggplant spread served with flatbread. The fried eggplant is mixed with dried whey, along with onions, garlic and mint. The whey gives it an almost musty flavour that’s definitely an acquired taste but it does play nicely with the sharpness of the shirazi salad ($5) which is piquant with plenty of lime juice. I love this salad---fresh tomatoes, red onions and cucumber all chopped finely and well dressed.

After whetting our appetite with the spread and salad, we move on to a braised lamb shank ($8) with a side of Baghali Polow ($8). The shank has been braised for a very long time. It falls off the bone and is fork tender. Cooked in its own juices, with just a little saffron broth, the lamb flavour rings clear.

Baghali Polow is rice mixed with dill and beans and the ever-present saffron. It’s a little dry, but the juices from the lamb solve that problem. It also sports a slab of Tahdig (crispy rice) which appears to be rice that is scraped from the sides or bottom of the pot after cooking. It’s browned and delicious and reminds me that something as basic as rice scraped from a pot bottom can be a delicacy when it’s as well seasoned as this.

Our other dish is Sunday’s special, Adas Polow ($13). This time, the basmati rice is mixed with raisins, lentils, dates and ground beef (to my delight, there’s more crispy rice). The menu describes this dish as “sweet,” which it might very well be had there been more raisins and I would have liked more raisins and more signs of dates. But there were plenty of brown lentils and ground beef.

When I placed our order, I engaged the shy, smiling young man at the take-out counter in conversation about the food, asking for his recommendations. He seemed reluctant, explaining that he wasn’t sure if Canadian tastes would enjoy all the dishes.

I told him we were adventurous eaters and that I was sure we would like everything. He was quick to assure me that if I didn’t like something, I should bring it back.

He needn’t have worried.

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