In the middle of Central Lonsdale in North Vancouver, there is a restaurant called Mehman.
Beyond being a restaurant, this place aims to bring different cultures together through Afghan and Persian dishes.
Alireza Heidari, founder of the restaurant, is originally from Afghanistan and arrived in Canada in 2009.
He was born and raised in Tehran, Iran. After moving to North Vancouver he initially worked at various Persian restaurants, as it had always been a goal of his “to open a restaurant and introduce Afghan dishes to the local community," before opening his own business on Lonsdale Ave in 2014.
He wanted to offer a mix of Mediterranean cuisine, drawing from his experience with both Persian and Afghan foods.
“I am from those countries, so I have experience with this type of cuisine,” he said, adding how Central Lonsdale's "significant Persian population" made it the perfect place to establish a restaurant like Mehman.
When asked the significance of the restaurant's name and its relation to the restaurant’s mission, Heidari said Mehman means "guest."
"Choosing this name signifies that our customers are always considered special guests," he said.
Mehman’s menu has been curated to showcase the diversity of flavours from these regions.
“Most of our main dishes are from these two countries, like Koobideh, Joojeh, or Barg,” said Heidari.
“There are some other Afghan dishes that are quite popular, like Qabuli Polow or Choopan kabab.”
Heidari, adding that these dishes are “especially loved by Arab people”, said he believes offering them in North Vancouver will bring awareness to his aspects of his culture.
He explained that, because diverse cultures coexist in Canada, Middle Eastern individuals have the opportunity to introduce their cuisine to others.
“We now witness people from various nations getting familiar with Persian dishes. Kababs, for instance, have gained widespread popularity among many cultures. Over the last 15 years of being in Canada, I’ve observed a growing interest among people in Middle Eastern foods,” he said.
Heidari said Mehman is contributing to the rich culinary landscape of Central Lonsdale.
“In Canada, people are open to trying different cuisines. Every restaurant is welcoming to various cultures.”
He said the impact on the local community is also significant.
“We’ve had customers who have been residing in Canada for an extended time. They tried our Persian dishes, particularly our Koobideh, and they expressed that it brought back memories from 30 years ago when they were living in Tehran.”
The local support has pushed Heidari to consider adding some new dishes to Mehman’s menu.
“There are a lot of people who are interested in trying Afghan dishes,” he said.
“Running a food business is always a little tough. When people see the quality, they are coming back and asking for more and for new dishes. I’d like to add traditional Afghan dishes like Ashak and Mantu, which people ask for.”
Despite much of the Afghan population residing in Vancouver, Mehman is the only restaurant in North Vancouver that serves Afghan dishes, said Heidari.
In August 2021, thousands of Afghan refugees arrived in Canada following the Taliban’s assumption of control over the country.
According to Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada, over the past two years, Canada has welcomed 36,000 Afghans. Ottawa’s goal is to admit 40,000 Afghan refugees by the end of 2023.
Almost all Afghan Canadians reside in large metropolitan cities such as Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver. However, there are only around 13 Afghan restaurants in Vancouver B.C., according to a search result on Uber EATS.
Hamid Jafari is a Vancouver-based freelance journalist who writes about the Iranian community in Canada, art, culture, and social media trends. His work for the North Shore News is supported by New Canadian Media. email@example.com