Watertown, Massachusetts is nestled just over the Charles in what is to some an unassuming residential area. Like many of the other outer ring Boston suburbs, there isn’t really a whole lot to do here—or at least that’s what I thought. From Chestnut Hill to the North End, from Cambridge to Fenway, I have done, seen, and eaten a lot of cool things in and around Boston. Yet, Watertown is one of the more fascinating places that I have visited during my time in college.
If you like food, you’ve come to the right place. But before I get to the food, let me set the stage: Watertown is a rather quiet, bedroom community home to many Greek, Turkish, Armenian, and Persian immigrants. On a personal level, I find solace in Watertown. My mom’s side of the family is Persian, and I am very proud of my background. When I am out of the sanctuary of my mom’s kitchen—where I am served more Persian food than I could ever possibly eat—I am uneasy. Luckily, I found Watertown, which has quite a few Persian restaurants to speak of.
I have an immense amount of respect for all the people who immigrated to America. In a way, I am a part of that story too. Immigrants bring a lot to our country, and they help make places like Watertown unique. So if you’re ever bored and think you’ve seen it all, stop by. Go to Shiraz Persian Cuisine. Step inside. I’d recommend the Chicken Sultanti. The koobideh is the softer chicken and the kebab is the tougher, meatier option. Both are skewered, but whereas the kebab is made up of chunks of meat (kind of like a steak), the koobideh is minced ground meat. Both go great with the rice, which by Persian tradition, is lathered in saffron. Persian cuisine, unlike American food, is not dominated by dishes high in salt. I’d recommend salting up your rice if you need an extra kick. If it’s cold or you’re a bit under the weather, maybe you should go with the Gheimeh. Gheimeh is a stew made up of diced mutton, split peas, and signature thinly cut fries. This is a thick, onion-forward stew. The lamb meat here isn’t very tough, and it is less meaty than the kebab, but that makes no difference in the quality of the dish. It’s all great. I grew up on Persian food, so I could go on and on about what more you should get from here or from any other Persian restaurant for that matter. I will say one thing though: never order Doogh. Doogh is a drink, served mainly in Iran, consisting of sour, fermented yogurt and mint. It’s frothy like a smoothie—except it doesn’t taste any good! I’d argue that Doogh is to Iran as what coleslaw is to America. Order at your own risk!
An hour later, you’re going to step outside. Down the street, you will spot an Armenian church, which happens to be next door to the Greek community center. Then, start your car, skip a couple of corners, and park next door to the local Greek food market: Sophia’s Greek Pantry. Little English is spoken here, and everything from cheese to meat to nuts is marked in Greek Cyrillic. If you’re broke, imagine this as your trip to Athens or Santorini. Get some halloumi cheese, try some Greek Baklava, and go tell your friends all about it. Maybe, even give them a treat and grill some of that halloumi you just bought in the tiny confines of your apartment. Call it “Halloumi Night”. There’s never too much olive oil or balsamic, and it goes great with tomatoes too. For those uninitiated to halloumi, it is truly divine. It is salty, chewy, and meaty all at once. I know the French and the Swiss love to talk about their cheese, but Greek halloumi is just as good as any kind of French or Swiss cheese out there.
Armenian and Turkish food also use a lot of the same ingredients as Persian and Greek food. Oftentimes, there is bitter contention among people in the Mediterranean and the Middle East about whose baklava is best or whose dolma is better. I’m generally partial to Iranian food, but you can’t go wrong with Armenian dolma or Turkish kebab.
Watertown is by no means trendy or chic, nor is it exactly enticing to college kids who want to go out on a Saturday night. The restaurant interiors are not necessarily with the times either. There aren’t any plastic stools, metal countertops, or iPads with which you pay. But that’s okay. It’s a lowkey, best-kept-secret kind of deal to people who like tasty Mediterranean and Middle Eastern food. It’s different. And if you didn’t grow up eating this food, it’ll make you feel as though you’ve been missing out. But it’s not too late. In a sea of chaos on Earth, the Greek community center across the street from the quaint Armenian church in Watertown, Massachusetts gives me hope. So if you feel as though you’re running out of places to go, come here. If you want to see the best of what greater Boston has to offer, come here—because I promise you that it’s worth your time.
Cover photo courtesy of Sofia’s Greek Pantry