Making visible the many aspects of Middle Eastern culture that are often relegated to the background: this is the mantra of Sahar and Forough Sodoudi, twin sisters from Iran. A visit to ‘Dr&Dr’ - a food lab, political and cultural project.
‘Dr&Dr’ written in blue neon lights, large windows opening onto Reichenbergstraße in Kreuzberg, a white façade: even from the outside, ‘Dr&Dr Middle Eastern Culture and Food Lab’ looks very trendy. The interior is a joyful mix of modernity and tradition, with mosaics inspired by the Golestan Palace in Tehran, and crockery found in bazaars. Everything inspires conviviality: the central kitchen, open to the room and the guests, the luminous space, the dozens of candles scattered across the room and the welcoming smile of the twin sisters Sahar and Forough who offer you from the moment of your arrival a cocktail of their creation, a gin scented with rosebuds.
Born in Berlin, the twins were five years old when their parents decided to return to Tehran, where Sahar and Forough received their education. However, they came back to Berlin for their doctorate and both graduated with a PhD degree, Sahar in Climate science and sustainability and Forough in Geophysics / Seismology. After a career in research and research management in Germany, they decided to open a food and cultural lab together and in a nod to their original career baptized it ‘Dr&Dr’.
“We knew we were on the right track”
But beware, this is not a restaurant! Sahar explains that “it’s a place where we organize catering, private dinners under reservation, tastings, but also cooking classes, cultural events such as poetry reading and music concerts. We even welcome designers from the Middle East to present their collections four times a year”. They launched the project in 2019 and in the following year, the twins won the German Gastro-Gründerpreis for the best and most innovative start-up concepts in Germany, Austria and Switzerland - “it encouraged us, we knew we were on the right track!”, Sahar told.
She further explained what had triggered their decision to change careers: “We realized how bad the Middle East was represented in Germany. People stop at a very basic representation of our region as a place of conflict, but they are not interested in the culture.” They went on to tell me about their experience as lecturers in Germany, and how they noticed that their students from the Middle East "had to struggle and to fight more than the others to succeed”.
During a professional trip through the Middle East, the two sisters rediscovered a “culture of love and sharing”, particularly through food, which was the origin of their project. This gave rise to the desire to pass on this gastronomic heritage, an integral part of their identity, a common good to be celebrated, appreciated, and protected.
“Food makes it easier to reach people,” Sahar stated, before adding, “but it's also a political project”. Indeed ’Make food, not war’ is the motto of the enterprise, which aims not only to promote a culture that is largely unknown, "hidden by politics and religion”, but also to represent a Middle East united beyond the conflicts it is too often associated with.
A taste of tolerance, discovery, and openness
A project that takes shape directly on the plate at the long-awaited press dinner of the two sisters, postponed many times because of Covid-19: “On a plate of mezzes, many different countries can rub shoulders”, Sahar told me. Rose-flavoured sheep's cheese, basil hummus, yogurt and Baba Ganoush open the ball and are spread on the warm mini-pitas.
Next, Za'atar-seasoned Labneh delicately wrapped in Kadayef dough and topped with a crunchy touch in which the acidity of the cheese and the sweetness of the honey blend divinely. The third dish, announced by Forough, is a grilled aubergine, Yemeni cabbage, topped with yoghurt and sprinkled with pomegranate and pine nuts.
This is followed by a moment of conviviality in which all the guests gather around the central kitchen. Two of them also participate in unmolding the Tahdig (scorched rice) - their success is greeted with applause. Scented with saffron and covered with pistachios, the rice is accompanied by chicken breast fillets in a saffron and yoghurt sauce, roasted cauliflower, and toasted seeds.
Finally, just when you think you can't eat any more, a mango mascarpone verrine brings this feast to a light and fresh close. Beyond these rich flavours and shimmering colours, this dinner had the taste of tolerance, discovery, and openness, enhanced by a note of admiration for these two inspiring sisters. Aware of the originality of their trajectory, Forough claims with an infectious enthusiasm: “It was certainly late when we had this idea... But not too late!”