Food, with its primal connotations of nurturance and sustenance, carries powerful psychological, economic, physiological and political meanings. It is also a significant marker of ethnicity (Tremayne 1993) and migrants are frequently very resistant to dietary change. In fact, the maintenance of food habits may serve as a cohesive and stabilising force in a potentially threatening environment (Harbottle 1995:27-9). The sharing of a food culture is a basis of collective identity and commensality and also a means of expressing both inclusion and otherness (Fischler 1988). For Iranians particularly, the provision of food is a key signifier of acceptance, hospitality and friendship.
Based on ethnographic research conducted amongst dispersed groups of Iranian migrants in England, this chapter explores the characteristics and significance of their food-work in the public sphere. The complex combination of material and symbolic influences propelling these (predominantly male and often well-educated) individuals into the catering trade, are analysed. A recurring and dominant theme in these accounts is of a perceived spoiling of national identity since the Islamic revolution, and it becomes evident that in their work with specific types of non-Iranian food, these migrants seek to disguise and protect their ethnicity.
The data presented here is derived from tape-recorded interviews and informal discussions with about thirty men and two women involved in the catering trade, as well as from participant observations, front- and back-stage, in a number of take-aways and restaurants. Field-work was based in the North-West, Yorkshire and the Midlands, with visits to London, reportedly the centre of the British Iranian community. In writing this account, I have