BY NAZ SIOSHANI
PHOTOS BY ADAM DETOUR
Vanilla, chocolate and strawberry is the traditional trifecta of ice cream served in America. Bastani sonati (traditional Persian ice cream), faloodeh (rosewater sorbet) and parsley is the new trifecta that Dizin FruttiBerri is serving to eager fans in Watertown.
“I want to provide a flavor for every taste, but also to encourage my customers to try new ones,” says Ali Toloui, the charismatic owner. “I am constantly experimenting with new flavors myself.
“To be honest, in Iran, there are really two traditional ice cream flavors and have been for centuries. The first is bastani sonati, which is the traditional saffron-flavored ice cream made with milk, eggs, sugar, rosewater and pistachios. The ice cream is often sandwiched in between two thin wafer cookies. Sometimes, additional iced chunks of cream are mixed in for an even more extravagant flavor. The second common flavor is faloodeh, which is closer to a sorbet. Faloodeh is a cold dessert consisting of tiny vermicelli-sized rice noodles mixed into a semi-frozen syrup made from rosewater and sugar.
“However, here at Dizin FruttiBerri, I am willing to experiment and add any flavor that my customers might like. A few months ago a customer came in reminiscing about a parsley ice cream that he recently ate in Paris. So I started trying to make parsley ice cream, and it is now a regular item on my daily list of flavors served. It’s quite good.”
Toloui’s gregarious manner welcomes every customer as they come in.
“Welcome, salam, bonjour,” he greets, easily switching languages as he learns the person’s background.
“I am a man of the world, in effect. I was born in Iran and that is my motherland, but I was sent to Paris to study when I was 15, just days before the Iranian Revolution started. I was all alone; my family was still in Iran. I only knew a cousin who lived in Paris.”
Toloui stayed in Paris for 15 years, earning a degree in economic administration and then his medical license. During those years, he met his wife, Shahrzad, who is also a doctor. Together they started a family that has grown to include three daughters.
In his 30s, Toloui and his family moved back to Iran. They resettled in the northern part of Iran, in a town called Karaj, where he and his wife started a joint general practice. Karaj is next to the ski resort of Dizin. Toloui also served as the director of emergency care for the ski resort.
“Those were wonderful years. I look back at them nostalgically. The people at Dizin became part of my family. I have named my store after that time in my life,” says Toloui.
In 2005, the Toloui family decided to make another change and moved to the Dominican Republic.
“My daughters, who were 17, 15 and 12 at the time, really loved the Caribbean, so we decided to try something new.”
Toloui and his wife worked as the medical directors for Club Med in Punta Cana. The family continued to live there, while his oldest daughter followed in her parents’ footsteps, becoming an ophthalmologist in the Dominican. Their middle child went to England to earn her master’s in civil engineering.
“It was when our baby decided that she wanted to move to America to earn her specialty in sports medicine, after finishing medical school, that we decided it was time for us to move too,” says Toloui.
Because they had not earned medical degrees in America, they knew that they could not practice in here. Instead, the couple decided it was time to search for a new profession.
“I am deeply satisfied by the 25 years that I was a doctor. I feel like I gave a lot to and received a lot from my patients. But I do not miss it. It was a good time to make a change and I always embrace those moments of transformation.”
The husband and wife team decided to move to Boston, for its diversity, well-educated citizens and European-like downtown. “And, of course, my brother lives in Boston,” laughs Toloui.
The couple did an audit of the offerings that the Boston area provided, and what it lacked for people of Middle Eastern decent.
“The one thing we quickly noticed was that there was no place to sit and enjoy Iranian ice cream. In Los Angeles, for example, there are many ice cream parlors that sell bastani and faloodeh.”
So Toloui went back to Tehran for an apprenticeship. Although most Iranians prefer their more traditional flavors, the owners of the ice cream shops in Tehran showed him how to experiment with other flavors, such as adding sour cherry, orange blossom and pomegranate to faloodeh. “I feel that this ability to customize is the key to success in America, and I am happy to do it. I have customers who come in and ask me to make the ice cream with more saffron or less, with less sugar or even to use a sugar substitute. I am happy to provide whatever they ask for. Thus far, I have been so lucky and blessed in my life and the ease in opening this store has surprised us. I want to give back to those who have helped me, so these small requests are all small ways to show my thanks.”
Toloui goes on to share that while many Middle Eastern foods have similar tastes, there are clear preferences amongst different nationalities.
“I have been asked to make different flavors or combinations for Lebanese customers who are having a large party. One popular request right now is rose lemonade sharbat, a refreshing Persian drink made with simple syrup and rose water. My next focus for the store is to introduce smoothies and sharbats.”
“My wife and I are really enjoying this second profession. We have a lot of thoughts of how to grow the business and welcome our customers’ feedback. It is our customers who have helped us become part of the larger Boston community and we appreciate that. We hope to be part of this community for many years.”
However, regardless of all the experimentation and customization, when asked what his favorite flavor is, Toloui admits that is it bastani sonati, just the way it has been served for centuries in Iran and now at Dizin FruttiBerri.
127 Mount Auburn St.
NAZ SIOSHANI lives with her husband and two daughters in the Boston suburbs, where she is always trying new restaurants and recipes. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.