Festival Food Tips: The Colour of Pomegranates

If anyone can help you survive IFFR, it’s Lot Piscaer. The Rotterdam-based food writer knows all the best restaurants, from fine dining to local snacks, and from the best Chinese to vegan fare. In this blog: delights from the Middle East and other pomegranate-worthy stuff.

Click on a restaurant name to see its location.

This blog was inspired by Temple of Cinema #1: Sayat Nova Outtakes. This installations shows the restored, never-used outtakes of Sergej Parajanov’s film Sayat Nova (also known as The Color of Pomegranates). Incidentally, the film itself is available from IFFR Unleashed, the online streaming platform. After all that lush imagery you are left with a burning desire to find out more about the country the film takes place in: Armenia. Unfortunately there isn’t an Armenian restaurant in Rotterdam, but other pomegranate diaspora cuisines offer plenty of delights to feed you throughout the festival.

The Temple of Cinema exhibition is in a church, the Arminiuskerk. By coincidence (or is it?) this is also the place restauran tThe Royal Hangover will pop up during IFFR. It has a different menu every day (not Armenian or Middle Eastern unfortunately) and is perfectly aligned with the rich imagery and stylish beauty of Paradjanov’s film. You can also simply drop by for a drink. Sip cocktails from antique teacups like Marie Antoinette whilst lounging in one of the church’s secret back rooms.

Syrian chef Maher al Sabbagh is an artist both in and outside his kitchen. During the festival he will be running Maher’s Kitchen in the Doelen. Fresh, authentic Syrian comfort food such as mutabbal: roasted eggplant puree with tahini and pomegranates (what else?). He also prepares other Middle East classics such as Ful medames (broad bean and chickpea stew) and proper hummus.

For Moroccan food you only have to walk down the West-Kruiskade to Tiendplein. Restaurant Ryad serves great harira (soup) and a divine lamb tagine. Until 13:00 there’s breakfast, too: msemmen (Moroccan pancake-like bread), omelettes or a Berber breakfast.

When you enter the enormous Bazar dining room on the Witte de Withstraat you’ll be forgiven for thinking you’ve been transported to Babylon, a 1001 nights or some sultan’s palace. It’s a food palace, to be precise – full of colours, lights and with a lively atmosphere. Rotterdam’s diverse inhabitants gather here for the breakfast buffet or to eat some mezze.

In ancient Egypt, the pomegranate was seen as symbol of prosperity and ambition. Egyptian restauran tHabibi is a little hidden behind the buildings of the Nieuwe Binnenweg, but is only a 5 minute walk from Kino. It’s a true hidden gem with delicious homemade hummus and falafel (made with broad beans, the Egyptian way).  

The Day I Lost My Skinny Jeans will be the day you enter Pistache Halab: they have homemade sweets from Aleppo in Syria including a divine kanafeh (a warm cheese dessert). Further along the Binnenweg, near subway stop Delfshaven, lies Shaami Huis, another Syrian restaurant with astounding shoarma, beautifully styled vegetarian mezze and freshly baked flatbread with za’atar.

Afghan cuisine is also known for its use of pomegranate sweet and sour flavour. South of the river Maas, not far from Lantaren Venster, Afghan restaurant Afsana is a nice family place.  

Lack of vitamins or suffering from festival overload? The fruit and vegetable stand groentenkraam on Binnenwegplein will get you back on your feet with their salads and fruit juices. 20 metres down the road there is Sappi which has even more juices, including one entitled the hangover killer. That might come in handy.