In the Kitchen With Obits’ Sohrab Habibion

Sohrab Habibion was a founding member of the DC-based posthardcore/punk band Edsel and now rocks out in Brooklyn as guitar man in the prominent garage-punk quartet Obits. If you ever listened to Fugazi, Shudder to Think or really any band on Dischord Records, you were probably also listening to Edsel. Or at least you should’ve been. To self-release their music, Sohrab and company founded DeSoto Records in 1989 and shortly after handed the keys over to their friends in Jawbox, who run it to this day.

In New York, Sohrab started jamming with Rick Froberg, former frontman of Pitchfork, Hot Snakes and Drive Like Jehu. After a year or two of intentionally gigless rehearsing, they played their first show in January 2008 at Cake Shop (mmm). Based on the collective strength of the musicians’ previous bands, the venue filled on word-of-mouth alone, a bootleg recording of the concert quickly sent blogs to tittering, and Obits soon landed a deal with indie label powerhouse Sub Pop. Their debut album, I Blame You, was released in March. Pitchfork (the music site, not the band) describes Sohrab’s guitar interplay with Froberg as “dueling guitars that have refined the echo and twang of surf and rockabilly into a sharp edge.” This October Obits take their show to Europe before a short stint in DC, Philly and, thank God, New York.

But Sohrab is no dumpster-diving punk, as we found out on a recent visit to his well-appointed kitchen. He and his Zagat-editing wife, Carol, and adorable son, Asa, live in a gorgeous Slope apartment overlooking Prospect Park, where, instead of a punky sneer, he wears a sweet smile.

I’ve been vegetarian since I was 15, which is—wow!—approaching 25 years. Back then the cool punk kid at my school was vegetarian, and that was pretty much enough for me. I’d grown up off and on in Iran, and, in 1979, when I was 9, we moved to DC, where the punk scene was really strong. Around the time I was 13, someone’s older brother gave us Sex Pistols and Dead Kennedys records, which really spoke to me. Then that vegetarian kid moved to our school. He was clearly years ahead of us in terms of nonmainstream culture and that made a big impression.

The day I told my parents I was becoming vegetarian, my dad had just made hamburgers, so he was pretty annoyed because he’d prepared all this food. But after their initial surprise my parents were very generous and supportive, just making sure I had decent nourishment—unlike my friends who had been living on only meat and Snickers bars, and then cut out the meat.

My friends and I were all into the post-Minor Threat straight edge movement, but it’s pretty easy not to drink when you’re 15. Now I’m definitely not as dogmatic as I was then—I like eating fish sometimes and will even occasionally, out of curiosity, have a bite of meat if I know it’s been well raised and well prepared, like a particular lamb dish at a West Village Moroccan restaurant my wife once insisted I try a mouthful of.

Meeting Carol made me much more aware of good food. She showed me the value of fresh ingredients, the subtleties of flavor. Through living in Iran and eating my dad’s cooking I’d been introduced to a lot of tastes and textures that I may not have been otherwise, but essentially I had no more food knowledge than anyone else raised in American suburbs.

Carol’s learned to cook a few Iranian dishes my family loves. My favorite is tahdig, which is when you brown the bottom layer of a pot of rice, say in yogurt, butter, some really thinly sliced potatoes—it gets wonderfully crispy.

We buy almost all our food from the co-op. On my shift I work “receiving,” putting out the produce, restocking shelves. I enjoy the social aspect, seeing people I’ve gotten to know over the years. And I love all the eccentricities of the place, which keep it interesting, and the net result is remarkable.

Like White on Rice
That’s Carol’s study in white. It’s all stuff that we actually eat often. Black-eyed peas. Arborio rice for risotto. The Israeli couscous is one of my favorites.

Pot o’ Beans
This thing is awesome. It’s a bean pot my parents gave us. I think at first Carol was a little dubious, but the difference it makes in cooking chickpeas is unbelievable. It reminds me of when I was in Greece—they soak the chickpeas in cistern water overnight, add garlic and salt and slow-cook it over a fire all day Saturday, then eat it all day Sunday. An all-day chickpea fest!

Tiny Bubbles
That’s my new favorite thing, which I got for Father’s Day. I can’t believe we haven’t had one before. I love seltzer, and when you think about all those bottles you go through it seems absurd. We get the little cartridges at the co-op and the machine makes a kinda farty sound, always good for a laugh in our house. You can make it as bubbly as you want. I don’t know how long it actually stays carbonated because I don’t wait to find out.

Caffeine Machine
I have two shots of espresso in the morning and maybe a third in the afternoon. Illy’s running a little bit of a scam, I think. You basically have to subscribe to get their pods of coffee, like the book of the month club or whatever, but we did a test using Lavazza and they’re way better and half the price.

Everyday Meals
Last night Carol made great quesadillas with smoked mozzarella, really thinly cut kale and some salsa that friends who live in Austin sent us. Lunch for me might be a tortilla with hummus, a bit of S’Chug hot sauce, a little feta sprinkled in, a drizzle of olive oil. Oh, and I could eat cornichons all day.

Really Hot Sauce
Asa’s babysitter is from Trinidad and she gave me this hot sauce. It’s out of control, seriously powerful. I love it.

Secret Shelving
This is a secret thing here, inside the old dumbwaiter. A friend built our kitchen cabinets and we asked him to design this removable insert since technically we’re not supposed to have anything in it. So, in a pinch, we can unscrew it and quickly take it out. Ahem. Please don’t tell.

Rockstar Diet
If we’re on tour and we’re up late, we’re probably also drinking, so we’re likely to get the late-night meal we wouldn’t have otherwise, but we’re generally not too abusive to ourselves. What’s great is the chance to try things we can’t get in New York. On our [performance contract] rider we request locally microbrewed beer. The last time we were in Detroit, we stayed with a friend whose pal runs a place called Slows, a well-known barbecue joint that is delicious and also focused on where they source their food. And the woman who promoted our show up in Toronto told me about her cousin, who makes a special Spanish-style cured ham.

In the Freezer
We almost always have shrimp shells for making stock.

Persian Delights
One thing that’s nice is—because my dad is an accountant for a bunch of mostly Iranian-owned small businesses in the DC area, including some restaurants, he gets things like good basmati rice, or zereshk, a dried fruit that’s similar to a currant, and, oh, these really amazing pistachios shipped directly from Iran. I know it sounds silly to say they’re so much better than the ones from California, but they really are so much better. And these are dried limes, which are very fragrant and excellent in soups. You just throw ’em in whole, and they give it a slightly acidic quality in the best possible way.

Proust’s Coffeepot
I got this when I was traveling in Egypt. It makes really great coffee, similar to Turkish coffee. I like it when you come back with something that then forever reminds you of that experience.

Beer Bars
Bierkraft’s great for discovering things, and we used to live right up the street. Now we’re closer to Beer Table, which I like, though the prices are higher than my normal, sit-down beer budget. For me O’Connor’s is the best—cheap and dingy in all the right ways. It captures the neighborhood in its pre-boutique state, which I really appreciate, though the jukebox definitely used to be better.

See Food
We love the Saturday Greenmarket at Grand Army Plaza. The fish from Blue Moon is the absolute best—seeing the scallops actually makes my mouth water.

Wall-Mounted Bottle Topper
We use that thing all the time, but mostly to open beers, not Cokes.