A good reason to wake up in the morning in Tehran, Breakfast.
I’m not a big lover of breakfast. Or at least the breakfast we have here. I’ve always preferred a slice of bread with olive oil and coffee than the usual biscuits and milk. The Persian breakfast completely reflects my taste.
Not so grand as the English one, not so sweetish as the French one, the Iranian breakfast tells in its delicate simplicity the perfect balance of flavour.
After waking up, we used to sit around the counter top that divided the living room from the kitchen.
Sob bekheyr azizam.
Azizami, sob bekheyr. Khubi?
Man khubam, merci. Khubi?
Kheyli khubam, merci.
Every morning I could brush up on my poor Farsi. How are you, dear? Fine, thanks my dears. And you? Really good. Do you want some tea? Yes, thanks. Hamed’s mother gave us a steamy cup of tea to drink while eating everything that was already on the table: panir, the french feta, more creamy and less salty than the greek one, honey, walnuts, marmalade and bread, usually lavash, sometimes sangak.
I love Persian bread.
Sangak and Lavash
Sangak is a plain, rectangular, or triangular Iranian whole wheat sour dough flatbread. It is considered to be Iran’s national bread. Its name consists of two parts: ‘Sang’ in Persian means stone or pebble and ‘sangak’ means little stone. There are, normally, two varieties of this bread offered at Iranian bakeries: the generic one which has no toppings and the more expensive variety which is topped with poppy seeds or sesame seeds.
Lavash is a soft, thin flatbread. Traditionally the dough is rolled out flat and slapped against the hot walls of a clay oven. While quite flexible when fresh, lavash dries out quickly and becomes brittle and hard. The soft form is easier to use when making wrap sandwiches.
The ritual was always the same: take a piece of lavash, put on a bit of cheese, nuts and some honey, wrap it. Never put sugar in the glass of tea, but always in the mouth. A sugar cube at a time, paying attention to not let it melt at first. A sugar cube should be enough for a whole cup of tea. I couldn’t do it.
Talking about food I remember that night when Pooya invited us to have dinner at his place. His mother, a tiny woman with cute eyes, cooked all the possible Persian food. It was like ending up in a paradise for lovers of food. I’m going to try to remember everything, but it’s difficult : Khoresht-e fesenjān, a poultry stew with pomegranate juice and nuts; mirza-qasemi, a mix of roasted aubergines with garlic, tomatoes, turmeric, oil, butter, salt and pepper, with an egg on the top if you like it that way; koofteh berenji, huge meat balls with green peas similar to the greek kufta; tachin, a rice pie with jogurt, saffron and chicken; ghormeh sabzi, a lamb stew with herbs, amongst them parsley, coriander, leek, spinach and fenugreek. Obliviously not wine or beer to drink, but coke and a flavoured non alcoholic beer. My favourites were lemon and peach flavour.
Beside the incredible food, that night I could also get a life story from this family. Pooya’s father told me about his life. First an engineer in Iran and than a taxi-driver after the Revolution. Pooya is not a muslim. Neither is his father. His mother is Muslim. I was not used to seeing women with scarfs inside the house. They are not Muslim in Hamed’s house. Pooya’s mother always covered his head when another man was there.
I told them about a movie I watched, Persepolis. I noticed a bit of bitterness in the air. Pooya told me the story of his uncle, he fought for the war, he was not Muslim. He had his own ideas. After the revolution, when the Islamic Republic began he was sentenced to death. It was a story similar to the one you could see in Persepolis.
Khoresht-E Ghormeh Sabzi
- 1 (15 ounce) can red kidney beans
- 1 handful fresh fenugreek leaves or 2 tablespoons dried fenugreek leaves
- 1 bunch parsley
- 3 small bunch coriander
- 2 bunches spring onions
- 1 handful dill
- 2 bunches chives or 2 bunches of shallot greens
- 360 g diced lamb
- 1 onion
- 1 large dried lemon
- salt and pepper
- 2 lemons, juice of
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
Wash fresh herbs. Chop finely and remove stalks/roots. Fry the herbs (sprinkling in the dried fenugreek if using) in the olive oil, turning constantly, adding more oil when necessary until the herbs begin to darken (about 30 minutes). Remove from heat and set aside. Fry chopped onion in pan until soft. Add meat until they get brown. Stir in the herbs. Add the beans and enough water to cover. Put lid on pan and simmer gently for forty five minutes. Slice the dried lemon into quarters and add to stew. Simmer gently for forty five minutes. Add lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste.
Let’s get back to what I was talking about.
It has been difficult to choose a journey to which I could start the blog. I choose one of my last. The one that remains more in my heart.
The journey began in may 2011. In that year I myself was in India, for an exchange program with the university. During my stay in India, Pune to be exact, I met a guy, Hamed. We’ve been together since the beginning. We probably knew this story couldn’t last forever, but it didn’t matter at the time. For the time I was in India, we were always together.
Hamed is Iranian. He was already studying in Pune before I got there. Going out with him, I met a lot of his friends. They were Iranian too. Thanks to him I could come closer to a culture I didn’t have an idea existed. I will always be grateful.
Charmed by him and his story I decided I had to stop in his country before going back to Italy. It has been the wisest decision I’ve ever made.
Therefore, in May 2011 I embarked on an Emirates flight from Mumbai to Tehran, with a stop in Dubai. As soon as I landed, a new beautiful experience began.
To be honest, I could smell a different atmosphere as soon as I got into the airplane. I think I was probably one of the few non-Iranians inside this plane and I felt everyone was looking to go home. The people sitting next to me were the first to ask me with curiosity why I was going to Iran. After them, several others asked me the same question. We’re not use to having a lot of tourists. They were kind of upset. But you’ll do fine in Iran. We’re really welcoming. We like to show our land and whatever we have to offer to our guests. During my stay I can say that it was exactly like that. With regret this time, they explained some rules that I had to follow. Remember you have to wear the scarf. Unfortunately here it works like this.
The pilot announced we were almost ready to land. A general confusion started. All the women without a scarf on their head, probably all of the female passengers, began to cover them selfs. They didn’t seem upset to me, but used to the inconsistency of their gesture. I remember a woman wearing a top and a skirt. She tried to cover as much she could with the blankets the plane company provided us with. She laughed with her friends, like they were saying ‘what an absurdity’.
In the airport Hamed and his sister were waiting for me with a beautiful bouquet. She didn’t speak English, but I could feel she was really happy and kind and we tried to communicate as well as we could. Hamed helped us by translating.
We got into the car and drove towards home. I noticed an industrialized landscape. Huge streets. Several cars moving in an ordered line. I didn’t expect that.
When we entered into the house I got a hearty welcome. Hamed’s mother hugged me and started to tell me so many sentences in Persian I couldn’t possibly understand. Only azizami was clear to me. My dear. We ate some fruit and smoked shisha. I felt at home.
In the evening we had dinner with our friend Pooya. A small empty room with white plastic tables and chairs. A delicious koobideh kabab. It was not the first time I had one. In India it was quite common, but my first koobideh in Iran was not comparable.
To prepare koobideh, one uses minced lamb or beef, mince the meat twice for a better consistency (the kabab will feel like a hamburger if you mince it just once). Add salt, garlic powder, black pepper, celery powder, sumac, very finely grated onion (the extra juice can be squeezed out and saved for later application) and one egg yolk per pound of meat. Mix all ingredients, cover, and let it marinate in the fridge for at least four hours or overnight…
Grill on skewers over hot coal. Serve on Polo (Persian Rice Pilaf with oil, salt and saffron) or Adas Polo (same rice pilaf with lentils), accompanied by grilled tomatoes and onions cooked on the grill next to the kabab. Sumac is usually served as a tableside garnishing spice.
The following days were accompanied by site seeing and eating iranian cuisine.
I should write a special post about the Iranian cuisine. I love it. It is sublime. One of the best cuisine I’ve ever tasted. There was no food I had that I didn’t like. Everything was deliciouos.
There are many things one should visit once in Tehran: the Golestan Palace, the Niavaran Palace Complex, the Milad Tower, the Azadi Tower, Darband…
Well, let’s talk about Darband. Darband was a small village and now is a neighbourhood close to Tehran. From here an excursion to the Tochal mountain begins. There is also a gondola lift or as the iranians call it telecabin, for those who don’t like to walk.
Hamed, his brother and I went there. It didn’t seem like I was in Tehran any more. It seemed like I was in a hunky dory between the mountains and the city. Going up we could see small cabins build on the rives around us.We sat on a carpet off the ground on a bed built on a river where you could sit and enjoy a shisha and a warm tea. It was cold there. We could only hear the sounds of the water crashing on the rocks. kabab smell and people talking all around us.
- 20 plums
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
- 1/2 cup water
Wash plums and remove pit. Place plums, water, and lemon juice in a non-stick pot. Cook on low for 30 to 45 minutes until plums have cooked all the way through and very little juice is left. Make sure to stir every so often so that the bottom does not stick. Puree plums with a food processor. Spray some cooking oil on a cookie sheet lined with foil. Spread the pureed plum on top in a very thin layer. You can initially bake the plum puree for one hour in a 250° oven to speed up the process. Then cover the cookie sheet with cheese cloth and place it in the sun for a couple of days. You can skip the baking part and just leave the lavashak in the sun for 4 days instead of 2. Once the lavashak has dried, carefully peel it off of the foil.
I will always remember the pleasure of cutting into a piece of these fruit papers and enjoying them as they melt in my mouth. I haven’t tried to make it. Actually I had no idea it was so simple. Thanks to this blog I’ll probably do it very soon.
Those sticky papers were everywhere, rolled up like giants sheets. Oh god, how amazing would it be to find it in the market tomorrow.
Coming back from Darband, a group of people called us from a traffic light. They were taxi drivers. All sat on a carpet appreciating a shisha and some tea. They invited us to sit with them. We accepted and joined them. They told me the story about the Shah’s fall and the Islamic revolution. If we knew we’re going to end up like this, we wouldn’t have done it. They make us believe we’re fighting for freedom. And look at us now.
I think that Iranian people have been fooled. They believed in the revolution. They fought with their hearts for what they believed was right. They fought for their freedom. And now they feel like prisoners of their own beliefs.
A taxi driver once told me, we could do what you have done with the church, take all our Imams and put them somewhere else.
I think that’s enough for tonight.