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close this book Boiling Point No. 10 - August 1986
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Catch a Whiff of that Persian Bread!

By: Marie Grant

Possibly a foreigner, newly arrived in Tehran, may feel vaguely sorry for a labourer he may see under a tree eating his meal of cheese and fruit and bread. But catch a whiff of that newly baked bread. It stirs the taste buds. If there is one thing that smells better than new-ground coffee - it's Persian Bread just out of the oven.

And that is how Persians eat it! Before each meal, a member of the family walks to the baker for open-kiln-cooked, pebbly marked sheets of bread. You can see children with a pile of thin, round, tray-like objects carrying home the family supply. You can see a construction worker with a load in his arms of the long, ridged bread for his mates. You can see the housewife, perhaps enveloped in a chador or perhaps very smartly dressed, folding the flat bread into a manageable shape. You can see the city man jump into his car with one piece fastidiously held in a page of newsprint.

If you live near a bakery (nanrai) and few peopIe don't in Tehran you can watch a steady stream going to and from the baker's den. I say 'den’ because it is hardly a shop in the usual sense. You can see the bins of flour, the mixing bowls and the rough-walled ovens and of course, the bakers (nanraha) at work. They must surely be some of the hardest workers in Iran. Yet, I think it must be a satisfying trade. Most of them seem to be good-tempered, even philosophical. Not everyone has such a job which gives pleasure and sustenance the year round. But it is hard physical work with unsocial hours. The men have to rest when they can during the inbetween times while the dough is rising and the furnace is low.

Each bakery specialises in its own kind of bread. Hence perfection is achieved. There is the most commonly consumed taftoon - a thin, round, layer of bread, about half a meter in diameter which soon becomes flabby or brittle so must be eaten very fresh. Barbari is under a meter long and has raised ridges, is thicker and softer than taftoon, and popular for breakfast. There is lavash which is also round and flat but also paper crisp and thin. Shirmal is round or oval, sandwich size compared with the others, thicker, darker, and often has sesame seeds on its shiny surface. It is very slightly sweet to the taste. My favourite is Sangek which is an odd shape on account of -the shovel-like instrument on which this bread dough is slapped and flattened before being thrust by means of a very long handle into the oven. The bed of the oven consists of small pebbles and after a few seconds, the assistanct throws through the aperture, a handful of khash-khosh or poppy seeds. Then in half a minute, the bread is taken out, the pebbles shaken off and, if you value your teeth, make sure no pebbles remain. The taste of crusty-spotted Sangek cannot be described. You won't forget it!