I had been wanting to meet Najaf Daryabandari ever since a London friend had told me about the fascinating lunch he’d had with him in Tehran. Najaf is a distinguished academic who has translated many classics and also written a two-volume tome on Iranian cuisine. My friend had lost his contact details but fortunately Nasrine, my Iranian friend knew him and it wasn’t hard to set up a meeting with him except that by the time I got to Tehran, Najaf was in the middle stages of dementia. He was still able to explain about his book and Iranian cuisine but his mind would wander every few minutes and he would fall silent for quite some time that by the end of my visit, I knew there was no chance I could cook with him. Still, I loved meeting him and his charming son Sohrab and like all Iranians, their hospitality was delightful. Amongst the many things they offered us with tea were these amazing cardamom-flavoured hard candy called abnabat. Nabat means sugar and ab water and the name literally means sugar water. They can also be made with saffron which must be very luxurious or other flavourings. And of course, I immediately rushed to Tavoz to buy a bag which lasted a very short time. You can buy them online and I am sure you can also find them in London, perhaps even at Persepolis in Peckham, or other Persian shops!
This may well be my last post from my trips to Iran and it is a problematic one because even though I took the clip above, I don’t remember what the filling is nor what the bread is called. I don’t even remember what it tasted like and you can see from the not so flattering picture of me (taken by my lovely friend Alimo who showed me around on my first trip) that I did taste it. Perhaps Alimo will come to my rescue or one of you will and tell me what that filling is, also the name of the bread. My feeling is that the filling was either ground sesame or walnuts but I may be wrong. Looks delicious though, and yet again you can’t but admire the dexterity of the baker. I should have waited to film him stamp the bread with the beautiful implement which you can spot to his right. I will definitely buy one when I return. I will also film the whole sequence and take proper notes!
And here is my favourite of all Iranian breads, sangak, a large and very thin loaf that is pointed at one end and square at the other mainly because of the way the baker stretches the very wet dough as he lays it on the floor of the oven which is covered with hot pebbles. You often find sangak bakeries attached to restaurants, either dizi or simply kebabs like in this post about such a place in Dubai — there is an important Iranian community in Dubai and as a result great Iranian food. The bakery in my pictures is in Tehran, at the back of a wonderful dizi restaurant where the owner stopped looking at fashion in the late 60’s, early 70’s. He was dressed in a white and black suit with flared trousers and wore a hat. Quite unexpected in a place where everyone looks rather drab (on the street) because the women have to cover their hair and hips and most men are in grey or dark suits.
As you may know from my previous post, I have a piece on Iranian food in Saveur and I thought I would continue with the Iranian theme with a post about a very typical Iranian breakfast I had in a modest cafe in Tehran which was just perfect. The barbari, the bread that is normally served for breakfast, had just been baked in the bakery next door — often the bakery and cafe belong to the same owner. The tea was local, from Lahijan, and my Iranian friend showed me how to sip it through a sugar cube the way they all do. Later, at the sumptuous Shah Abbas hotel in Isfahan, I sipped my tea through very elegant wafer-thin saffron-flavoured caramel brittles. The super fresh eggs were half-fried, half-scrambled with tomatoes and the curd cheese had been made by a neighbour. And it all came on a large, rather beautiful metal tray. If my bed had been nearby, I could have carried the tray back to have breakfast in bed!