When Marco Polo came to the city of Yazd, what did he see? Sandy city among the hills where Towers of Silence are scattered. He also saw the magnificent Yazdi souk with the quality silk being traded. He saw windcatchers or badgirs, mosques where Muslims pray.
And then Marco Polo got hungry. No wonder, because he saw the sweetest dates, blood-like pommegranets and huuuuge melons. Of course he got hungry! I am pretty sure that Marco Polo, having the experience with Chinese kitchen and coming home via Sri Lanka, did not starve nor ate just whatever. He was a man of developped taste for food and wine, and he was not an ascetic. And I am pretty sure Yazd catered Marco to him utmost satisfaction, just as it caters to me everytime I find myself in the magnificent desert wonderland.
My very favorite are the Yazdi breakfasts. Who said breakfast has to be boring, jam-and-butter necessity? The Yazdi breakfast of watermelon and dates accompanied by the thin bread, is something to crave for.
Lunch is fun when its light and fast, and the barley soup does one good whether in the winter time, when the winds are blowing crazy, or in the summer heat. Nothing is better than a hot, hot and nourishing soup.
And the dinner? The dinner should be a feast, chicken or fish, lamb or beef, and tons, tons of rice. When Marco found out what the meaning of his last name (Polo – rice in Persian) was, no doubts he was proud.
Now here comes the most delicious one – the Dizzy soup!
I have to admit that I have always watched, and never, except for a couple of sip of the clear soup, tried it. This is just way too much for me.
The Dizzy soup comes in a big bowl, meat and the soup all together, and what you need to do is separate …. you pour the soup into another bowl. Then you take the mashing instrument to mash the pieces of meat, yes the brain as well, to make it into a spread to put on the bread … quite a process, isn’t it? I’ve heard my friend say that this is only doable when one has enough time not only to eat, but also to digest afterwards …
I admit this is a challenge for me.
Only in Iran you go straight to the sleep after the meal because only there it’s not only possible but even recommended and expected. I talk, of course, about the tacht, or a sitting area for meals, that looks like something between a large bed and a sofa, for 2 to 10 people, that can be found in most of the traditional restaurants.
First of all, the shoes off! Nobody is interested at looking at the soles of the shoes, and it is not even comfortable to sit so. Then, find your seating space! In the corner or on the side, maybe by the “exit” if you need to pee often. Next, get comfortably seated in the best position – Turkish style or legs on the side, just stay comfortable so that your legs or back don’t fall asleep. Once this is all achieved, eat well and eat light, your twisted stomach won’t let you take in much anyway. And then, finally, collapse! Lay down, stretch your legs and digest!
On my way from Damascus to Tehran I didn’t have a chance to get hungry. The train crew in the Syrian train was feeding me more than well with the fish cans, bread and eggs, sweets and coffee. But the Iranian train crew introduced me to the Alpha and Omega of the Iranian cuisine … the Chalou Kebab.
After about 48 hours on train, one meets a lot of different people even if he or she is not too social. I was social only because I shared the berth with a Lebanese Shia family traveling on a pilgrimage to Iran. They had some Lebanese goodies with them, but then the time of lunch came and with it came my first Chalou Kebab. Marinated pieces of chicken meat buried deep under the rice mountain, with a juicy onion and a grilled tomato. Extra butter for the rice? Yes, why not. And it was a true love at the first sight, and a staple for the month to come.
I have to say that for someone who does not like meat apart from chicken and turkey, this was a great treat. I always think of the healthy Iranian chicken having real, natural meat as opposed to the chicken we get in Europe. Or at least, I hope so. Kebab is a real comfort food, the only discomfort brings the look at the scale after a month of this staple – four kilos more of weight!
TCHOY BOKHOREEM? Shah is asking me, probably the third time today. Will we drink tea? Oh yes, we will drink tea.
I have drank tea all my life. First of all it was the Momma’s fruit tea for breakfast, and Momma’s disgusting onion tea when I was sick, then came the Chai experience in the USA. The Egyptians thought me to drink it with milk, something that I had only before seen Mr. Bean doing in one of the episodes. The Jordanians showed me how to enjoy it with cardamom and in Syria we drank it with loads, loads of sugar. It was the preparation for Algeria, where the green tea is so strong you don’t even care they poured half a kilo of sugar in it …. And then I came to Iran, and this is what I found out:
Iranian tea is … velvety. It has a very unique aftertaste that is neither bitter, no sweet, nor even tasting after tea. It is pure velvet, something soft and soothing on the tip of the tongue.
Iranian tea is … a ritual. Do you really want just a tea, without the service? He asked me in one of the Tehran restaurants. It is a very savage-like thing to drink it apart from taking fruits and qalyan along with it? I almost think so. That’s why I love to enjoy the after-meal experience with another person, preferably a male that smokes the qalyan while I enjoy my tea with fruits. And the karamelized sugar, of course.
Iranian tea is … a medicine. It cures fatigue, it cures relationships and provides a way out of problems. Or so it seems, especially on a Friday afternoon, in the parks and green areas of Tehran, Esfahan or Shiraz. Would Iranians be able to live without their “TCHOY”? I doubt it. And coffee won’t do it, that’s for sure.
I love the tea stops along the road while travelling, I love the fact that the tea kettle is part of the car equipment. Hot tea on a hot day, that’s the way to go. While all the Arab countries are into the tea, Iranians live their tea love out.