Monday, May 13, 2013

Traditional Iranian Bread

As I was making my breakfast this morning (French baguette with butter and apricot jam), I couldn't help but think of the bread in Iran and how much I missed it. Bread is a staple of the Iranian diet, and buying fresh bread is still one of those rituals that people do every day, so it's important to live close to a noonvah, bread bakery. When we were apartment hunting in Tehran, one of the perks of the place we got was the barbari noonvah just up the street. Those who don't live close to one can buy in bulk and freeze it. Still, there is nothing like buying fresh, hot bread and eating it on the way home. When I was little, I loved it when the adults would send my cousins and me to buy bread for the evening. We would always buy an extra for the walk back home. We'd talk and laugh and tear off pieces from our special "walk home loaf". 

Going to the noonvah is quite an event. It's a game of survival of the fittest. There are two lines at any noonvah- "one loaf" (this line is always shorter) and "2 or more" (always longer). If you go with someone, you play it strategically by both standing in the line to buy one. That way, you each get one, and it's faster. In Iran, the concept of standing in line is merely a suggestion. But at the noonvah, it's even worse. Standing in an orderly fashion and waiting your turn will not only brand you as a khareji, foreigner, but it may also send you home empty-handed. I imagine it's the smell of bread that makes otherwise reasonable people turn into lions fighting over the carcass. You just shout out how many you want, throw your money on the table and hope the baker hands you the bread first.

You also come across some interesting bakers: some super friendly ones who may not even charge you if it's getting towards the end of their batch, some super serious ones who are very formal. I even came across one baker who was flattening out the dough while smoking a cigarette... a long string of ash danced ever so elegantly above the dough. In this U.S., this sort of unsanitary behavior warrants a visit from the Department of Health. In Iran, however, you're just sorry you missed that colorful baker's Kodak moment. 

My favorite of all the Iranian breads is barbari. It's an elongated shape with soft, doughy ends- my favorite part. Along with some butter and moraba albaloo, sour cherry jam, and you are set! If you want sesame seeds on it, it costs just a bit more. This bread is near impossible to make anywhere outside of an Iranian noonvah. I've seen replicas in grocery stores or people trying to come up with recipes. In the U.S., I've seen "Afghan bread" called barbari. Other than the shape, unfortunately, it doesn't even come close.

My second favorite is sangak. This bread is usually made with wheat flour and baked on rocks. (Sang means rock in Persian). Sangak is a good bread for noon-panir-gerdu ba chai shirin, bread with feta cheese and walnuts and sweet tea. When you get this bread, you have to make sure there are no stray rocks on it and, if so, flick them off right there in the noonvah- but carefully because they are quite hot. 

I like taftoon when it's fresh. It's doughy around the edges and crispy in the thinner parts. Because this is a thinner bread, it makes for a nice tadig option once it's too stale to eat. 

Noon ghandi, also known as shirmal, is another kind of bread that has saffron and is slightly sweet. This is a nice choice in the morning with breakfast. 

There are many other kinds of bread, especially different local varieties. These are the classic options though. My mouth is watering just thinking about them. Which one is your favorite?


  1. Great post, miss Barbari myself...I hear that it's hard to find the original barbari in Iran now, most opting for the quicker recipe that is not at all like the old style version - which took longer to cook

  2. Thank you for writing about this! Our friend used to own a kabob restaurant and would cook dishes from back home Tehran. My husband and I would eat up the lavash like nobody's business. Since then I have wondered what other Persian breads existed.


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