Expat Life Iranian Culture Tehran

8 Magical Moments I’ve Experienced in Tehran

From sharing laughs with strangers to live taxi driver entertainment, these are some of the beautiful experiences I've had in Tehran that seemed magical.

They say the best things in life are free. I would add to that that the best moments in life are the simple ones. The seemingly insignificant, ordinary moments that are actually quite extraordinary. You wish you could stay in them a wee bit longer, but they’re fleeting and end up existing only in your memory where you replay them like your favorite movie. These are eight such magical moments I’ve experienced in Tehran, the first part of a series of stories I’ve been collecting. When people ask me why I love this city, it’s because of little beautiful experiences like these. 

Khanlari, Tajrish Square

Khanlari is an awesome sandwich dive known for its falafel and sosis bandari (spicy sausage) sandwiches, sodas in old-school glass bottles, and good vibes. Nobody leaves there without a smile.

One day, I dropped by for a quick lunch. The cashier was repeatedly calling a number to no avail when the customer finally showed up. “Where’ve you been, dâdâsh? We’ve been calling you for an hour! Look, this lady already finished 2 sandwiches in the meantime,” he said jokingly referring to me while I sat there devouring my falafel, bread crumbs falling into my lap and getting caught in my loose strands of hair.

Another customer walked in and left his phone on the counter behind me to charge before ordering. One of the cooks suddenly yelled, “Hey! Where are you going with his phone?!” His right hand shot up in the air, and his eyes seemed to follow a person out the door. Hesitantly, customer peeked behind me to find his phone still quietly charging. And that’s when the place erupted in laughter. “We got you, man! You totally fell for it!” The customer laughed and shook his head. That’s when a homeless man walked in, and they handed him a sandwich- no questions asked.

This all happened just after the first round of sanctions took effect and the dollar was skyrocketing at a freakish rate. All anyone could talk about was the economy, where it was headed, and their fears for the future. But for those few minutes in Khanlari, all was ok in the world. And we even remembered how to laugh.

Labbafinezhad and Valiasr St. 

Walk down the stretch of Valiasr between City Theater and Jomhuri Avenue (the hot mess I like to call “so ugly it’s beautiful”) at night, and between the sheer volume of people, the stores spilling into the street, and the dast forush (street side vendors) with their merchandise spread out on the sidewalk, you’ll feel too overwhelmed to think. In fact, you have to focus all your attention on where to place your next step.

From sharing laughs with strangers to live taxi driver entertainment, these are some of the beautiful experiences I've had in Tehran that seemed magical.

Tehran’s City Theater at night

And in the midst of this chaos, I noticed a girl, no older than 14, leaning against the wall, completely absorbed in a book. Damesh garm, I thought. These days, most people have their nose in a smartphone, and it’s rare to see anyone holding a book, much less in such a hectic environment. But here was a girl after my own heart- completely uninterested in shopping, keeping herself busy while her parents were inside a store. It was as if she was sheltered inside an invisible bubble where none of the madness of outside could get to her. Well, either that, or it was a really good read.

Pastry Shop- Enghelab Square

There’s a nameless pastry shop just next to the entrance of Enghelab metro station. For all I know, it has a name and I’ve just never noticed because I’m too busy being lured in there by the smell of freshly baked goods. On that particular day, all the seats were taken, so I asked the guy if they had room upstairs.

“For good customers like yourself, we always have room.”

I smiled. “I’ll take that one, please,” I said, pointing to the one topped with âlbâloo compote. A table emptied downstairs, and I plopped myself down with my pastry. Despite the bustle of Enghelab Street just a few feet away, I always feel completely removed from it in this place. I just indulge in my pastry while admiring the photos of Old Tehran and vintage ads. 

A few minutes later, I reluctantly surrendered my seat and got up to pay. I was, of course, met with the obligatory ghâbel nadâre.

Merci, mamnoon,” I said.

“Mehmune mâ bâshid (be our guest),” he insisted.

“Please,” I insisted back.

“2,500 toman,” he finally said. “Please excuse me, bebakhshid, for saying the price because really, ghâbel nadâre.

“Khâhesh mikonam, daste shomâ dard nakone,” I said, handing over the money and thinking that the apology was a bit extra. You might call it- what?- excessively nice? But sometimes in these crazy times, excessively nice is exactly what you need as a reminder that the world isn’t about to implode.

Outside Qeytarieh metro station

The crows are one of the things I love most about Tehran. They’re so full of personality. Sometimes you’ll see them in odd positions- head cocked up, beak open, still as a statue. Other times, there’ll be a gang of them sitting around conspiring to do God-knows-what. And still other times, you’ll catch them picking away at leftovers of a watermelon rind while the consumers of said watermelon nap in the grass nearby.

From sharing laughs with strangers to live taxi driver entertainment, these are some of the beautiful experiences I've had in Tehran that seemed magical.

Crows near Mellat Park

After a long day, in which I had not only reached but surpassed my 10,000 steps (all while carrying a heavy bag no less) I decided to treat myself to a Snapp home. After resting my eyes for a bit, I opened them just as we passed Qeytarieh metro station. I glanced out the window to see a crow steal a piece of lavash bread the size of its own body and fly up into a tree. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see what it did with the bread after that, but it’s exactly things like this that make me truly believe that Tehran belongs to the crows as much as it does to us humans.

Highway, somewhere between Zanjan and Tehran

We were driving back from Soltaniyeh Dome in the dead of summer. At some point along the highway, we passed by a vast wheat field that continued as far as the eye could see. That’s when I spotted a lone man in the middle of the field under the blazing sun, straw hat on head, bow down and get into sajdah (prostration). I craned my neck to see him briefly come up for an Allahu-akbar and get back into sajdah. It all happened so quickly, it was a shame that I couldn’t capture that moment on camera. But that’s what makes it all the more special, I guess, because that image is forever tattooed in my brain.

Haqqani metro station

Unless you’re traveling a short haul, it’s hard to find a Snapp that will accept your ride during rush hour in Tehran. (Insider tip- try Tap30 (pronounced tap-si), one of Snapp’s competitors. It’ll cost nearly double- if not more- but you’ll get a car.) Since it was the peak of the peak of rush hour, I decided not to bother with any shared rides. The weather was nice, and besides, I had time, so I decided to take the scenic route home- and it paid off.

I hopped on the metro and got out at Haqqani station. As I scanned my card to exit, I came face-to-face with a crew of dâsh mashti with their white collared shirts, black suits, bowling hats, and (the pièce de résistance) handlebar mustaches. I couldn’t help but search for the one I took a picture with at Tehran’s Botanical Garden because, seriously, how many gangs of these guys could there possibly be? I didn’t see him, but no matter. Heads were turning left and right as commuters stole glances of these guys.

It was my second time encountering them, which is strange considering how rare it is to see them, especially in a large group like that. The only thing left to do now is to wait for the third time because as they say in Persian, tâ seh nashe, bâzi nashe. (This idiom is sort of like the English “third time’s a charm”, but the English version means you’ll be successful on the third try after two previous failed attempts whereas the Persian version means that something will be complete the third time. For example, if you drop and break 2 dishes, go ahead and break a third so it’ll be complete.)

From sharing laughs with strangers to live taxi driver entertainment, these are some of the beautiful experiences I've had in Tehran that seemed magical.

Shared taxi- Saadat Abad to Shahrake Gharb

The last passenger, a young guy carrying an instrument, got into the taxi, and we set off. The taxi driver looked at him through the rear-view mirror.

“What do you play?”

“Violin,” he answered.

“It’s good. The violin is a good instrument… but isn’t that thing hard to lug around?”

The guy laughed shyly.

Âghâ, I have an instrument,” the driver went on as he reached for something in the side pocket of his door, “I can take it with me anywhere I go!”

He whipped out a zanboorak (mouth harp) and held it up for us all to see. “This is what you need. I can carry it in my pocket and play it any time, anywhere I like.” And he proceeded to keep us entertained while we waited at a red light.

“The sound is nice, right? Kind of like a frog. Have you seen the video of that woman playing zanboorak? Man, she’s amazing! Let me show you.” He found the video on his phone and passed it to the passengers in the back. I couldn’t see it, but I could hear someone going to town on this tiny instrument!

“You know how I got this thing?” he asked us as he took his phone back. “I noticed a couple of foreign tourists once. I pulled over and gave them my phone number and told them to call me if they needed anything and that I’d show them around. They were from Russia. Well, later that same night, they called me, so I invited them over to eat. They ended up staying the night at my home, and in the morning, I took them out sightseeing. Anyway, when they left, they gave me this as a gift.”

You can never get out of a taxi without some kind of story here.

Jomhuri Avenue

After a morning of diligent work, my cousin and I decided to take a well-deserved break and recharge at the nearby Cafe Naderi, one of the most famous retro cafes once frequented by the literati of the 20th century. 

From sharing laughs with strangers to live taxi driver entertainment, these are some of the beautiful experiences I've had in Tehran that seemed magical.

Cafe Naderi’s wall of fame

My cousin and I have a similar sense of humor. We’re both able to twist each other’s comment around and make it into the butt of a joke that we will laugh at until tears roll down our cheeks and our stomachs cramp in pain. And that day, as we left Cafe Naderi, we had another one of these episodes where we were laughing at a silly joke (that I don’t even remember now). Evidently, our hysterics were noticed by others because we suddenly heard, “Considering the situation we [Iranians] are in these days, you two are the only happy people!” We turned around to find that we had caught the attention of a man off to the side perched on his motorbike, a wide grin spread across his face.

Considering the situation that we [Iranians] are in these days, I like to think that on that particular day, perhaps my cousin and I also contributed to a magical moment for him.

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From sharing laughs with strangers to live taxi driver entertainment, these are some of the beautiful experiences I've had in Tehran that seemed magical.

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  • Alanna Peterson
    26 October 2018 at 22:32

    I couldn’t agree more that the best moments in life are the simple ones! Loved all these stories, especially the one about the crows 🙂

    • Pontia
      27 October 2018 at 11:17

      Haha, yes! You would definitely appreciate the crows here 🙂

  • Parisa Khosraviani
    1 November 2018 at 19:52

    I especially love the cab ride stories.

    • Pontia
      2 November 2018 at 14:50

      Thank you! I’ve actually been collecting those too. Cabbies are chatty here 😉