Wednesday, 15 January, 2020

Iran Makes You Surprised

Edited and Summarized from Guardian
By: Jennifer Klinec

At 1pm last Monday afternoon, a large van was left parked outside the Science Museum in central London. Painted on both sides were the words: “Iran is great”.

It turned out the van belonged to an eccentric Romanian-French couple and their two home-schooled children. They were travelling around the world and simply wanted to share a message: Iran is a wonderful country and more people should visit.

I took my first trip to Iran in 2009. I was running a cooking school out of my Clerkenwell apartment and regularly went on trips abroad, shadowing women in their kitchens as they prepared family meals.

A Persian women sitting next to me in the Iranian embassy while I waited for my visa waved her hand at me airily and said: “Oh, just go to the bazaar and look a bit lost. Someone will take you home with them.”

On my first day in the country a rather grumpy young man struck up a conversation, scribbled down his address and invited me to his family home the next day. Thus began a routine where each morning I went to their apartment on the outskirts of Yazd and spent three or four hours cooking elaborate Persian meals with his mother. I fell in love with Iran, its food and its people. And that grumpy son? We’ve been married for five years.

However, like the adventurous family who felt compelled to paint a slogan on the side of their van, I know Iran is a far more complex, cultured and multi-dimensional society than we see in the media. Here are reasons why “Iran is great” and why I believe you would love it too.

Iranians breakfast like champions

Forget granola or avocado smash on toast. Try camel-milk clotted cream with honeycomb, or sheep head and foot soup. Better still ask someone to point you to the nearest sangak bakery, where your bread will be baked on a mountain of fire-hot pebbles and then impaled on a wall of nails to cool.

Persians are romantics

Iranians spend more time reading the words of their national poets Hafez and Ferdowsi than anything else. Young people stroll arm in arm in parks full of orange blossom, eating spoonfuls of faloodeh (a kind of pomegranate and rosewater slush) and reading their favorite passages to each other.

Behavior is guided by an endearing social tenet called ‘tarof’

It is an ancient ritual of grace and deference that as an outsider you can only begin to understand. Watch two Iranian men spend 10 minutes arguing over who is the least worthy of passing first through a doorway. Observe a shopkeeper insisting several times to a customer that an item is free before finally accepting payment. Much of tarof is a kind of word-play charade, however tourists beware: if you let your gaze linger too long on someone’s food or even clothing, don’t be surprised to find them insisting on giving it to you. Politely refuse three times to let your giver off the hook.

Persians have a magical way with rice

Iranian rice is soaked and bathed like a princess, and steamed in a pool of melted butter for an hour over the gentlest of heat. It is so impossibly light and fluffy it could fill the quilts and pillows of Buckingham Palace, and best of all is the tah-e dig: a crisp, buttery, golden crust of rice left to scorch on the bottom of the pan. Beg, borrow or steal an invite to an Iranian home-cooked meal and taste it for yourself.

Iran is actually brilliant for solo female travellers

Iranians will both be in awe of your courage and pity you that you have no husband and apparently no friends either. Either way, as a lone female in Iran you get the best of both worlds. You can ride in women-only subway carriages and go to all-female parties where you can toss your coat and headscarf into the pile at the door and let your hair down, but you’ll also be accepted as an honorary man and be permitted to smoke pipes, eat offal and spit bones on to the floor with truck drivers in places that Iranian women wouldn’t dare set foot.

Iran is dizzyingly modern

Compared to other countries in the Middle East and North Africa, Iran is very modern. Literacy is at 97%, women outnumber men in university enrollment. Iranians as a whole are far more educated and informed about the west than we are about them. If you think of Iran as a medieval backwater, prepare for a shock.

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1 Comment

  1. Bobby Dias

    August 16, 2021 at 12:58 am

    Modern-yes and I wonder how much of that that is promoted by Iranian women that do as I have said: “Get into everything”. That is wonderful to me.

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