The men who bake up a ‘bless­ing’ in Tehran

Arab News - - News Middle East - AFP Tehran

They bake what Ira­ni­ans call “the barakat (bless­ing) of the ta­ble,” and it is eaten for break­fast, lunch and din­ner — tra­di­tional breads are a sta­ple of the Ira­nian diet.

Bak­eries are easy to lo­cate in ur­ban cen­ters of Iran where all one has to do is spot a queue spilling onto side­walks or sim­ply de­tect the ir­re­sistible scent of freshly baked flat­breads.

Ex­clu­sively the job of men in the Is­lamic repub­lic, bak­ers get up well be­fore the crack of dawn while ev­ery­one else is still asleep.

Dressed in all-white cloth­ing that can in­clude caps, they hail from across the coun­try and are usu­ally made up of eth­nic Az­eris, Kurds and Lurs.

The baker moves and ges­tic­u­lates con­stantly as he works in what re­sem­bles a dance in front of gas-fired ovens.

He takes a ball of dough and spreads it on a board be­fore plac­ing it on the in­side walls of the glow­ing fur­nace us­ing a long set of tongs.

Once they are done, the baker again uses the tongs to re­trieve the bread, and hangs it on the wall or piles it up.

The walls around them are a patch­work of flat­breads in four dif­fer­ent shapes and sizes — bar­bari, lavash, san­gak and taftoon.

But they do not stay there for long, as cus­tomers jostling near the en­trance are ea­ger to snap them up while they are still hot.

A freshly baked Ira­nian flat­bread usu­ally ac­com­pa­nies a piece of feta cheese and sweet tea for break­fast or a plate of ke­bab for lunch.

Of the four main tra­di­tional types, san­gak is the most pop­u­lar and is seen as Iran’s na­tional bread.

It is made from whole­wheat flour and topped with a sprin­kling of se­same seeds and some­times poppy seeds at the cus­tomer’s re­quest.

The coro­n­avirus has also af­fected the bak­ers’ pro­fes­sion like so many oth­ers, and their in­come has de­creased as a re­sult.

“At the be­gin­ning of the pan­demic, some of our cus­tomers who had been quar­an­tined bought in­gre­di­ents from us to bake bread at home,” said baker Es­mail As­ghari.

But mak­ing tra­di­tional bread at home is dif­fi­cult, mean­ing cus­tomers were quick to re­turn to their lo­cal bak­ery.

“Dur­ing iso­la­tion, I made bread twice at home, but it didn’t go well and I re­al­ized it wasn’t a good idea!” said Ne­gar Rezai, a cus­tomer clutch­ing some san­gak out­side a bak­ery in north Tehran.

“We have bread for break­fast and din­ner and of­ten eat rice for lunch,” adds the 50-year-old house­wife.

In or­der to en­sure hy­giene, one baker has en­forced the strict san­i­tary in­struc­tions im­posed by the Health Min­istry, in­clud­ing so­cial dis­tanc­ing and use of bank cards in­stead of cash. “We had a lot of dif­fi­culty dur­ing the fast­ing month of Ra­madan,” said Mo­ham­mad Mirza­khani, a 41-year-old taftoon maker.

“The line be­came long and many peo­ple did not re­spect (health) pro­to­cols.”

The Health Min­istry re­ported in Jan­uary that on av­er­age Ira­ni­ans con­sume 310 grams (nearly 11 ounces) of bread per day.

AFP

Dressed in all-white cloth­ing that can in­clude caps, the bak­ers hail from across the coun­try and are usu­ally made up of eth­nic Az­eris, Kurds and Lurs. Ira­nian baker Es­mail As­ghari, 66, poses with Bar­bari bread in Tehran.

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