TRA­DI­TION TRUMPS POL­I­TICS

Ira­nian bread per­ma­nent guest at Kuwaiti ta­bles

Global Times US Edition - - LIFE - Page Ed­i­tor: taom­[email protected] globaltime­s.com.cn

Khalil Ka­mal makes sure he reg­u­larly vis­its Kuwait’s pop­u­lar Souq Al-mubarakiya, where he en­joys his fa­vorite ke­bab meal with onion, rocket and freshly baked Ira­nian bread.

The smell of the bread wafts through the mar­ket as it bakes in a tra­di­tional oven at the Al-wal­imah restau­rant in down­town Kuwait City.

The restau­rant’s Ira­nian baker takes one of the many dough balls lined up in front of him and spreads it over a cush­ion, us­ing the pad to stick the dough against the in­side wall of the clay oven.

Once ready, he uses a long stick to reach in and pull out a steam­ing rounded loaf, served pip­ing hot to cus­tomers.

For decades, Ira­nian bread – known as taftoon – has been a sta­ple of Kuwaiti break­fast, lunch and din­ner ta­bles.

For Kuwaitis, their bond with Ira­nian cul­ture re­mains un­changed de­spite the grow­ing re­gional ten­sions be­tween the Sunni-ruled Gulf coun­tries and the Shi­ite Is­lamic repub­lic.

Iran sits just across the strate­gic Gulf wa­ter­way and its culi­nary in­flu­ences are strong.

“Ira­nian bread is the only bread we’ve known since we were born,” 60-year-old Ka­mal told AFP.

Has­san Ab­dul­lah Zachriaa, a Kuwaiti of Ira­nian ori­gin, opened Al­wal­imah in 1996. Its ta­bles are spread across a court­yard, sur­rounded by wooden col­umns and en­try­ways.

Zachriaa, in his 70s, said the restau­rant puts out be­tween 400 and 500

loaves of Ira­nian bread a day.

“The big turnout in Kuwait for Ira­nian bread stems from the fact that for decades, our moth­ers used to make it at home,” he told AFP.

“We then started to buy it from bak­eries and stand in lines to get it fresh and hot in the morn­ing, noon and evening.”

‘Since child­hood’

The flat bread is of­fered along­side many dishes pop­u­lar in Kuwait such as Al-baja, lamb bits stuffed with rice, Al-karaeen, cooked sheep feet, clas­sic chick­pea plates, or beans and cooked fish.

Al­most all restau­rants in the old mar­ket have their own tra­di­tional clay ovens where ei­ther Ira­nian or Afghan bak­ers work.

Der­bas Hus­sein al-zoabi, 81, a cus­tomer at Al-wal­imah, said many Kuwaitis were raised on Ira­nian bread.

“Since child­hood, Ira­ni­ans baked bread for us... and we used to eat in the morn­ing with milk and ghee”– clar­i­fied but­ter.

Other than at street mar­kets, Kuwaitis can buy Ira­nian bread from co-ops, where peo­ple line up in the early hours of the morn­ing and again in the evening to get the freshly baked goods.

Some bak­eries even have des­ig­nated seg­re­gated en­try­ways for men and women.

Some Kuwaitis cus­tomize their orders with spreads of sesame, thyme and dates, and many come pre­pared with cloth bags to keep the bread as fresh as pos­si­ble on the trip home.

Bak­eries spe­cial­iz­ing in Ira­nian bread be­gan pop­ping up in Kuwait in the 1970s and have since ex­panded to more than 100, ac­cord­ing to deputy chief of the Union Co-op­er­a­tive So­ci­ety Khaled al-otaibi.

“These bak­eries pro­duce 2 mil­lion loaves of bread a day to meet the needs of Kuwaitis and res­i­dents,” he told AFP. “They re­ceive fuel and flour at a sub­si­dized price so that bread is avail­able for not more than 20 fils (less than seven cents).” The price how­ever can go to up to 50 fils de­pend­ing on the amount and type of ad­di­tives, in­clud­ing sesame and fen­nel.

No pol­i­tics

Taftoon has re­mained pop­u­lar in Kuwait de­spite es­ca­lat­ing ten­sions in the past year be­tween Iran on one side and the US and re­gional pow­er­house Saudi Arabia on the other.

“Bread has noth­ing to do with pol­i­tics,” said Zachriaa.

“Ira­ni­ans live here, and there will be no short­age of this bread that is very de­sired.”

Shi­ite Iran main­tains good re­la­tions with Kuwait, unlike its strained ties with other Gulf coun­tries, in­clud­ing Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates.

Ac­cord­ing to Jassem Ab­bas, a her­itage spe­cial­ist, re­gional pol­i­tics do not have a ma­jor im­pact on the so­cial lives of Kuwaitis.

“De­spite the cur­rent ten­sions and what has hap­pened in the (1980-88) Iraq-iran war, Ira­nian bread re­mains a top fa­vorite,” he told AFP.

Around 55,000 Ira­ni­ans live in Kuwait, ac­cord­ing to the Ira­nian em­bassy, while Shi­ites make up about one-third of Kuwait’s 1.4 mil­lion na­tive pop­u­la­tion.

“Pol­i­tics does not ruin friend­ships be­tween peo­ple,” Ab­bas said.

Photo: IC

An Ira­nian baker takes freshly baked bread out of an earth oven.

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