Good morning! I wake up well rested after a good night of sleep. As yesterday was quite the day I used this morning to finish my stories. A super relaxed way to wake up. Nasrin is an excellent host and tells me to be relaxed in the house. While I was sleeping she searched on the internet about what Dutch people eat for breakfast and wanted to serve me some meat or French fries. This was funny, as -for as far as I know- Dutch people like to have some yoghurt, bread and cheese. Like yesterday we concluded that the internet is full of false information. While I wrote my stories Nasrin went out to get some Sangak, a delicious healthy Iranian type of flat bread full of bran and topped with sesame seeds. And prepared the breakfast for us. Not too much later she invited me and Parsa to the dining table for a delicious and royal breakfast! I took a seat at the head of the table and didn’t know where to look; fresh orange juice, tea, warm sangak bread, sheep cheese and walnuts were presented in small trays on the table. Together with dates, raisins, fresh fruits and fresh yoghurt. The food was plenty and looked amazing! I didn’t even know where to start! The bread was served plain on the table and nobody got their own plate or cutlery. This was pretty awesome, as eating together like this, gives a feeling of sharing a meal. We are really having breakfast together! I took a piece of bread and added some sheep cheese on it. Nasrin suggested to add some walnut, to fold the bread together and eat it as a whole. I followed her example and tasted the warm bread, mild cheese and walnut together. This is delicious! The bread is crispy, the cheese full of flavour and the walnut really just finishes everything. I feel like a royal, like a king having breakfast with all these delicious and fresh items on the breakfast table. Like a Persian queen, enjoying the fruits of life. What a breakfast! Needless to say I enjoy this breakfast to the fullest; the sweet yoghurt and the sweet and slightly sour fruits, the delicious sweet dates and their soft, appealing texture, the freshly squeezed orange juice and the slightly bitter tea. This is a true delight for the taste-buds!
Now that the breakfast is finished I take the time to finish my stories and to get ready for the day. I possibly took a little too much time, as Nasrin had started to prepare for lunch already. I saw how she prepared filets of fish and how she seasoned them with yellow turmeric and mint. She didn’t use too much oil, as to keep the dish more healthy. To prepare the rice Persian woman take extra measurements. They believe the rice should be excellent and to make it superb they prepare it in a special way. For big groups of people they prepare it ‘Abkesh’ but in the family they make it ‘Katheh’ As I feel like part of the family, Nasrin prepared the rice ‘Katheh’ for us. And I’ll tell you how;
Obviously she first measured the rice for the right amount of people. Then she washed it as to serve it clean. In the teflon pan she added a around 1-1.5cm of water on top of the rice together with some salt and oil. Then placed the pan on moderately high fire until the water gets absorbed by the rice. This takes about 15 minutes. In other countries we might think the rice now is finished, but in the Persian kitchen they steam the rice for another 15 minutes on a low fire as to make it perfect. Before adding the cover to the pan she adds small amounts of oil at the edge of the pan. The oil finds it’s way down and while most of the rice steams the bottom part gets fried!
Giving it a very special and crunchy texture! This part of the rice is called ‘Tadig’ in Persian. When the bottom part is fried, the rice is finished! But this is not all! To make the rice extra special you prepare a bit of saffron to mix with the rice; you pound the saffron to powder in a small bowl, add a little bit of water, and mix a small amount of rice in this bowl. The rice will now colour yellow. And provides you numerous options to decorate the rice on the plate. In Iran usually they make a thin line of Saffron rice on top of the white rice as they serve it. But sometimes also flower designs are made.
One tip for the preparation of the rice; when you steam the rice, make sure your cover either has holes to get the hot air out or cover the lit with some cloth as to take the steam in. If the moist falls back into the rice it will become sticky!
Again needless to say the rice lunch was delicious :D! As if all of this wasn’t yet enough, Nasrin also prepared a yoghurt drink called ‘Dogh’ A delicious fresh drink made of fresh yoghurt mixed with salt, mint, rose petals, water and ice. A delicious drink that you can balance to your taste by adding more or less of each ingrediënt. I personally love the soft rose petal taste in the drink.
After this slow, but delicious start of the day it was now time for some exploration. Parsa had come back from playing football and with the three of us we jumped into the car, on our way to the palace. Today I started to understand why people say driving in Iran is crazy(!); Yes, there are good roads and yes, they are only for cars. As compared to India and Nepal at first sight it looks very organised. There are no people crossing the roads, no motors, scooters, rickshaws, auto-rickshaws or passengers to share the road with. The road is well constructed, complete with lines, masking areas and traffic lights. The cars look a bit on the old side, but have electric windows and doors. There are speed camera’s everywhere on the main roads. All is there for an organised drive but then… the drivers don’t pay ANY attention to the markings on the road. Yes they stop for traffic lights, they wear their seatbelts and slow down to prevent speeding tickets, but they consider the road as one big area where you drive where the space is. In Iran there’s no need to use your flasher. You just go where the space is. You don’t need to get in lane when you want to leave the highway, you just make your turn in the very last second. A three way lane can easily be transferred into a four lane if the space allows it. It’s super funny to see all drivers using this road in the for them most convenient way. It sometimes looks as if the vehicles are dancing on the highways, going from left to right without any notice. It gives a feeling of organised chaos on the organised roads. As if i’m driving around in a video game.
Nasrin wants to show me some places where Iranians go to escape the city. She brings me to Darakeh village, where people go to enjoy hiking in the mountains, where they come to eat in restaurants and where they relax. Then we drive to the city to visit a palace, but on the way my eye gets caught by the Sa Leh Holy Shrine. One of the many Imamzadeh mosques and one of the most popular and powerful Shia shrines in North Iran. We make a short stop to visit the shrine. In holy places it is mandatory for female to cover their selves completely by wearing a chador. Female visitors of the shrine are handed a ‘chador’ before entering the shrine. But instead of a cloth to wear, it’s more like a sheet to cover yourself. Surprisingly enough not a black sheet, but a white one with a subtle flower motive. The ‘chador’ is difficult to wear as it’s likely to fall off the body. I struggle to take off my shoes and try my best to keep myself covered. The chador is worn on top of my Hijab -the scarf that covers the hair- and repeatedly I feel how the Hijab falls down from under the chador. But I try my best to keep myself covered as not to be disrespectful. Nasrin guides me inside the shrine; silver glass mozaiek covers the walls and the ceilings. The floor is covered with a carpet and woman are sitting and praying on the carpets. Some sit alone, others in groups. Nasrin takes me to the tomb where the remains of Saleh, a son of the Shia Imam Musa al-Kadhim is placed. She askes me to pray. I walk to the tomb -not knowing it’s a tomb at this moment- and carefully take in the energy and emotion around me. I notice many woman either in black or white chador. They are holding on to the tomb and they are crying. They are crying from their harts. It’s a deep cry. A cry for help maybe, a cry of prayers?! I feel a lot of energy and have difficulties placing it. I make my prayer and walk back to Nasrin. I notice more and more woman are crying. There’s a lot of sadness and pain in their bodies. She explains to me that people cry because they pray for their sick mothers, for the people who they care for. Quite overwhelmed we walk out of the shrine. Never before did I see so much pain in a religious place.
But there’s not much time to reflect and understand about what happened as we continue to the Tajrish bazaar, situated next to the shrine. We hand in our chadors and walk inside the market. The first things I see are religious items, followed by dates, sweets and free tea to drink and taste. Nasrin explains me that people hand out food and tea for good prayers when family passed away. Also market men sample sweets and dried fruits. There are sweet and dried fruit and nut stalls everywhere and the variety of products is enormous! I am allowed to taste all the fruits that I like, but feel shy as it’s their merchandise. Some fruits are too irresistible not to taste though. I taste and bought dried kiwi, dried peach. Ate fresh pistachios which you need to take out of the seed first. My eyes cannot keep up with the delicious delicacies exposed left and right of me. It’s a delight to experience such fresh and delicious taste. We make our way through the bazaar, with it’s narrow walkway and many stores left and right and end up in a shopping street. I notice lots of ladies on the streets and tell Nasrin it’s good to see so many females outside.
We end sightseeing with a short visit to Darband square and mountain and Farahzad. Both places where people come to enjoy life outside of the city. There are lots of restaurants and hiking opportunities, but as the evening had already set in there were no sights of the mountains. It did look cosy though, and expensive! Luxurious restaurants everywhere. All trying to be bigger and better than the other.
Back in the house I met Nasrins husband and other son. She has a super kind and loving family! The whole evening we spend talking about Iran, The Netherlands, India and Nepal. There’s a lot of cultural exchange in a light and pure light. Enjoyable and good conversations over fresh tea 🙂 Today was an informative day full of impressions! There’s a lot to learn about Iran and the culture and am excited to learn and experience more :)!