Thursday, August 18, 2005

Tehran, Esfahan, snippets

We are in Tehran. I have been so busy I have not been able to keep this blog up to date. For this I apologise - but most of all, I am annoyed with myself as there are so many wonderful things to write about and no time at all to write.

I had hoped to wait until I could download the photographs with the text, but this is not going to happen. I simply cannot find a way to connect my laptop to the internet here. The hotel system is fine when working, but the idea of trying to transfer images with CDs when time is so tight is just too hard. So - some text now, and photos later.

Rather than try to get this into a coherent order, I thought I would send you a lot of snippets.

We had a wonderful dinner in a traditional restaurant in Tehran.Buildings here are mostly brick, and this had lines of turqupise between some areas, which picked out linear patterns. Photos to come, so I will not try to describe it. The food started with a plate of herbs and a paper thin bread. The herbs were so strongly flavoured - basil so hot it left me reaching for water, basil that was strong and sweet, basil that tasted like licorice, lemon verbena, a thing that looked like soft frilly rocket that almost took the roof off my mouth. The bread looked as if it had been steamrollered over pebbles.

Then grilled egglant, and tomatoes baked till the skin was pitch black, but the most intense, sweet melting flavour in the bloodred and almost seedless heart. We had 'special' kebabs - the type you have when you can't decide between chicken and lamb - each morsel was a piece of lamb wrapped with chicken and grilled, then topped with smooth yoghurt and spices.

The drink we like best here - forget alcohol as this is a totally dry country - is a yoghurt drink blended with ice and water and mint. It is slightly savoury, very smooth and delicious with most local food.

Do you know that in Iran you can get a 'smoothie' which is a cup of fresh pistachios blended with mild and ice cream and a little caramellised sugar? For those who think of pistachios as a pale yellowish green - you have never seen the Iranian version. These are a bright as fresh cut early summer grass, and with something of the same scent of summer and green with the slight nutty sweetness.

Tea here is delicious. It comes with a cut lime - sometimes half and sometimes whole, which you drop into the cup before you pour the tea. As it steeps the lime flavour intensifies. I watched as locals squashed it with a teaspoon to extract maximum flavour and added sugar to sweeten the tea. Limes come in three kilo bags for a few dollars, and many of my students just add lime and sugar to hot water, topping up the glass all through the day.

Lime also comes with all the lunches that are brought to us. These are, it was explained to me, 'student food'. They are so much better than student food in Australia - today's was zeresht pollo - rice with saffron, barberries, pistachios, almonds and chicken. The barberries are tiny red berries with the punch of a whole sour cherry in each tiny globe. Meal servings are large and always contain meat - I think a vegetarian would have real problems here as the idea does not seem to exist.

Some of the girls squeeze the lime into a spoon at the end of the meal and tip that into their mouths, explaining that it was good to take away the fatness of the meal.

I will talk about Isfahan when I have photos to show. For now - let me tell you of a tiny tea house built under a bridge hundreds of years ago.

We sat in the window sill looking out over a broad and fast flowing river. Our guide, Mr Shah had suggested that this was a nice thing to do.

Tea arrived with a bowl of thin flat oval discs (if I can be permitted an oval disc?) of golden brown toffee. The caramellised sugar comes with many flavourings - saffron and lime rind, but this was plain. The Iranians put the sugar disc into their mouths, and can make one disc last a whole small glass of tea, sip by sip. I tended to crunch as it started to dissolve, so dropped it in whole the first few mouthfuls were normal tea - but the sugar had layered at the bottom and the last few were straight golden caramel.

Our host had demonstrated how to put it into your mouth, and sip past it. Bob unfortunately took a piece that had two discs stuck together to make a long tongue-shaped piece of toffee. He put it into his mouth, sipped his tea, and it all slid sideways and tried to wedge his mouth open. He gurgled and mumbled at it like an old man with loose teeth and our guide lost control totally, chuckling and gurgling and snorting with laughter - and so did I. It was fun - Bob was obviously not in real trouble and all through the rest of the pot of tea Mr Shah kept gurgling.

Later I realised there was writng in Farsi on the sugar, and asked what it said. Before our guide could read it, Bob cut in with "Do not feed to Australian Ambassadors."

We saw people standing outside a food stall in the main square - the Map of the World Square - in Esfahan - with what looked like very large flat yoyos in bright yellow. "It is ice cream - it is delicious" said Mr Shah. It was - light, creamy, flavoured with vanilla and rosewater and saffron, and in a sandwich with a large circular pair of wafers. Oddly enough, it didn't seem to melt as we ate it.

I found a wonderful pair of scissors here in Esfahan. A tiny shop, gnarled old man in a strange green hat. Stuff everywhere - bulging and dropping from shelves and hanging from strange projections. I will send photos later. Bob found a bowl in copper (Safavid dynasty) and my scissors were huge old shears complete with brass inlay writing and a maker's signature. They are from the Qajar dynasty - about two hundred years old.

We bought both, and they were both wrapped, the scissors were propped, pointy end up, in the bowl, and off we went. We shopped for a bit longer, ate huge icecreams like overgrown wagon wheels - large wafer discs around bight yellow vanilla icecream which was superb and didn't seem to melt in the undoubted heat.

Back to the car, and we were taken by our guide to a wonderful bridge which we walked on and admired. When we returned to the car It was parked an awkward distance from quite a high kerb. Did I put my foot at road level (twisted at an odd angle) to get in, or did I try the swoop from a great height which meant a very difficult doubling over as I tried not to knock my head off at the door? I went for the
latter, seeing myself in a beautiful swooping manoever.

Unfortunately, in the awkward moment with head twisted sideways to avoid the top of the car I tried to see if anything blocked my descent and all looked clear so I descended - on top of the pointy end of the scissors carefully propped in Bob's Safavid bowl. I was impaled on the Qajar dynasty.

I managed to haul myself off reasonably elegantly, muttered to Bob that I had sat on the scissors and we continued. The day was spent hauling my shirt down tightly to cover a decided three point tear and small amount of blood, and I now have a blue spot on my behind! No photos of that.

I thought of putting a patch over the hole but decided it would look a bit odd. Bob suggested embroidering a slogan. I thought that "If you can read this you are too close" would work - he thought it should just be "Esfahan".

Enough for today - I am off to dinner. More another time - of my lovely delightful students, of what we are doing here in Iran, and how happy everyone is.

I am going to a friend's home to eat Faisinjan - checken cooked with pomegranate and walnut sauce, rich and dark and fruity.

Be jealous.


Anonymous MsLizF in California said...

I'm glad you are back and posting. I love reading your blog and can't wait to check it every morning. I will never visit such interesting places as you do so I guess I'm learning and enjoying your travels through you. Can't wait to see the pictures that you will post when you have time. Keep up the posting....I don't mind waiting.

1:36 am  
Blogger Helen from Canberra said...

Hi Jenny,
Good to hear from you once again and yes I am very jealous. I love the sound of those limes they are very expensive here at this time of the year nothing less than a dollar each. The days are getting longer and slightly warmer, 3o to 17o today.

Regards Helen

8:13 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Jenny:

Like your friend Helen it is lovely to hear from you again and I can't wait to see the photos! Here we're having a warm, dry summer and NO humidity. Mr. K still 'over there' and enjoying the work, in spite a couple of bouts with upset tummies! Almost 2 months have gone by now and we think at least 2 more to go!

Love, Tena

4:50 pm  
Blogger Sam Bowker, somewhere distant and exotic. said...

Brilliant to see you've had a decent break to update the Blog Mum, people have been asking what have you been up to!

Looking forward to seeing the photos as they arrive, and catching up with you and Dad in Sri Lanka.

Love, Sam.

6:52 pm  
Blogger Jeanne said...

It sounds fascinating- Your photos in Damascus, Teheran and sailing on the river are lovely and spark ideas for new pieces. I too am jealous. An adventure is so much more when you go outside the normal tourist places and find a special person or place. Cant wait to see your next photos!! Have fun and be careful.

6:13 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Jenny
Have decided as soon as limes go under 50c each will try the tea recipe, got my horn insert this arvo for the 440 QE.I just love the machine I didn't think that Bernina could improve on the 1260 QE but they have.Am still watching and waiting for your blog and now your son's.How clever is your fanily and how proud are you!love Christne from Bathurst

7:17 pm  
Blogger anomi said...

Wow, i loved reading your blog. Love the idea of the limes too.

2:23 am  
Blogger Izabela said...

I'm glad you are back. Will now have my regular fix of the Mysterious East, new recipes and quilting. I logged in just before lunch, and some really elaborate ideas started floating before my mind's eye. I'll starve before I cook any of those.
Let's limit ourselves to drinks to start with. So, is the tea just black tea + lime and sugar, or is there any tricks in the tea part? Can you drop the entire lime in, or do you always cut it?
Izabela from Melbourne

1:23 pm  

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