By Annie S. Wesley; Freelance Writer
It is around noon in Shiraz, Iran. Lunch time….
The bakers in the historical town get busy panning out fresh flat breads. Bread, hot out of the ovens, goes straight to the waiting customers on their way home for lunch.
Shiraz is the city just 35 miles away from Persepolis, one of the ancient capitals of Persia, established by Darius I in the late 6th century BC.
As the aroma of fresh bread permeates the streets, it was fascinating for me and other visitors to watch the bread making process in the traditional middle-eastern way. With the strong culture associated with bread in the region, we were told that similar breads were eaten centuries back by the Persian rulers.
Flat breads are one of the oldest known prepared foods. Over the centuries, making bread became an art. The word bread in Farsi is Naan. If you the names Naan-e Sangak or Naan-e Barbari, it means Sangak Bread or Barbari Bread.
Even today, flat breads are eaten everyday in Shiraz and all over Iran. Each bakery specializes in one type of bread. Families buy one of the four main types of flat breads, sangak, barbari, taftoon or lavash, made in small bakeries spread all over the town. Each household buys only the quantity they can eat for that day. ‘Daily bread’ makes more sense in this culture.
Here is a description of two of the traditional breads of Iran I had the pleasure of watching in Shiraz:
Made of brown flour, sangak is the most traditional bread in Iran.
For fermenting the dough, the baker uses starter from the previous day’s batch. This replaces the use of yeast or baking powder bought from the store. After 1 to 2 hours of fermentation, the dough is stretched by experienced hands on a flat surface near an open oven.
The oven is a dome shaped hole with a surface of pebbles and stones. That is where the name Sangak comes from: sang means stone, so it is literally Stone Bread. The oven is heated with wood or coal. Watching this process reminded me of the history lesson the birth of flat breads: Nearly 12,000 years ago, in Neolithic times, coarsely crushed grain mixed with water was laid on heated stones, and baked in hot ashes.
This sangak can be made to about two feet long, enough for the whole family. It smells burned and is very delicious. It was said that the sangak resembles a woman’s chador, the scarf which every woman in Iran - local or foreigner - has to wear by law.
Barbari is the second common type of flat bread in Iran. It is a fluffy long bread, thick and delicious. Slightly more expensive than Sangak, Barbari is made of white flour.
After flattening the dough, the baker rests it on a table in preparation for baking.
Close by there is an open brick oven with a flat surface and a dome. The oven is heated with coals. The baker carefully inserts the bread with a long wooden paddle which keeps him from getting burnt as he inserts the flattened dough deep into the hot oven. No gloves necessary for these experienced bakers.
As we watched, the baking is done in about 20 seconds and out comes the warm, crispy bread.
It is immediately displayed at the shop front right in time for lunch. Hungry customers on their way from offices stop by to carry home the fresh bread. Women at home must be giving finishing touches to traditional side dishes to complete the meal.
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