The men who bake up a ‘blessing’ in Tehran

Iranian baker Esmail Asghari, 66, poses with Barbari bread in Tehran. (AFP)
Short Url
Updated 29 June 2020

The men who bake up a ‘blessing’ in Tehran

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

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.

SPEEDREAD

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.

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.
“Bread is the staple and the main food of our people,” it said.
If eating bread is a choice for some, it remains an obligation for others who can’t afford rice, another staple food in Iran.
“Rice has recently become so expensive that we can no longer eat it regularly,” said Mirzakhani. “We now eat most of our food with bread.”


Iraqis mourn expert on armed groups killed by unknown gunmen

Updated 34 min 48 sec ago

Iraqis mourn expert on armed groups killed by unknown gunmen

  • Gunmen on a motorcycle opened fire on Hisham Al-Hashimi outside his home in the Zeyouneh area of Baghdad
  • Al-Hashimi was a well-connected security analyst

BAGHDAD: Iraqi mourners and relatives on Tuesday carried the body of a respected analyst shot and killed the previous night in Baghdad after receiving threats from Iran-backed militias. Many Iraqis expressed their shock over the slaying.
Hisham Al-Hashimi, 47, was gunned down on Monday night outside his home in Baghdad’s Zeyouneh neighborhood. His casket, draped in the Iraqi flag, was taken to his family home before being driven to the burial site.
Al-Hashimi, a leading expert on Daesh and other militant organization, was a regular fixture on Iraqi television and his expertise was often sought by government officials, journalists and researchers.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the killing, which comes weeks after he confided to close friends that he had received threats from militia groups. The slaying also coincides with a spate of rocket attacks targeting US interests that has been blamed on Iran-backed armed groups.
Authorities launched a raid last week in Baghdad, in which they detained 14 members of the powerful Kataib Hezbollah group, suspected of orchestrating the attacks. All but one detainees were released days later.
Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi said Iraqi security forces would “spare no effort” in pursuing Al-Hashimi’s killers.

Hours after Al-Hashimi’s killing, authorities fired the top police officer for Zeyouneh and launched an investigation into his activities, according to an order from the prime minister’s office, seen by The Associated Press.
Condemnations from Iraqi officials poured in as shock reverberated across the country at the news of Al-Hashimi’s killing.

Nechirvan Barzani, president of the semi-autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq, said “authorities must find the perpetrators of this terror act and bring them to justice,” in a tweet on Tuesday.