The men who bake up a ‘blessing’ in Tehran

Iranian baker Esmail Asghari, 66, poses with Barbari bread in Tehran. (AFP)
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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.”


France’s Macron to host donor conference for blast-stricken Lebanon

Updated 9 min 19 sec ago

France’s Macron to host donor conference for blast-stricken Lebanon

  • Rebuilding Beirut could run into the billions of dollars
  • Economists forecast the blast could wipe up to 25% off of the country’s GDP

PARIS: French President Emmanuel Macron will host US President Donald Trump and other political leaders on Sunday for a UN-endorsed donors’ conference by video to raise emergency relief for Lebanon following this week’s massive explosion in Beirut.
Lebanon was already mired in deep political and economic crisis when the blast ripped through its main port on Tuesday, killing 158 people, injuring more than 6,000 and destroying a swathe of the city.
Rebuilding Beirut could run into the billions of dollars. Economists forecast the blast could wipe up to 25% off of the country’s GDP.
Many Lebanese are angry at the government’s response and say the disaster highlighted the negligence of a corrupt political elite. Protesters stormed government ministries in Beirut and trashed the offices of the Association of Lebanese Banks on Saturday.
Macron visited Beirut on Thursday, the first world leader to do so after the explosion, and promised the Lebanese people humanitarian aid would come but that profound political reform was needed to resolve the country’s problems and secure longer term support.
“I guarantee you, this (reconstruction) aid will not go to corrupt hands,” Macron told the throngs who greeted him.
There has been an outpouring of sympathy for Lebanon from around the world this week and many countries have sent immediate humanitarian support such as a medical supplies, but there has been an absence of aid commitments so far.
Trump will participate in the video-link conference.
“Everyone wants to help!” he tweeted.
Germany will commit an additional 10 million euros ($11.79 million) in emergency aid on top of the rescue contributions already underway, its foreign minister said.
A Macron aide declined on Saturday to set a target for the conference. Emergency aid was needed for reconstruction, food aid, medical equipment and schools and hospitals, the official said.
Representatives of Britain, the European Union, China, Russia, Egypt and Jordan are expected to join the conference, hosted by Macron from his summer retreat on the French Riviera. Israel and Iran will not take part, the Elysee Palace official said. ($1 = 0.8485 euros)