Unique to every culture, country and even region, the humble bread is a wonderful way to see variation around the globe. In Iran, bread plays a significant role in the diet of its population. It can be found all over, in city streets, bakeries and bazaars. The bakeries can sometimes be difficult to spot, tucked away in discrete alleys without any signs. Sometimes they are only recognised by the hanging bread at the entrance or a queue at the door. Do try and find one though, if you can. It’s a very interesting watch if you manage to find a baker working his delicate craft in Iran.
In Iran, there are many different styles of bread to accompany various meals. Sangak is well-loved in the country. Its name translates as ‘little stone’. This is a flatbread style of bread that you will see on tables serving lamb kebab. There are two varieties – plain and the more expensive seeded variation with poppy seeds and/or sesame seeds. This is quite a soft bread, baked on a bed of small river stones in the oven. You will often see this bread in plastic bags layered on people’s shoulders on their way home from work, later to be piled onto their dining tables.
Barbari bread is also a keen favourite to eat in Iran. Barbars were an ethnic group indigenous to north east Iran which borders Afghanistan. The barbars brought this type of bread to Tehran during the Qajar period. Barbari bread usually comes in a long, curved rectangular or circular shape with horizontal lines embedded all the way through, giving it a slight spongey texture. Before the baking process, sesame seeds are sprinkled all over giving the bread a good crunch too. The dough is inserted into a heated oven using a long wooden paddle. You will find this bread eaten at breakfast with a slightly sour feta style cheese and walnuts.
We now come to lavash. This is a thin and soft bread usually prepared in a clay oven. Alternatively, you can make this in a tandoor or even a baking machine. It is well-loved in Iran and you can find this all over. The flavour and texture does vary though depending on where you are. You can find some softer versions of lavash in cities, such as Mashhad and thin and crispy kinds in others like Shiraz. Enjoy lavash with a wide array of accompaniments, including fresh sabzi (herbs) and a slice of fresh tomato.
Bread is such a standard staple item all around the world and Iran isn’t short on its selection of it. From thin and crunchy, seeded and ridged, there are many different flavours and textures to opt for. They are a wonderful tool for picking up, or indeed mopping up, other Iranian foodie favourites.