The Persian Picnic

Tap, tap, tap, clink, clink, clink. Coppersmiths and metalworkers chip away at their material of choice in the Naqsh-e Jahan Square in Esfahan. The trickling sound of black tea emerges, hot and steaming from a traditional samovar. The call to prayer roars through the dusty streets of Mashhad followed by scurries of worshippers making their way to their local mosque. The beating sounds of Iran are never-ending, setting the scene for what’s hidden within. And then there’s that familiar click and lock sound in the distance. A sound found everywhere around the world – the ringing beat of plastic Tupperware.

Iranians seriously know how to picnic – everywhere and anywhere. In tranquil parks, exquisite Persian gardens and the more surprising choice of car parks, motorways and traffic islands – there is always a cause to create a lavish spread in Iran. A comforting Persian rug is rolled out for everyone to sit on – ever welcome on any surface.

Kuku sabzi – photo by Flickr user: superscheeli

And then there’s the feast itself. Hidden within a towered skyscraper of Tupperware sits trickles of juicy kebabs, layers of fluffy rice, rich mirza ghasemi, smoked aubergine with tomato and garlic and fragrant kuku sabzi, a herb frittata. Circular tubs reveal smooth maast-o khiar, cucumber and mint yoghurt, and shirazi salad with cool cucumber, soft tomatoes and the crunch of red onion making it Iran’s signature salad. 

To finish, fleshy jagged slices of watermelon are served, hard black pips tossed in a plastic bag to be collected later. Doogh trickles out of plastic bottles, a soured watery yoghurt drink. The chill of it seeps right through your bones. A black tea with a saffron nabad, crystallised sugar stick, tinkles against the side of a glass, sweetening your insides, warming you through like central heating for the soul. There are pomegranate pyramids, sticky pistachio pastries glued together like brickwork and zoolbia, a deep-fried pastry made from saffron, flour, starch, corn, rosewater and syrup. Resembling spirally clouds, they look like they’ve emerged straight from a child’s illustration. Billowing smoke sifts through the air from shisha pipe addicts, while the coal glows and tickles the foil that it’s settled on. Is that apple shisha today?

The picnic is a place for catching up with family members. Generations will be sat around the carpet, waiting for a certain food-filled Tupperware to be handed over to them. It’s a place for old friends. To find out their latest news and to chatter over new gossip – who has been accepted into university and who said yes to whom in a marriage proposal. It’s a warm gathering of loved ones.

And it’s the Iranian desire, determination and drive to continue their love for the great outdoors which is the most infectious. No matter what is going on around them, traffic or otherwise, the carpet and the plastic boxes are centre stage when a picnic is formed. And what’s for certain, wherever you find the picnic paraphernalia, there will be a welcoming invitation for you to join the crowd – and to open that next Tupperware box.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: