Last week I spent a few days in Shiraz on a business trip. Remember? I saw and ate and enjoyed many many good things, and I’m going to do my best to document it all in a fashion that will be concise yet somewhat of interest to you, my lovely joon readers. Advance warning however, that I will do so in bits and pieces and fits and starts and in several posts. Thus, begging your generous understanding from the very beginning of our journey.
For today’s post, let’s go with a pictorial essay of some of the pretty things I saw.
If you must make a business trip while in Iran, it may as well be a trip to Shiraz, the city of pomegranate blossoms and roses and bahar narenj and poetry and oft: staggering beauty. And if you must go to Shiraz, it might as well be in the month of Oridbehesht — a spring month that ends with the suffix of “behesht” or paradise. And if you are fortunate indeed, you might also be hosted by people who are not just kind and lovely but who love food and feed you splendidly! And thus, it may transpire that your first breakfast in this ancient and fabled Persian city might be a simple but seductive Persian breakfast centered around a quail egg sunny side up omelette.
To recreate this scene at home, follow these easy steps.
First, crack open a dozen quail (or “belederchin” in Farsi) eggs. Heat some butter in a small skillet till it sizzles, and until it does, gaze at the golden yolks and enjoy their sunny disposition in a pleasant reverie.
Then, once the kitchen is filled with that unmistakable heavenly aroma of sizzling butter, pour the yolks in the skillet. Scramble the yolks just a teeny tiny bit and cook over medium heat till the omelette sets nicely but is still sunny side up.
Slip the omelette on a beautiful china plate and serve as the centerpiece of a very pretty and delicious Persian breakfast. (Note: breakfasts in Iran can be quite elaborate and based on my non-scientific but homegrown polling tend to be super popular in Iran. I’ve met so many people who say variations on this theme: “I go to bed dreaming of my breakfast!” ha ha.)
Let’s explore this particular enchanting culinary landscape that yours truly got to savor at further length! Starting with the plate of herbs and cucumber and tomato (the essential ingredients for making a traditional Persian “loghmeh” or bite-sized sandwich) let’s work our way clockwise left to right:
yummy creamy feta cheese; a container of khameh (thick cream) on a plate; a tall glass of frothy homemade banana milkshake (fill blender with 4 cups of milk, add 2 ripe bananas, blend till smooth and foamy and serve); a heart-shaped bowl filled with soft succulent homemade strawberry jam (so good with that thick cream on some bread); the glorious aforementioned quail egg omelette as the piece de resistance; and of course: bread.
Can you say: YUMMY? Oh boy, it was. (Thank you Farzaneh joon!)
Finish off polishing your fill of this heavenly morning repast with a cup of coffee served in manner most dainty, pretty and charming.
It will greatly enhance your experience if you could do all of the following while inhaling that je ne sais quoi springtime air of Shiraz fragrant with the smell of roses and honeysuckle; laden with the memory of centuries of poetry and bohemian pleasure-seeking flair that all of Shiraz is known for and renowned.
I want everyone I love to come and visit and experience the glory of Shiraz. You all: do it! Seriously! More on Shiraz to come. Promise.
Till then, xoxo and boos boos.
ps Have a lucky Friday the 13th 🙂
Hello hello hello! I am tempted to say: “Here’s your faithful blogger” but I have been terribly horribly shamefully remiss re both the “faithful” and the “blogger” part of that declaration and it’d be more correct to say “here’s your missing-in-action, flighty, hanging-her-head-in-shame blogger”. In my defense, gentle and oh so patient (& hopefully forgiving?) reader: I have been micro-blogging my heart out on a consistent basis. Might I suggest that if you’re inclined to get a daily fix of Fig & Quince goodness to follow along on my Instagram account? It is easy, it is quick, it is often delicious, and it has zero calories! What are you waiting for?
But yes, it has been a good few months since I’ve written here. A long enough absence where the WordPress dashboard is totally unfamiliar. Why oh why do the capricious WordPressing gods keep changing things around here? Ok, going off topic. So back on topic, here are some facts in no particular order as it pertains to yours truly:
To break the ice and the dry spell and get warmed up and started, I’ll crack the old blogging knuckles (crunch crunch) and share a quick, random story about having a fast food snack called “esnak” (ha ha) in Tehran one day.
One day back in the summer, just a few weeks into coming to Iran, I decided to hop on a random bus and leave it to faith to take me where it might. And faith, or rather the creaky “Falakeh Dovom Sadeghieyeh” bus took me to its final destination, namely: the “Haft Teer Square.”
Before disembarking, I spied with my little eyes a graffiti writing on the wall that read: “Esnak Pat va Mat” with an arrow pointing downwards. I was both hungry and nosy, so I immediately followed the arrow upon disembarking from the bus.
Ascending a few steps and then following my nose down a very narrow passage I came to halt in front of a red and yellow metal kiosk, with a small window, inside a guy taking food orders. Think of it as a stationery food truck. Something like that. After perusing the offerings, all of them were called “esnak”, I found myself ordering a single serving of “esnak” and then tried to find a corner to sit and eat.
Do you see this red metal graffiti’d wall? Do you see the yellow wall just behind it? The kiosk vendor’s window was just between these two. There were also a few chairs in the impossibly narrow space. Most of which were occupied but I did find one to sit and gaze at my lovely hot and strange “esnak” and photograph it before digging in.
It doesn’t look that great in the photo, does it? But for 2000 Toman (less than a dollar) and handed to you piping hot and filled with gooey cheesy carb-ladden stuff, I wasn’t complaining and in fact, I have to say it hit the spot. I would not have turned down another serving if someone had offered, let’s say.
I was sitting just behind this wall (where apparently Ali Elnaz also occupied on 93/9/18) and it was totally a tight and narrow spot, but, it did offer an excellent unobtrusive opportunity for both graffiti watching and people watching.
This was months ago, but I still remember feeling rather cozy and happy as I sat there, eating my “esnak” snack, enjoying the rush of that awesome carb-loading satiated contentedness, and feeling by degrees less and less a stranger in my city of birth and original homeland.
So! Gentle Reader! Here it is, my first post after months of absence. It is somewhat lame – OK, let’s not ta’rof with each other and admit that it’s decidedly lame. But think of it as a junk food post! And I hope to hop back on the blogging wagon and deliver more quality and nutritious content soon, and on a regular basis. Somehow or other I’ve got to make the time. Because I miss blogging. I miss you. And like I said: I have a trillion and one stories to tell and it’d be a shame to keep it all inside. (Don’t forget to follow along on Instagram though, for daily peek into my second epic trip to Iran, OK?)
Boos boos and till soon!
Gentle readers, while some of you are currently home-bound due to a winter snow blizzard, some of you on the other side of the globe are fanning yourselves due to the excessive heat of summer; and meanwhile yours truly is here in Tehran, Iran, where the season is still winter but the weather is mild(ish), although the mountains surrounding the city are beautifully and lushly capped with snow.
Instead of a post of my own, what I have for you is a treat: an impeccable guest post (recipe and photographs) by Caramelflahn (Helen!) who is my culinary inspiration and obsession.
You may recall Helen’s foodgasmic interview (Lord have mercy! If you’re not averse to drooling over food, you shouldsprint over to that link and drool away!) and her stunningly exquisite (and am not throwing that adjective lightly) Saffron layer cake with white chocolate mousse & pistachio butter cream. (Just typing the title of the post sends shivers tingling down my spine! May the Lord be merciful again!) If you care even a tiny bit for food, you must follow Helen’s Instagram for pinch-me revelation and inspiration! And you can always wipe away the pool of drool easily enough with a kitchen towelette! 😉
This, Helen’s latest guest post for Fig & Quince, Persianized dolsot bibimbap, is the fusion of a classic Korean fare with Persian inspirations. As if that’s not intriguing enough, there’s a cameo star turn by nooroongji or Korean ta’dig! What marvel of nature is that! Helen reports that Koreans LOVE noorongji! Helen’s favorite part of dinner growing up was the noorongji at the bottom of the rice cooker, and she and her older sister would fight over the big pieces of Korean ta’dig. This story makes me chuckle because the fight over tadig is such a typical occurrence at any Persian dinner table as well! Helen says her mom used to actually take leftover rice and press it on a hot frying pan with some toasted sesame oil to make giant sheets of noorongji for Helen and her older sister to snack on. What a fabulous idea! I shall make a note of doing the same going forward!
As for going forward, enough of my narrative in italics. This awesome Korean dish looks delectable and the recipe is detailed and involved, so let’s proceed posthaste to our guest’s wonderful post. Here’s Helen in her own words:
Helen’s Persianized Dolsot Bibimbap
Dolsot bibimbap (돌솥 비빔밥) is a popular traditional Korean dish, and one of my favorite meals to eat and make. It’s a hot stone bowl filled with rice mixed with various vegetables, beef, fried egg (or just a raw yolk), and a specially seasoned sweet and tangy red pepper hot sauce. Dolsot [돌솥] means “stone bowl,” bibim [비빔] means “mixed,” and bap [밥] means “rice”. It’s super tasty, (reasonably) healthy, well-balanced, and can easily be made vegetarian or vegan.
The hot dolsot accomplishes two things: (1) It keeps the contents piping hot until the very last bite. Perfect for these chilly fall days and upcoming winter! (2) Arguably the best and most important reason, it makes the bottom layer of rice toasty, nutty, and crunchy. This crunchy rice, or nooroongji (누룽지) tastes amazing and is the prized product and sign of any good dolsot bibimbap.
Just regular ol’ bibimbap has the exact same ingredients but is served in a standard non-heated bowl, so it doesn’t have that delicious nooroongji crunchy rice. It’s still good, but not as good as dolsot bibimbap in the opinion of most people; the hot stone bowl really makes a huge difference. Oh, what’s that you say? You don’t own a 5lb granite bowl and have no idea where to get one? Well, lucky for you, a well-seasoned cast iron skillet works (nearly) just as well! That tasty toasty nooroongji you’ll get from the dolsot (or cast iron skillet) is the Korean equivalent of Persian ta’dig. Which is why I thought creating a Persian-inspired dolsot bibimbap made delicious sense.
Yes, Persian and Korean cuisines have considerably disparate flavor profiles, but they have many key similarities. Both are heavily based on rice. Both like some of that rice to be crunchy. Both use lots of fresh herbs and vegetables. Both embrace bold spices and complex flavors that pack a big punch. Dolsot bibimbap has all of those things, and I think this Persian-inspired version does, too.
The flavors and ingredients are Persian-influenced, but based on the original Korean dish. Instead of steamed plain medium-grain white rice, there’s buttery fragrant saffron basmati rice. Instead of garlic-sesame-soy beef bulgogi, there’s garlic-cumin-mint lamb “bulgogi”. Instead of sweet vinegary pickled oijangaji cucumbers, there are shirazi salad-inspired pickled cucumbers. Instead of sauteed garlic-soy spinach and toasted seaweed, there’s a sabzi-inspired quick sauteed spinach with herbs. I found most of the components were naturally analogous, but one distinctively Korean ingredient I had to keep was the gochujang (fermented red pepper paste). It’s the umami-packed key ingredient of the tangy sweet spicy sauce that’s mixed in the bibimbap, and I think it complemented the Persian influences surprisingly well. The end result is a hearty, satisfying complete meal in one sizzling, steaming bowl loaded with deliciously intricate flavors.
One thing I especially like about this recipe and dolsot bibimbap in general is that you can make everything the day before, and leftovers reheat beautifully. This recipe can be eaten over the course of several days, and it’s like you’re making and enjoying a fresh bowl each time; all you have to make each time is the fried egg.
This was a lot of fun to do, and I really enjoyed exploring Persian cuisine! The bibimbap is seriously delicious! I hope you enjoy this as much as I did!
Let’s make Helen’s recipe and let’s dig in!
Hello hello hello and happy new year again!
So how did you spend your first day of 2016? I hope you celebrated and rejoiced in the clean slate of a whole new year in either a truly wholesome or a truly decadent (or an intriguing combo thereof) fashion.
As for me? I started the new year on the right foot (literally ha ha) by going mountain climbing and spent the first day of 2016 at 2500 feet above the sea level traipsing around in the breathtakingly glorious — lushly carpeted with plush pristine snow — mountains near Tehran. Lucky me! It was a memorable day filled with exertion, elation, and many delightful surprises. To wit: Do you see the photo above? That’s a group selfie with a new friend and a group of even newer (made-on-the-impromptu-spot) friends and a birthday cake and a very well mannered (but shekamoo) Iranian German Shepherd dog named Cesar!
But let me start my tale from the beginning!
It so transpired then that on Friday January 1, 2016 yours truly awoke at the ungodly hour of crack ‘o dawn to hitch a ride with @pilesport, a new friend (an avid mountain climber who has a few Mount Damavand expeditions under his belt) and we drove for an hour in the eerily (also wonderfully) empty streets and highways of Tehran and then onward to the mountain-roads to Lavasan (which used to be a teeny tiny no-consequences dehkadeh and now is the site of villas and a playground for billionaires etc, think a “winter Hamptons” type of place, but that’s another story) parked the car and while going brrrr brrrr brrrr in the bristlingly cold air of a true frigid winter day, donned the accoutrements for the mountain-climbing venture for the day ahead.
I had on 2 tight leggings, 3 layers of skin tight tops, a hijab scarf that did double duty as a neck scarf, a softly plush and snug cat-burglar type of wintry skull cap, sunglasses, gloves, knee-length thick socks, pair of borrowed boots, and was further equipped with “gert” these things (mine are red) that you wrap around your calves and cover over and tie to your shoes to help avoid snow getting into your boots and I was also handed a pair of batons (without which there’s no way in heck I could have made my way either up or down.)
Destination? The delightfully-quirkily-named “carrot fields” (dashteh havij) of Lavasan. In this photo, after climbing atop the mountain for a couple of hours on a rather steep (requiring mild huffing and puffing but not a killer angle) have finally – oh joy! – arrived at the level “dasht” (“field”) part of the trail.
Gosh, the snow was so beautiful up there! Like a gorgeous untouched pristine carpet. And there was serene silence. It was like a dream.
Exertions require fuel. Yummy yummy fuel. So once we arrived at the Carrot Field, it was time to have breakfast. Akh joon!
@PileSport set up camp near a big rock that served double duty as both table and bench. Unveiling the provisions of: taftoon bread, walnuts, cheese & dates.
And then set out to make sunny side up eggs as well! Using half a stick of butter! But I guess, one had earned it by that point.
If you want to see a short video and hear the wonderful “jez va vez” sound of eggs cooking in sizzling butter in a skillet atop a mountain, you can see it here on my Instagram account.
Eating sunny side up eggs while camping out atop a snowy mountain (after 2 hours of exertion getting up there) when you’re all full of dopamins and also hungry as a wolf is … all that it’s cracked up to be! Sorry, couldn’t resist the pun.
What I’m trying to say is that it hit the spot. And it was fun.
So we had one round of eggs sandwiched in taftoon bread polished off with hot tea seasoned with a special advieh (cinnamon & ground ginger & something else!) and that was awesome too.
Meanwhile, while we were at the task of making and eating breakfast, these guys camping out on a rock above ours were having a jolly rowdy good time — and kept inviting us to join them. “Befarmayeed.” “Just bring a fork.” “Bring some tea as well.”
Once they mentioned a birthday cake, I sprinted up those rocks like a billy goat! Ha ha!
(In the photo above, the birthday boy is holding up his birthday cake!)
Just kidding! It wasn’t just the delicious bait of an awesome chocolate cake in the mountains that lured me up there. As a blogger, it is my duty and report these types of things. No?
Once up on the rocks with this wonderful bacheha, much jovial hilarity and passing up of slices of cakes and a bunch of group selfies ensued. (Can you spot me back there holding my plate of cake? I’m smiling while typing this at the awesome memory. Such fun!) Turned out they were a group of friends who live in Lavasan.
Now, do you want to know how someone manages to bring a cake up a mountain without destroying it? The answer to this riddle is that you freeze the cake so that it can survive its trip in a knapsack and hope to make it up the mountains before it’s thawed completely. That’s how! By the way, the leader of the group is @mountain_rizan on Instagram if you want to go and have a look-see.
At some point, Cesar, the Iranian German Shephard was unleashed and invited to the party as well. You can safely bet that Cesar did not decline the invitation. And at every opportune moment when heads and attentions were turned hither and tither, Cesar heartily helped himself to what edibles he could find. Meanwhile, his human mommy kept doting on him. “Pessareh m’an!” 🙂
Anyway, it was then time to go down the rock and move on and we did.
But parting is such sweet sorrow!
So the lovely gang took a photo of us to postpone the moment of farewell!
And they also snapped me while snapping them back!
And snap them back I did! Capturing them in making the “V for Victory” pose which is super popular with mountain climbers in Iran I’ve found! (I adopted it as well as you can tell from earlier pic!) Thank you for the cake and the wonderful memories, @mountain_rizan and rest of the gang!
By then it was mid-morning and time to further climb atop the mountains. But before leaving “dasht ‘e havij” and right nearby where we’d partaken of dejeuner sur la neige, I detected this interesting rock calligraphy. Rock graffiti! It’s kind of cool, no? Thought it’d be fun to share its pic with you. The only word in there by the way that I can make out is “honar” which means “art” but can’t figure out any of the other words.
And prior to leaving Carrot Field, was witness to another wonderful scene. A big group of climbers had divided efforts, and some of them were busy constructing a huge snowman, while the rest of them got into a spirited game of snow ball fight. (I have a couple of short videos of it that show off the majestically beautiful mountains as well and wish I could share it here but Internet access here in Iran won’t permit me posting it to WordPress, however I did post it one 12 second of video of the snowball fight here on Instagram.)
And then what started off innocently as a pleasant return route on the trail, turned out into taking a serious climb route (in a rather heavy duty slope) up, up, and up the mountain. @Pilesport kept saying: “Just 5 more minutes, and we’ll get to the trees and we’re right there.” Meanwhile, the 5 minutes kept getting extended!
At some point I felt that no way would I be able to make it up there. But after a bout of weary complaining, I decided to embrace the journey and thought: “Let’s just put one foot above the other and anyhow it’s a good way to start a new year. Building resolve and determination.” And I just shut my mouth and climbed. And that, my friends, is how this shekamoo was able to make it up there.
The view kind of is worth it, don’t you think? It was … breathtaking! Literally, ha ha!
That little figure you see in the middle is yours truly, your faithful blogger and now a little mountain climber!
By the time this photo was taken, I could make out the trees (which turned out to be walnut trees) but it was still another further 20 minute ascent past the trees before we made it to the makeshift rest stop near the waterfall where climbers stop and rest.
And we stopped there. Had lunch! (Pasta. Plus pre-peeled nectarines and pre-cut apples. Plus lovely hot tea with dates.) It was freezing but it was also awesome. We also had some shireh va serkeh to drink as well. What’s that you say? Take some syrup (ideally grape syrup or such) and mix it with vinegar and you have yourself a sweet and sour drink that energizes and hydrates.
And then we went down the mountain which for me felt exhilirating because I pretty much swooshed down like I was skiing. I miss skiing!
And that’s kind of it! I’ll end here with this shot of tea being made on a makeshift fire by a bunch of salt-of-the-earth mountain climbers and heavy duty tea drinkers! Hopefully, I will have a follow up post at some point chronicling yet another awesome mountaintop adventure that I enjoyed the week following this one and at that point I will also talk more about the culture of mountain climbing in Iran.
Until then, your chatty blogger bids you a fond farewell.
Will you please forgive me for the irregular and intermittent posting? Further, will you also forgive me for the belated holiday & new year wishes? I blame lack of time, a countdown to the last dwindling days of my visit here in Iran, and a rather super frustrating Internet access for the aforementioned laggings – for which I hope to avoid flaggings – and beg you to remember the good times we’ve had together. We’ve had some fine times together, haven’t we? Therefor, do kindly overlook this shocking (albeit unintentional and at times unavoidable) neglect of my blogging duties. That said, let me actually say what I came here to say, and that is to wish you all a truly wonderful 2016!
My new year wish for you:
May your life be like a finely woven Persian carpet: artful; useful; pretty to behold; filled with myriad delightful touches; soft and cozy; and continuously better and more precious with age.
Happy New Year!
ps. This particular Persian carpet, filled with wonderful whimsical figurative depictions, is one that’s on display at the Carpet Museum of Tehran. I got to pay a visit to this museum along with a dear friend who was visiting from Los Angeles, and we had a good time traipsing around and checking out the masterpieces on display. The story of which is but one of a thousand and one such stories I hope to tell and the photo of which is but one of the gazillion photos that I am dying to share with you and my new year resolution is to get going and post more regularly. Hail, wind and Internet notwithstanding! As a show of good faith, be on the lookout — coming up in a jiffy — for a pictorial post about how I spent my first day of 2016 (Hint: it was beginning the year on the right foot. Literally! Ha!)
I’ve already hinted here on the blog and the cat’s been out of the bag (MEOW!) for quite awhile on my social media channels, but, I may as well officially announce that yours truly, your faithful if usually hungry and oft too talkative blogger, has the honor and privilege to be one of the speakers at the upcoming (imminently so) TEDxTehran.
Here are the facts:
Subject: This time, the theme of TEDx is “paradigm shift” and I will be speaking (in Farsi) about food (but of course!) and the paradigm shift of food. (Hint: it’s what’s allowing me to talk to you right now!)
In the process of putting together the talk, I got input from Mehrdad Aref Adib, Jenny Gustaffson, (editor and co-founder of Mashallah News), Layla Sabourian (founder of Chef Koochooloo) and Fred Parvaneh – so I wanted to give thanks and kudos to each of them beforehand as well.
Date: Friday December 4, 2015 (Jom’eh 9 Azar)
Time: 9:30 am till 5 pm (Iran time!) and specifically yours truly’s talk will be at 1 pm Iran time (or 4:30 a.m Eastern time, 1:30 am Pacific time, or “don’t really expect any of y’all in Northern America to stay up to see it as this is no royal wedding spectacle etc” let’s-get-real-time! … But, I am including the info JUST.In.Case.)
Fret not if you miss it, as in a matter of months, the subtitled video of it will be up and available as well, therefore, you won’t ultimately miss this-sure-to-be-historic event!
I’m going to write at length about TEDx Tehran; the story of how it came about that I got involved; what it all entailed; the awesome team behind it; and lots of interesting deets and tidbits and pix … but sometime after the event and after I’ve caught my breath. Promise! Meanwhile, I’ll share a a few pix with you to whet your appetite!
Here’s the delightful and multi-talented and truly exceptional (in every which way) core team of Tedx Tehran. Snaps taken on my first day of live rehearsal of the talk in an ever so hip and happening office space.
Some members of the team are camera shy, so in the interest of caution, I’ll avoid tagging any of them here.
Any of them, that is, except for Reza Ghiabi, who is not only one of the pivotal members of the core team of TEDx Tehran but I also jokingly refer to him as “kalantareh Tehran” (Tehran’s sheriff) because verily, everyone I come across seems to know him or know of him! Belying his youth, he is a big deal!
Reza is gregarious, as sharp and bright as you might expect, and exceedingly polite.
Reza also likes to take his espresso with honey – German style! I found this out when I traipsed over to Jame Jam Cafe – a cool cafe in Tehran – to have a short and sweet and caffeinated meeting with him.
Side foodie note: that little yellow bowl contains snack strips of lavashak! (Persian fruit roll up.) Isn’t that something?
During our short and sweet and caffeinated pow wow (conducted under the quizzical gaze of John Lennon, no less) Reza answered some of my questions; quelled and some of my worries; and pat pat reassured some of my anxieties — and in general was the Tina Fey to my Jenna, ha ha, if you know what I mean! In return, I rewarded him by giving him horns as we took a souvenir photo snapshot.
And with that, it’s time for this chatterbox to go and tend to some urgent matters.
Wish me luck for Friday, my friends and send me positive vibes and smoke some esfand for me as well if you’d like, ha ha! And see you on the other side! (If you do want to keep up with my escapades on a daily basis, don’t forget to give me a look/see on Instagram where I post daily.)
azita (Still in Tehran! And loving it!)