Saturday, April 5, 2014

Iranian flatbreads -- a guest post by Antonia Moras

             Barbari bread in Iranian bakeries. [Both photos by Kamyar Adi.]

Antonia Moras spent more than a year teaching in Iran during the mid-1970s. She recalls the breads:

"In Iran, we ate marvelous breads - some of very very simple composition and baking. One type was merely water, flour, and salt in a thin dough baked by pressing it against the walls of a stone oven for a few minutes until it fell off. It sounds like something kids might do, yet it had a distinct identity.

I did a little Google research to revive my Iranian memories. The three types of bread that were most common in Tehran were sangak, lavash, and barbari.  They were all somewhat similar to Indian naan -- thin and best served immediately. Lavash is the one made by pressing the thin oblong against the wall of a hot stone oven. It cooks in a minute or so.

                                           Lavash [Photo by Kamyar Adi.]

Sangak, also just water, flour, and salt, is rolled out and baked over a bed of very hot pebbles, You need to brush away remnants of the pebbles before eating it.

                   Sangak in oven.  [Photo by Muslim Harji at].

Barbari, which was my favorite, is somewhat thicker, is slightly leavened, and lasts longer. The other two types turn to crackers within a few hours, but barbari remains softer for about a day. The practice was to send a servant to wait in line for the bread twice a day. Everyone queued for bread -- odd discipline in a place where otherwise queues were rare.

Woman buying barbari bread [Photo, Creative Commons.]

There were other types too, but those are the three I remember encountering most frequently. They all also bear some resemblance to different types of pizza crust.

To my knowledge, no one prepared their bread at home in Tehran, not even the poorer people. The different types may have required less fire but not necessarily less heat and the ovens each had a special construction. My research this morning mentioned that soldiers would prepare theirs (sangak) on beds of hot pebbles while they were on the march. They carried their pebbles with them. But I can't say that I've witnessed this!"

    "Fresh nans off the stone tandoor." [Photo by Muslim Harji at]

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