Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Last Generation of Knife Makers in Iran

It is sometimes hard to imagine that there is an occupation associated with every single item you find on the vast shelves of supermarkets. Nowadays almost all of the items are mass produced. However, not long ago most of these items were made by hands of masters of different crafts.

The traditional bazaar of Hamadan in western Iran has many sections named after an occupation. These names usually reflect the majority of shops in that section of the bazaar. For example, copper workers (مسگرها) refers to a section that people were providing services related to copper pots and dishes. These services covered the range from making new pots, to coating (سفید کردن), fixing and many other ones. Some other sections include butchers (قصابها), jewellers (جواهر فروشها), clothes (پارچه فروشها), etc. Some of these names now refer to the occupations that no longer exist but the name stayed such as coal sellers (زغالی ها) while people are running entirely different businesses there.

The photo below is taken in the knife makers sections of the bazaar, which is now a small and shrinking section. The master knife maker is examining one of his latest works. There is a high probability that he belongs to the last generation of traditional knife makers. A job that his father taught him, and the father learned from his father and so on.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Deep Into the Ancient Zagros Mountains of Western Iran: Baking Gerdeh in Barfejin Village

I have this childhood memory of going with my family from Hamadan to a village deep into the Zagros mountains called Emam-Zadeh-Kooh (امام زاده کوه - it means the mountain of the buried saint). There were many farms there and we bought fresh fruits and vegetables right next the fields the farmers were working on. The most vivid part of the memory is the heavenly taste of the breakfast I had at a local tea house there. The traditional honey, almost frozen kaymak (سرشیر - قیماق), and fresh hot bread. This was more than 20 years ago and I still remember it well. 

I travelled to Emam-Zadeh-Kooh in April 2014 when I visited Iran. I wanted to see the changes, see the people, see the road, and revisit those memories. Travelling is so much fun in you have great companions and I had two amazing companions in this trip. 

The road from Hamadan to Emam-Zadeh-Kooh passes through several villages. One of these villages is called Barfin or Barfejin (برفین - برفجین - meaning Snowy). The name refers to the heavy snow falls they experience during the winter. Remember that Hamadan province in Iran gets very cold (-30 degrees of Celcius) in winter. While we were passing through this village we stopped at this traditional bakery to buy bread.

The bread they make is called Gerdeh (گرده - meaning round, or the round one). It is the traditional bread of the Hamadan province. Although a bread with the same name is also baked in Hormozgan province, I am not sure if they are the same. Most Iranian breads are flat ones and this one is not an exception. The special dough is flattened and then topped with a mixture of egg yolks, aromatic herbs, and maybe some spices. Then it is attached to the inner wall of a hot Tanoor (تنور - traditional clay oven) and baked. 

I am not sure for how long this bread is being made in this area. But, "Signs of early agriculture date back as far as 9000 BC to the foothills of the Zagros Mountains", says the Wikipedia article. So I believe we are looking through a window to the past. 

People of these villages are so warm and welcoming. It is almost hard to pay them since they insist that you are being their guest and they don't want to accept money for the bread. By the way, the bread was amazing. I hope you can all taste it someday. 

There will be more photos on this subject so stay tuned. 

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Hanging out in Hamadan

Around Imam Square (میدان امام), Hamadan (همدان), Iran. This is a traditional part of the city near the old bazaar. Street merchants are everywhere around bazaar at the time of the new year (Norooz نوروز).