One cares very little about the nature’s beauty; when one is truly hungry. And that was the case with us. After taking a bathroom break under what I think was an old walnut tree; Suzi and I inquired about Mr. X’s plans for lunch.
Mr. X did not believe in eating out in the way of purchasing prepared food. He wanted to buy freshly butchered meat, gather a heap of wood, make a nice fire and feed us what he believed to be the best kebab, ever. With our stomachs making all sort of loud noises; we had to switch him off the call of the “cave man” mode. In many cultures, that would have been no problem. You just tell the guy that you are not interested in his plan and would prefer the quickest way to the nearest fast food joint. That is not the way of Iranians. Here are the steps one must follow in rejecting such a kind invitiation:
- Wow, that sounds so wonderful.
- Thanks so very much for thinking of us
- But we really cannot let you go through all that trouble
- …No, we really cannot let you do all that
- …It is so sweet of you…but really, we could not possibly…
And this would go on and on for a while, until you find a loophole to get out of the invite. Luckily, I had Suzi with me. In her own gentle way, she explained to him that while his plan was so very much appreciated; he should just get real and get us to an eatery in a jiffy. Finally, with Suzi’s polite pursasivness and my occasional nodding in agreement from the back seat, Mr. X agreed to the “second best thing”. First, he stopped at a farm where he disappeared for 10 minutes. Keeping ourselves entertained with a little black goat by the entrance (a bond was forming between Suzi and the goat); we saw Mr. X emerging with a hip of fresh basil and radishes (basil is an absolute must have garnish for Persian Kebabs).
Next, we drove another 20 minutes or so to a fairly ugly truck stop where Mr. X basically ditched us. Well, he really just wanted to buy some freshly butchered meat from the nearby village and Suzi and I were looking too “shahri” (from the big city) and embarrassing to accompany him. Anyhow, we sat under a mulberry tree on a “takht” (a rustic throne- a large rectangular bench covered with a rug).
We were the only women there, as it was truly a truck stop. There were a couple of 18-wheelers parked in the front and a few men were sitting “chahar zanoo” (crossed legged) on their own takhts, devouring their aromatic kebabs. Mr. X knew the owner and waiters (but, of course). He asked them to bring us fresh tea and promising a speedy return, he got back in his Samand and disappeared in a cloud of dust. We drank the tea slowly as full fledged Iranians do; under the welcoming shade of a pretty mulberry tree and while watching Bakhtiari women across the road. Fully dressed in their layers of colorful costumes; they were harvesting “kangar” (a wild root vegetable and the principal ingredient for a tasty stew served over white rice) which grows for a very limited time in early spring.
In an air infused with the aroma of grilled meats, our hunger grew and grew and grew. As Suzi and I were making jokes about how horribly funny it would be if Mr. X actually did ditch us “shahri girls” in the middle of -well, nowhere- Samand suddenly appeared through the same dust it had disappeared into. It came to a stop just a few feet from our throne and Mr. X emerged with a sweaty but triumphant face and full hands. In one hand, he had the washed basils and radishes and in the other; fresh lamb cubes in a bowl. He earnestly stated that we were about to feast on the most delicious and tender kebab ever, seasoned only with salt and pepper. Suspiciously and with very little energy left to waste on arguing; we praised his finds and all his efforts. Mr. X had negotiated the use of the joint’s manghal (a rectangular BBQ pit). He even had his own skewers and in no time they were all dressed up in lamb cubes and tomatoes, sitting all pretty on the fire. We later found out that he never leaves home without his own set of skewers; just in case he gets hungry and has to kebab something, somewhere.
Waiting for the food to grill, Mr. X once again, opened his car’s magic trunk and came back with two glasses of home made red wine. Our hearts skipped a bit or two. This was absolutely the last thing we thought he could do (also given the fact that alchoholic beverages are not allowed in Iran). But by now, we knew too well that Mr. X was no ordinary man. We drank what was neither wine, nor any longer grape juice with sincere gratitudes. Alas, The food was ready. Waiters set up our “sofreh” (table setting) and decorated it with fresh lavash (thin bread), garlic and mint yogurt. The long awaited for plate of lamb kebab and tomatoes tucked in between layers of bread and paired with the insanely aromatic purple and green basils were the center pieces of this humble spread. Mr. X once again proved to be right. The only seasoning the meat had was salt and pepper, and yet, the kebab was so insanely tender and flavorful. The tomatoes were out of this world, too. I must have had a half dozen of them wrapped in the thin lavash with a feastful of basil.
We ate all we possibly could. Mr. X gave the remainder to the owner and staff as token of his appreciation. Of course, we could not bid them farewell until we had another cup of tea (too rude to leave without a final cup). Suzi and I sincerely thanked Mr. X for the great lunch; but he modestly insisted that he had done nothing important (a standard exaggeration phrase called taarof – an Iranian way of saying “you are welcome”).
It was past three and we were expected to attend a dinner party later that night. So, back in the Samand again, we drove away. Mr. X, was not going to drive the same route back- but, of course. The new one would take us on a pretty mountain road. The weather was cooling off and with happy bellies; Suzi and I started to appreciate the scenery once more. We passed by shepherds bathing their sheep and goats in a river and had to make another stop.
We stopped a bit further to buy fresh kangar from a man selling his day’s harvest by the road side (again, Mr. X asked us not to get off -too shahri).
It was getting late and we had to get home, shower, change and attend the party on time. Assuring us that would not be a problem; Mr. X made a final stop- a great one- an ice cream stop. We knew by now we should wait in the car. Mr. X came back with large servings of “makhloot”- Persian ice cream (vanilla ice cream infused with saffron, pistachios and thin pieces of frozen cream folded in) mixed with faloodeh (very thin noodles frozen in a sea of sweetened syrup). Such a grand finale to such a memorable day!
We were entering Shiraz city limits as I was looking back at a long and for most parts, an enjoyable day. I had built up such an admiration for Mr. X, our driver, our guide, our chef extraordinaire and our personal shopper. He had devoted his entire day to show us his side of the world so tirelessly and enthusiastically. He had done all that wearing a wide smile and under a thick cloud of modesty. I was truly humbled and at loss to express my appreciation. Upon bidding us farewell, he presented us with a bagful of basil and and vegetables before boarding his Samand and driving away.
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