June 21, 2003
I am not sure if Arak is under construction or de-construction. Everywhere we go there are piles of bricks and sand. I don’t know if those piles are meant for the partly constructed buildings or come from them.
A said that I might be the first American to visit Arak. Somehow I doubt that. One thing is for sure: there aren’t a whole lot of “harigis” here.
That said, Arak is somewhat beautiful. The weather is beautiful. The stone buildings are potentially beautiful. The park is great. The air, however, leaves something to be desired. The smells range from gasoline to diesel to burning garbage.
The Iranian homes I have been in are really well-designed. My mom would love the houses here: she could have a Passover Seder for 30 in a house made for two (or 4). The houses we have been in have had really functional, over-sized rooms. Presumably this is because Iranian families often host huge groups for dinner or tea.
The Koran Belt
To get to Arak from Tehran we pass through the buckle of the Koran belt: Qom. K told me that he went there to see Khomeini when he first arrived from exile. “There were so many cars that the traffic did not move at all. We had to get out of our cars and walk.”
Driving through Qom makes me realize that I have not once heard the call to prayer since we arrived in Iran. This is unlike Istanbul with its warring calls to prayer. Every mosque in Istanbul has gigantic speakers that blare out the call to prayer. It was not until the third day here when we arrived in Arak that I heard the call to prayer.
It was also on the third day that I saw my first gun.
K has been making fun of me for my food obsession. “Some people think that food is the most important thing here,” he jokes.
Well food is awfully important to many of us. There is no doubt about that. I am a flavor junkie.
BTW, the secret ingredient in the stuffed eggplant dish was not cinnamon, it was turmeric. For those of you who thought that all turmeric did was turn food yellow, like I did, I have news for you: fresh, it is amazingly delicious and complex. Like I said earlier, there is a subtle flavor of cinnamon. That flavor is mixed with the flavor of cumin, but not the overt flavor of cumin. It tastes like cumin was planted nearby. It also tastes a little bit of clay.
Now that the turmeric discussion is over, it’s time to discuss dolmas. K always said that his family made the best dolmas and until eating them at his mother’s house, I did not believe him. I did have their dolmas before, but not from their own kitchen with their own ingredients. These dolmas were easily the best I have ever eaten. I do know that the grape leaves were fresh. There was rice and yellow beans inside and I think tarragon and some other herbs. One set of dolmas was salty and the other was sweet. Both were great.
Yesterday M made kebabs. “Iran’s most famous food,” he told me. I can’t argue with kebabs. These were made of ground beef, onions, salt pepper, and some other herb. We had them with barbecued tomatoes and rice. You can get these kebabs in any Iranian restaurant. They will be called koobideh or kubideh.
Tonight we are having joojeh (chicken) kebab. You’ll have to wait to hear about that.