A tea on the Decumanum

A journey to Iran’s pavilion. Among ancient wisdom, hot drinks and comfort food specialties

14-05-2015
Green tea, lavender, cinnamon tea. These are some

Green tea, lavender, cinnamon tea. These are some of the hot drinks you can taste inside Iran’s pavilion at Expo, together with popular traditional dishes, many based on rice, vegetables and saffron

The macroscopic Iranian pavilion is focused on the concept of wisdom. This had to be the case given the 5 thousand year history of this country, recently often in the news thanks to the nuclear silencer Barack Obama put on Hassan Rohani. Yet in university textbooks, the great contribution offered also to the West by the masters of the great Persia prevails.

This is why on the flight of stairs right after the entrance, one can notice screens showing the resources growing around Teheran (mostly herbs and vegetables) but most of all the half-busts of the great Iranian fathers, from poet Saadi Shirazi to mathematician-astronomer-philosopher Omar Khayyam. Each one has some pearls of wisdom underneath, a still precious bequest. As the one written underneath Avicenna, one of the most studied personalities in our humanistic faculties: «All vegetables grow by a river», the doctor-philosopher-mathematician said around one thousand years ago, «it is the touch of angelic lips. Do not do harm to vegetables».

The architectural concept of the pavilion is inspired by the Sofreh-ye Aghd, the carpet on which, during wedding banquets, all the courses are placed

The architectural concept of the pavilion is inspired by the Sofreh-ye Aghd, the carpet on which, during wedding banquets, all the courses are placed

Nothing of the kind happens between the walls with electronic inscriptions of the Iranian ‘tent’, a ‘skin’ reproducing the embroidery of a Sofreh-ye Aghd, a carpet on which, during wedding banquets, the courses to be enjoyed by the guests are placed. Expo guests are invited to enjoy plenty of the country’s jewels: dates, saffron, pistachio, caviar (by the way, the way in which they elude sturgeon fishing bans and the distribution of its eggs in the world would deserve a reportage by itself) and the splendid national hot drinks.

For now, the restaurant corner includes a menu with starters, first courses and main courses: the fruits, initially intended to be presented, still need to cross the bureaucratic borders of Expo. Let’s talk about the first courses, as the Iranian themselves thus consider rice-based dishes, rice being the most popular food in the country, often paired with saffron and vegetables. Hurray for the Zereshk Polo ba Morgh: white rice, saffron, pistachios, almonds, chicken and spices. Or the Dolma aubergines, sparkling in their ensemble with peas, rice, meat, sugar and lemon.

Before that, the starters are interesting, especially those built around kashk, a milk based dairy product, a sort of «Fermented yogurt – says Wikipedia as other convincing translations are not available – with wheat or buckwheat, all finely minced and dried». The most popular milk is goat milk but depending on the geographic area taken into consideration it can be of another kind: cow milk if not, in the most remote areas, donkey milk.

Shami-Pook is instead less aggressive than what the composition may make one believe, made with beef or lamb with onions, walnuts, pomegranate sauce, spices and sugar, a single course if one decides to pop by at lunchtime. In the evening, the closing can be sweet and poetic with the Sholeh-zard: roses, rose water, saffron, butter, almonds and pistachio, cinnamon and powdered roses. The average price for a dish is 10 euros.


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