Go Yang has inspired a trend I wish I was talented enough to emulate. But then again, I figure imitation is the best form of flattery.
So you’re going to crave…
Let the drooling begin. You’ll crave the hard to pronounce, harder to prepare but easy to eat Aab-goosht-e Lappeh:
You’ll miss learning how to eat this for the very first time, patting yourself on the back for believing that you’ve just became so cultured.
By Jade Shyu
Step #1: Strain the soup from the jug into the bowl
Step #2: Rip pita bread pieces and place them into soup
Step #3: Eat your creation with a spoon until it’s gone
Step #4: Mash up the lamb and bean with the pestle
Step #5: Pour lamb-bean paste into the soup bowl
Step #6: Dip pita bread into the paste. Eat until satisfied.
You’re going to crave Faloodeh, the 2400 year old and still sweet as ambrosia Persian Rose Water Ice.
You definitely won’t crave Iranian airplane food, which was almost as uninspired as what you’ll find on a United Airlines flight (at least Iran’s was complimentary!).
But you will crave Iran Airport’s cups of buttered “crack” corn, which was so nice we ordered it twice.
You’ll crave the thali-style presentation of Iranian’s take on platters and Western style pizza (but you won’t miss how it tasted; Iranians can’t do pizza like Italians or New Yorkers).
You will not only crave, but you’ll also salivate and dream about Shashlik: lamb marinated overnight in a high-acidity marinade vinegar and dry wine with the addition of herbs and spices. But all of those words seem like “bla bla bla” when you put one of these in your mouth.
Don’t be surprised if you’re still craving Shashlikso bad that you’ll suck on them like lollipops afterwards.
You’ll crave the slow-cooked, tender, falling-off-the-bone juicy slabs of camel meat.
You’ll crave this thick, tart duck stew made from pomegranate juice and ground walnuts called Fesenjan…and trust me it tasted better than it looked.
You’ll crave the granddaddy “holy moly” moment when you taste your first ever morsel of Khoresht-e-mast. You’ll also crave the following “WTF” moment when you find out that this sweet, delicious, saffron flavored dessert is made with not only yogurt, saffron, sugar and orange peels, but also finely ground pieces of lamb.
. . . Lamb?! But you won’t care too much because you’ll still eat it like a demigod’s version of Pinkberry.
You’ll crave the Esfahan “special meatballs” which has so much stuff in it, you won’t care what you’re putting in your mouth anymore.
You’ll crave washing down everything you just ate with the sweet kiss of rose water.
You’ll crave your first genuine kabab for which Iran is famous.
But I’m not sure if you’ll crave the fact that you’ll be having kabab almost every meal of the day, 3-4 times a day, 7 days a week, whether it’s kabab koobideh, kabab barg, kabab mkhsoos, joojeh kabab, kabab bakhtiari. . . but hey, this sounds like I’m whining about a first world problem so I’m just going to shut up.
Finally, you’ll crave your last night in Tehran, where a bunch of newly made friends feed you something so good you forget to ask what was in it in the first place.
I had said in a previous entry how “normal” everything seemed when I was in Iran last week, but about a week since I’ve returned I’ve noted some exceptions. Of course, some of these are via word of mouth through our interpreter, but this is the closest I’m ever going to get short of actually living in country or getting arrested myself.
Here’s a partial list of what we’ve learned:
#1) Alcohol: Officially banned in the country. So we went ahead (thanks to some mutual friends and connections some people in our group made) and tried to see how far we could go:
So we got taken in “for our own safety” and was escorted back to our hotel.
#3) Sexuality: I wasn’t sure if this was overblown by our Western media but it’s true: Homosexuality is illegal and punishable by death in the country. According to our interpreter, it depends whether you’re caught in the act “on top or on the bottom.” If “on the bottom,” there is no punishment. But if you’re “on top” and it’s your first offense, you will get fined and lashes. However, a repeat offense will result in the death penalty.
Therefore, our Iranian interpreter who had been painstakingly trying to portray Iran in a more liberal and positive light the entire trip, still acknowledges that homosexuality is still considered a serious offense in Iran. When I asked about gay couples in general, our interpreter responded: “They don’t exist.” This reminded me of the famous quote by President Ahmadinejad when I saw him speak at my alma mater (Columbia!) in 2007:
“In Iran, we dont have homosexuals like in your country. We don’t have that in our country. In Iran, we do not have this phenomenon. I don’t know who’s told you we have it.” – 09/24/2007
And lesbians also “don’t exist” according to our interpreter. So no mythbusting there. I can’t make this stuff up.
#4) Adultery: In cases of adultery 4 witnesses are required to observe the sexual act in order to have enough to prosecute someone, which has proven to be nearly impossible. The death penalty is only reserved for cases when the husband is murdered.
If the wife is implicated for adultery, everyone is punished including the sad, dejected husband. The wife gets 100 lashes and the husband is forced to pay a hefty fine for “not satisfying his wife enough to keep her from being adulterous.” The paramour also gets fined, supposedly. When I asked what happens if the husband was the adulterer, the reply was “same thing. Lashes and a fine.”
There is also something called “temporary marriages” that a husband can legally have with multiple women before he actually decides to settle down with one person.
#5) Interracial Dating/Marriage (of course I would ask about this): No big deal; both males and females are allowed to do it. But if they are to live in Iran, both have to be Muslim or at least convert to Islam. If the newlyweds decide to live outside of Iran, it’s not enforced.
#6) Public Displays of Affection: They told us on day 1 that nobody does it or should do it, especially in the more rural, conservative pockets of the country. However, I’ve seen a fair share of romantic hand holding in Tehran, Shiraz and Esfahan. And I found myself surprised when I got to kiss/hug some of the new friends we made during our last night in Tehran.
#7) The Hijab: Wearing the hijab as a female is enforced in public places, but not as much in wealthier neighborhoods or in establishments where young people hang out. If your hijab falls and you show your hair, you are gently reminded to put it back on. Some of our friends had their hijab fall down and nobody around us said anything except some disgruntled taxi drivers.
#8) Stoning: It does exist: The accused is buried waist deep in the ground and then stoned by passer-bys. The execution is public.
However, if the accused is able to remove him/herself from the ground (I guess by sheer brute strength), the stoning must stop and the accused must be forgiven. When I heard this part, I got a little confused. I asked about it but got an even more confusing reply that I can’t reproduce here. Not much more on that.
#9) Hanging: Yes, hanging still exists as a form of death penalty here. Some of them are still public.
#10) Public Executions: See above. This was also admitted by our interpreter as something that occurs in his country; he’s seen a few while growing up.
#11) Anti-Americanism: Except for some Revolutionary Guard posters, Anti-American sentiment is almost nonexistent among the common populace. The Iranians we met very much respect Americans, especially those who are willing and open-minded enough to visit Iran.
The Iranian youth also are intensely interested in identifying with our pop culture and they subscribe to the way we dress (denim is everywhere!). Many Iranian youngin’s either want to go to America to party, or already have been to America and have come back with positive impressions.
Photo Credit: Gai Olivares
They only issue they have is with our government, but ever since the Iranian riots of 2009, there also has been a growing disillusionment among younger generations with their own government. Time will tell how long this sentiment will last.
Although anti-American sentiment is very low, anti-American propaganda has been a profitable tacky tourist attraction:
45 rial stamps memorializing Iran Air Flight 655 that was shot down by American USS Vincennes in 1988 when it was mistaken for an Iran F-14 fighter jet
Anti CIA stamps
Pro-Malcom X stamps
Wonder what the U.S. Customs would’ve thought if they saw these.
- At time of posting in New York City, Central Park, it was 10 °C -
Humidity: 96% | Wind Speed: 9km/hr | Cloud Cover: overcast
If it’s not already playing, press play. And then start reading.
One of the last moments of the trip
After 5 hours in Frankfurt, we landed in Geneva, Switzerland where we had a whopping 20 hours to kill. Our options were:
Stay in Geneva, meet a friend, and rest up before heading back home
Head to Berne, meet a friend, and rest up before heading back home
Stay in Geneva, meet a friend, and head to Berne, meet the other friend, and in the process pull an all-nighter before heading back to Geneva to catch our morning flight home.
In true Monsooning style, we opted for #3: Go hard or go home, (or more appropriately, go hard and then go home). No matter how tired, underslept, or insomniac we were, we were going to do it all. It’s not everyday you get 20 hours in Switzerland as an included free layover.
So this is what we did.
5:30PM: We land in Geneva, Switzerland
5:50PM: We drop off our bags in airport lockers and buy our tickets
6:20PM: We take the commuter train from the airport to Switzerland (15 minutes)
6:45PM: We get lost looking for a Tram heading to Rive. It starts to rain.
7:00PM: We find a Tram heading to Rive. It starts to rain harder.
7:15PM: At Rive, we run into my friend from college, Natasha. Because we were poorly underdressed for the rain, she took us into her car and drove us up to her home to meet her grandparents. And that wasn’t serendipitous enough, I find out right then and there that Natasha and her family are from Iran; more specifically, her grandfather is from Esfahan. While in the car, Natasha and I both glared at each other.
A big WTF moment right here.
The view from Natasha's home
We meet her family
7:45PM: We arrive at Natasha’s home and meet her grandparents. From there, magical moments started to happen; we exchanged photos and stories of our time there. We learned that Natasha’s grandfather was expelled from Iran shortly after the 1979 Revolution, most of it due to his Jewish roots.
To this day he has been unable to return. Hearing that we had just visited his hometown of Esfahan greatly moved him, as it in turn we were deeply touched how he took us in as his own family.
Photo Credit: Cynthia Koo
Natasha's grandfather is kind of a big deal
Natasha and her grandparents
He bestowed upon us flowers before we left
9:15PM: We say our goodbyes
Geneva at night
10:11PM: We hop on the train heading from Geneva to Berne ($52 USD a person!)
10:15PM: We pass out on the train
11:56PM: We arrive in Berne
12:00AM: There we met with Caty, whom I had met for only a mere couple of minutes when I was in Sevilla 3 months ago.
Like how Ines went from a brief meeting in India to showing us around her home in Spain a few months later, Caty would be more than just a stranger on that very same trip in Spain: she would be my host and guide when I arrived out of the blue in her home in Switzerland a few months later. Such is fate. Such is the reason why I move.
The Swiss House of Parliaments just got served
12:45AM: After a few bathroom breaks, purchasing our return train tickets and getting some food, we were ready to take on Berne. Caty and her friend Aline then took us down the famously designed 6km shopping arcade with the imposing Marktgasse behind us.
1:45AM: We ended up by the Bear Pits, where we overlooked an adorable little village embedded within a park below where we were standing
2:00AM: We began a little hike up to the hill of Rosengarten to get a panoramic view of Berne at night
2:30AM: We descend the hill and walk back along the arcade to visit the former home of Albert Einstein
Albert Einstein's former home just got served
2:45AM: They take us to this international hang-out spot, which is a bar-lounge in the setting of a school gym/auditorium. Pretty relaxed, chill place. Exactly what we needed.
3:30AM: Back to the train station, but not before checking out another cool hang-out spot.
4:00AM: We find a 24/7 bar/lounge/club called RockGarden that’s actually located within the train station. It literally was the most perfect place I could have ever asked for – great location, great hours, great drinks, amazing music, space to dance, and nonjudgmental atmosphere. I literally feel it couldn’t have come at a more ideal time or place.
How much I loved RockGarden
5:00AM: We say our goodbyes and board our train back to Geneva
7:00AM: We arrive at Geneva Airport, and hop on our flight back to NYC
Where do I begin…wow.
From Natasha to Caty, I could not have imagined a better end to our trip. Since its inception nearly 22 months ago, this blog has survived and thrived on the kindness of strangers who hail from all around the world. The last 20 hours in Switzerland — let alone the past week in Iran — have proven to us that there exists an inherent goodness in people you meet regardless of background, ethnicity, nationality, creed, or religion. You just have to wear that same kind of energy on your sleeve and these amazing souls will find you. And once that happens, countless, magical international adventures like these will await you.
- At time of posting in Bern / Belp , it was 8 °C -
Humidity: 75% | Wind Speed: 6km/hr | Cloud Cover: few clouds
We had a 5 hour layover in Frankfurt after leaving Iran, which we made the most of despite being severely underslept. From the airport we took a 10 minute train ride (4 stops I believe) to the main area of Hauptwache.
Scatter up to the top of the Galeria Mall next to the Hauptwache train station to get some great views of the city:
From Hauptwache, head south towards the river, where you’ll pass by Frankfurt’s distinctive Römer square. It’s famous for its reconstruction of 6 old-school style buildings that was characteristic of Frankfurt before it was bombed out during World War II.
Römer square just got served
Inside one of the churches by Römer square
Keep heading south until you hit the River Main. Cross the bridge and let your heart flutter over the thousands of public displays of affections via literal “locks of love.” Each one is supposed to represent a real life star-crossed couple.
If you’re lucky like we were, you’ll come across a street fair. Shop and eat to your heart’s delight:
Throwback! Photo credit: Cynthia Koo
Nina gets a little excited over her childhood. Photo Credit: Cynthia Koo
We walked westwards for a bit before deciding to head back across the river to see the giant Euro in front of the European Central Bank and the remnants of the Frankfurt chapter of “Occupy Wall Street.”
The European Central Bank, "Occupy Frankfurt" and the Euro all just got served at the same time
And then it was back to Hauptwache before returning to the airport.
- At time of posting in Frankfurt / M-Flughafen, it was 12 °C -
Humidity: 62% | Wind Speed: 16km/hr | Cloud Cover: scattered clouds
As Americans, you’re not allowed to wander around Iran alone. You’re supposed to be guarded by an MFA-approved tour agency at all times following a strict itinerary. But that was not the case today. In true Monsooning fashion, we decided to skirt the rules a bit and see how far we could push the rules.
As our tour officially ended yesterday, we were able to sneak in an extra day in Iran. With all the graciousness and kindness in the world, the tour agency listed us technically “still part of a tour” while we were able to freely wander about Tehran on our own. And so we did.
Almost everything closes on Fridays
...but not if you open up shop old-school style!
We hit up a couple of shopping bazaars that only locals go to (not the standard touristy-bazaar that tour agencies take foreigners to), one of which took over an entire parking garage/ramp/building and was total crowded chaos.
But this was also the best place to get things for cheap as we were paying local prices on the best day of the week to go shopping (Friday is their day off and therefore also the day when the local bazaars open up shop and sell at their lowest prices). And I managed to get some things that I normally would have gotten for 40-50x the price had I shopped in countries that, erm, weren’t under intense sanctions.
"The Secret Entrance"
People who love shopping
Afterwards we met up with a few local Tehran-ian friends of Evan’s and Vahid, a mutual friend of mine I met through the AIESEC network, who all took us around a side of Tehran only locals know.
This was the part of the trip I have been looking forward to all week: There’s nothing like making new friends as your travel, and making the most out of the limited time you have together by creating the potential for a lifelong connection.
And nothing like making that connection while overlooking Tehran from the top of Bome Tehran at night, before getting one of the tightest goodbye hugs from someone you had just met.
It gets cold up there
What a perfect last day to end our week in Iran.
Panorama of Tehran from Bome Tehran (click to enlarge)
Tehran just got served
- At time of posting in Tehran-Mehrabad, it was 15 °C -
Humidity: 77% | Wind Speed: n/a | Cloud Cover: few clouds
We approach the mauseoleum of Ayatollah Khomeini with caution. If there’s anything I learned when I visited the mauseoleum of Kim Il-Sung in North Korea, it’s that you do not screw around when it comes to visiting the grave of the present country’s revered cult of personality. And if you’re of the nationality that this particular cult of personality railed against throughout most of his lifetime, you should take extra precaution in how you behave. Failure to do so may lead to an international incident.
When I walked up to the armed security guards that were about to pat me down, and replied that I was an American when they asked where I came from, they took another look at me. And then they let me pass without a fuss: No patting me down, no checking in my iPhone, no asking what was in my pockets like they did with even the locals ahead of me.
I may have looked confused because they immediately smiled at me and reassured me: “Please know that we respect Americans. You may go ahead.”
I think that exchange enough speaks for itself.
The Mausoleum of Ayatollah Khomeini
Hours later, I’m in in the “Martyr’s Cemetery”. Miles and miles of graves crowd into the horizon; all of them belong to children, young adults, rarely anyone over the age of 25. All of them belong to those who fought in the Iraq-Iran war, a brutal conflict that recalled World War I trench-warfare and indiscriminate use of chemical weapons. The memories of the massacre still brings out mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, cousins and friends, paying their respects by offering sweets and then offering us these sweets when their mourning is over. But then tomorrow comes and the mourning is never over.
The Iranian reverence for sacrifice and martyrdom is apparent here.
Then a quick visit to the national monument of Tehran, the Azadi Tower or translated as the “Freedom Arch.” It was once a memorial to the reigning Shah before the 1979 Revolution, but the name was understandably changed afterwards.