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Persian Cultural Report: Instruments

There are several instruments that are important in Iranian culture. Some instruments originated from inside Iran while the origins of other instruments are not known.  Three important instruments that have contributed to Iran’s rich musical history and culture are the daf, the tar, and the santur. These instruments are used mainly to play classical Persian music as they do not lend themselves easily to integration with western styles of composition. 

The daf is a musical instrument that looks like an oversized tambourine. It is held in the right hand and played with both hands by tapping the sides and the head to create sounds. Some daf’s have metal rings while others do not. The daf’s exact origin date is not known but it was created in Iran. The original word for daf was dap. That term along with pictures can be found in paintings, poems, and reliefs of pre-Islamic Iran. The daf’s role was mostly religious and spiritual rather than musical. This is evidenced by the Sufi’s having borrowed the daf and incorporating it into their religious ceremonies. 

Another important instrument is the tar. The tar is shaped like a lute but with a double-body and may have three to six strings. The tar is considered the “sultan of instruments” and the creation of the tar was probably influenced by the Persian Empire. However, the present form of the tar was developed in the 19th century by the expert tar maker, Hovanes Abkarian who is considered the father of the modern Persian Tar. One use of the tar over the years has been in music therapy. It was written in the book “Gabusname” by Keykavus Ziyari that the use the tar held healing properties. Some etymologists suggest the English “guitar” has its origins in the Iranian word “tar.”

The final instrument is the santur. The santur originated in Iran and was spread to other regions via the Persian Empire, Arab Empire, and the Silk Road. The santur is an instrument that has wires bridged across plywood. The santur may have many strings. The Persian version has 72. The wires are strung with a pair of hammer sticks called the Mezrab. Some santurs have movable bridges which can continuously change the pitch of a note by several steps.

Learn more about Persian with some of my Farsi Resources here.

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Persian Cultural Report: Sports and Games

Iran is home to a wide variety of professional sports and parlor games. Some sports and games are domestic having originated from inside Iran. Other sports and games are imports, having originated from outside Iran. Several games that Iranians invented at one time or another were an Olympic sport.

The game of Polo (Chogan) has its origins in Iran. Polo was carried by nomads who traveled and settled in Iran. Polo as a sport has been documented in the epic poem Shahnameh. Polo in fact was so popular that it was an olympic sport between 1900-1039. While Polo has been known to the people of Iran, it has mostly a sport reserved for the elite and royalty. This probably explains why following the 1979 revolution Polo declined in popularity. It was expensive and seen as a sign of the Shah. Although, it appears that in recent years interest in the sport has increased. 

Another popular sport in Iran is wrestling.  While Iran probably cannot claim to have invented wrestling it has contributed greatly to the free-style form of wrestling. A primary difference between the Greco-Roman style of wrestling and the free-style form is that the former prohibits the use of the legs while the latter allows it. In this manner, Iran is considered a leader in training wrestlers for the free-form style of wrestling. 

Commitment to be a wrestler in Iran is as much a life-style choice as it is a training regime. In particular, wrestlers are encouraged to adhere to certain Islamic principles like loyalty, faith, and courage and to follow the Varzesh-e-Pahalvani, which is the spot training path. In doing so, wrestlers attend a Zurkhaneh where they are trained in the sport. Wrestlers train with unique objects like wooden clubs and will often recite excerpts from the Shahnameh while they train. Free-form wrestling has been an Olympic Sport since 1904. Iran has won 32 medals in free-form wrestling.

Besides being the originator of several professional sports, Iran can lay claim to inventing backgammon, or Takhteh Nard. The game was supposedly invented in Iran around the 6th century. However, excavations at the “Burnt-City” on the southern border between India and Iran have found a game similar to backgammon that has been dated to around 3000 BC. 

Finally, two modern “import” sports that enjoy immense popularity are football and basketball.  Iran has a national basketball team which placed 11th in the World at the 2008 Bejing Olympics. Iranian basketball is an upcoming sport as several amateur-ranked and professional players from around the world (including from the US) have honed their skills playing basketball in Iran either prior to going professional or during the off-season.

Iran also has a national football team. The national football team is ranked 4th in Asia and 45th overall according to current FIFA rankings. Iran has both female and male national soccer teams. Unfortunately, the national women’s team was recently banned from the London Olympics on account of the FIFA’s regulations against headscarfs. 

Learn more about Persian with some of my Farsi Resources here.

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Persian Cultural Report: Pastries and Desserts

Persian desserts can be divided into several categories and sub-categories. There are drinkable and non-drinkable desserts. There are wet and dry desserts. Finally, there are frozen and non-frozen desserts.

The drinkable desserts may be severed with a meal or bought at local kiosks. One popular kind is doogh, which is a combination of carbonated water, yogurt, and mint.  This drink is so popular that in 2007, Iran produced 14,400,000 tons of it. Doogh is not something new as it has been around since ancient Persia. In fact, a newspaper article from 1886 described it as, “a capital thirst quencher in hot weather.”

(Personally, I think it tastes awful)

Other drinks are frozen such as Sharbat (though originally an Arabic word, it is where English gets both “Sherbert” and “Syrup”), Havij Bastani (a carrot ice-cream float), and other fruit-juice drinks. Sharbats are very old and have been described in texts dating from the 12th century. 

Some additional frozen desserts are Bastani-e Za’farani and Faludeh.  Bastani-e Za’farani is ice-cream flavored with rosewater and saffron. Faludeh is a sorbet made with cornstarch, rosewater, and ground pistachios. The Faludeh from Shiraz is especially well-known.  

The non-drinkable and non-frozen desserts can be divided into two categories: wet and dry. Wet desserts are those that draw inspiration from French desserts. For example, some Iranian desserts use heavy whole-milk cream and glazed-fruit toppings. You can also find plenty of Iranian desserts prepared in the French dessert style, such as tarts, éclairs, and cakes. Many desserts use common ingredients found in Iranian cuisine like rosewater, pistachios, and saffron.

The dry desserts are native to Iran, having developed their own preparation techniques without outside-influence. These include cookies, deep-fried dough, and Noghl. Cookies can be made from chickpea flour or rice. Cookies may have raisins, walnuts, figs, saffron as a filling. The final type of dessert may be a variety of nuts. One special kind is called Noghl, or sugar-coated almonds. These are traditionally served at weddings or with tea.

One dessert that seems to straddle the wet and dry categories is deep-fried dough. Deep-fried dough is usually soaked with sugar, honey and cinnamon, though some can be served dry like a plain doughnut. The concept of deep-frying dough was brought to Iran by travelers either from Arabia or India.

Learn more about Persian with some of my Farsi Resources here.

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Persian Lemon Dressing for Pasta

چاشنی لیمو Makes a lemon dressing for pasta

¼ cup of lemon juice

یک چهارم فنجان اب لیمو

¼ cup of olive oil

یک چهارم فنجان روغن زیتون

2 tablespoons of garlic powder

دو میز- قاشق ها پودر سیر

2 tablespoons of dry basil

دو میز- قاشق ها برگ ها خشک

Salt and pepper

نمک و فلفل

Dash of nutmeg

یک کم جوز

How to combine with Pasta

  1. Cook pasta

    پاستا می پزد

  2. Combine with Pasta

    چاشنی لیمو با پاستا در کاسه مخلو طکند

Learn more about Persian with some of my Farsi Resources here.