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Chelo-Kabab: Iran’s favourite dish

29 Nov 2022 00:00:00 | Update: 28 Nov 2022 22:25:26
Chelo-Kabab: Iran’s favourite dish

In their writings about Iran, the European explorers who visited Iran during Safavi era (1500-1736), though mentioned a lot about different kinds of chelos (cooked and drained rice) and polos (cooked rice), stews, pickles, and jams, but wrote nothing about chelo-kabab in the sense that we talk about it today. Most probably the recipe of chelo-kabab has been given to the Iranian people either by the Caucasian people or by the Iranians visiting the region, or as written by Mirza Mohammad Reza Mo’tamed-ul-Ketab Shams Larijani, an author of Qajar era, has been demanded by Naser-e-Din Shah himself from the Caucasians and soon learned by Iranians all over the country.

Being an Asian dish, chelo-kabab was well received in Iran and now has turned into the most delicious Iranian dish. Feeding a Battalion or a Regiment Naser-e-Din Shah had 87 wives, four of whom in permanent and the rest in temporary marital conditions, as well as 300 slave girls who together with the female and male servants formed a battalion or, better to say, a 1000-strong regiment. Writing about Naser-e-Din Shah, Doust-Ali Khan Mo’ayer-ul-Mamalek, a descendent of the Shah, narrates that on Fridays whenever he wished to pilgrim the holy shrine of Hazrat Abdul-Azim in Shar-e Rey, then a village in the south of Tehran, his servants used to rush to the village one day earlier and order 1,000 to 2,000 kabab kubideh. Kabab was a dish not in the court menu but loved by his wives.

Thus, whenever they planned to go there, they did not want to lose the chance to have kabab served with basil, onion, and spring onion on copper platters.

Nayeb Chelo-Kabab Restaurant was the oldest one established in the Tehran bazaar 120 years ago. Since its establishment till some 15 years ago when it was closed down, to please the customers, Nayeb waiters used to serve the extra-filled plate of pyramid-shaped hot rice crowned with the melting butter while kababs on skewers were served by a waiter who used to go from one table to another and provide customers with extra kababs as soon as they ran out of them and as long as rice was still left in their plates. First, the customers used to sit on bunches but later they were served at tables. The restaurant did not mind how many kababs a customer would eat and used to charge everybody the same, a generous manner that was characteristic of Iranians at that time, because of which it managed to run a brisk business.

Talking about the generosity and kindness of Mr. Nayeb, a gentleman who was the boss boy of a stingy merchant when a young boy, said that he used to go to the Nayeb restaurant in the bazaar every day to buy chelo-kabab for his boss who never thought that he was hungry too and that he wished to have lunch too. But Mr. Nayeb, realizing that the boy was hungry, used to treat him with bread and kabab before he prepared the chelo-kabab for the merchant and kept mentioning to his workers that he was only a child and that the smell of kabab made his mouth watery.

E’temad-ul-Saltaneh, in his notes, mentions of a shop in the bazaar which like Europeans served food at tables in 1292 lunar Hijra (some 121 years ago), a reference most probably to the Nayeb restaurant as the first chelo-kabab restaurant in Tehran. However, chelo-kabab restaurants were most likely first established in the northwestern city of Tabriz which borders with Caucasia. Nowadays, chelo-kabab is a national Iranian food in Tehran and other cities.

The reputation of the Nayeb restaurant was passed on from one generation to another and now there are tens of chelo-kabab restaurants in Tehran and other cities that are named after the original one. But the most famous of them in Tehran are the ones located in downtown near Shamsul-Amareh, and in Sa’adat-abad , Aban, and Vali-e-Asr streets, the owners of whom are most probably the descendent of the founder of the original one in the bazaar.