Empty Zam Zam Cans and Kalleh Pacheh

Vahid was waiting for me as he promised, at a grimy, smoggy roundabout where Yazd’s minibuses and taxis were beginning to fill with the first of the morning trade.

“It’s this way”, he said. “I can smell the soup from here.”

I followed him down to an underground walkway. It had a dank, clammy smell, limescale-crusted ceiling and underlay of chewing gum, empty Zam Zam cans and cigarette butts. A little refuge from the traffic smog and exhaust fumes above, it seemed a perfect place to taste my first kalleh pacheh.

“So the way it works is this,” he explained. “We order our soup, and then we choose which parts of the animal we want and he’ll put them on a separate plate for us. We have a choice of brains, tongue, foot, or eyeballs.”

The soup shop had about four tables. One was occupied by a group of men who looked like lawyers. They were wearing ties and their briefcases were lined up on the floor next to them. I wondered if this was the Iranian equivalent of a power breakfast.

Vahid ordered us bowls of soup and we shared a plate of tongue and brains. Our soup was a bright, almost florescent yellow colour from turmeric and the tongue and brains were generously sprinkled with cinnamon and lemon juice.

I imitated Vahid as he pushed an armada of flatbread pieces under the surface of his soup. It was delicious and as we slurped and gulped and passed each other more bread to scoop up what little broth remained in our bowls, Vahid gave me a breakdown of our plan for the day.

“I have asked about where the camel butcher is. We have to go to a place about 30 kilometres outside of the city. I will find a taxi and bargain the price to take us there.”

“A butcher 30 kilometres outside of the city?” I asked. “Don’t they have these kinds of places in Yazd?”

“No,” Vahid said to me looking surprised. “It is very messy to kill a camel. We have to go to a special place for that and it’s location is outside of the town.”

I was both horrified and morbidly intrigued. There had been a blip in translation.

He was talking about taking me to a slaughterhouse.

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