The Alborz menu: Kabob by the centemeter, with the meat shipped
from Azarbaijan "under the supervision of health specialists."
By Maryam Shargh
On Tehran's Sohrevardi Avenue, formerly known as Farah, there is a small side street that houses a sunken shoe repair store, a mom'n'pop furniture maker, a shallow 'joub' usually overflowing with murky water, and an unassuming wooden doorway which leads into a small mirrored hall which then extends into stairs winding through four-story restaurant - a chelokababi... and... akhkh, cheh chelo kababi!!
On this unsuspecting turf, the trends of the West compromise with the modesties of the East. For just a few hours on Fridays, Iran's Saras and Daras turn into Kens and Barbies and converge at Alborz to gossip, giggle, laugh and lounge and experience some interpretation of the thrill they suspect the West must hold. They parade up in their Mercedes' and BMWs, Mitsubishis and Nissans and even some with souped up Peykans and carouse into the doormaned entrance, sporting Levi's jeans and Armani jackets.
Every Jomeh zohr (Friday afternoon), they hangout religiously at this chelokababi, wait in a que that often resembles Nell's of New York more so than an Islamic nation struggling to make ends meet. They cajole with the Friendly Doorman greeting them outside, whose dapper outfit and Charlie Chaplin moustache clearly set him apart from the guests endlessly stepping out of their waxed cars. While they wait, they trade stories tailored to impress, as they negotiate their entry into the most famous chelokababi in the country. With their risque hejab (headscarf), women flutter around showing a glimpse of their new hair styles, eying each other for new trends and fashion statements while, jeans apparent, they search for the man they think may be The One.
The chairs are wooden and often just as uncomfortable as they should be in a chelokababi. The silverware comes in a glass of piping hot water, the napkins are sheets of tissue folded in a neat triangle. A basket of bread and fresh onion arrive as soon as you are seated. Floor after floor of silverware clatter, as you settle in for the long-awaited kabab, which is served up in customized centimeter measurements. This elicits a good deal of joking among an adolescent crowd whose purpose here is to have a good meal and a good go at the norms of the Islamic-Iranian culture.
The kababometer was developed to suit the needs of large parties, prior to the recent discovery of the restaurant by the Friday Crew, whose barg (fillet) consumption was greater than the mere sikh (skewer). For hours, waiters will hustle about dressed in white shirts and black rubber shoes, serving heaps of red and gold chelo (rice) and long plates laden with velvety kabab that tantalize the taste buds before they engulf them in flavor.
For those of us who visit Iran to experience the unforgettable before we head back to the comforts of "home," Alborz is certainly one stop on the tour bus.
Room service menu and laundry price list at the Abbasi (ex-Shah Abbas) Hotel in Isfahan (Sept. 1995).
Room service menu: (1) (2) (3)
Laundry price list: Men, women
(With special thanks to Nazanin Mohaqeq Yazdi)