The Bakers Bringing Tradition Back to Iranian Bread

Ali Fotouhi, 49, prepares the dough for the second rest.

Source Photographs by Ali Asaei for OZY

Why you should care

Baked in traditional wood ovens, this bread is now being produced in greater quantities.

Bread is the universal food. First prepared more than 12,000 years ago, it continues to be a staple in many cultures. Among Iranians, bread not only has an important place in daily meals, but it’s also considered a blessing, occupying a holy place in culture. Check Persian literature and you’ll find bread celebrated in verse. 

Many ethnic groups call Iran home, and almost all consider bread a “first food.” You’ll find many types of bread for sale in the country, categorized by type of flour, size, volume, texture and cooking method (hot stone-baked, steam-baked and oven-baked).

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Bread is plucked from the wood oven walls at Dehestani’s in Ardakan, Iran.

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Ali Shaker prepares dough at the Shaker Bakery, where they make bread in a similar way to Dehestani’s but use gas ovens.

Some commercial bakeries, which typically use gas ovens in Iran, produce traditional and ethnic bread, but the product often lacks a homemade quality. But tweaking traditional baking methods so that the bread can be produced in larger volumes involves more work and higher costs — so few commercial bakeries go this route. But one bakery in Ardakan, a city in Yazd province, made the leap.

 

Four years ago, brothers Younes and Yousef Dehestani decided to take their passion for preserving traditional bread-baking to another level. Dehestani’s is one of the few commercial bakeries in Iran to bake in traditional wood-fired ovens. In addition to serving bakery customers, the brothers distribute their whole-wheat and barley bread to more than 20 local stores.

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Bakery employee Hossein is responsible for cooling down and packing the bread for delivery to local stores. 

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Younes Dehestani, 29, one of the founders of Dehestani’s bakery.

Dehestani’s uses local ingredients only and avoids any additives, including baking soda. It takes a few hours for the dough to rise and rest, and then the magic happens. The dough is spread on a soft convex board covered with a cotton cloth and knocked against the oven wall by hand. The eight wood ovens, which are constructed of mud, are fueled by local wood, including pistachio trees. It takes roughly five minutes to cook one batch of bread. 

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Dehestani’s employee Ali Fotouhi prepares dough for the second batch of bread of the day.

The bread is cooled before being packed and delivered. Customers are encouraged to use cloth sheets or bring their own bags — not only is this more environmentally sustainable, but cloth also keeps the bread fresher. 

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Wood-fired bread from Dehestani’s. 

And when that smoky scent of baking bread wafting from the ovens hits you? Your mouth is guaranteed to water as you wait for that first delicious bite, born from a slow, methodical process and thousands of years of history. You’ll never want to eat commercially produced bread again.  

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Two brothers on their way home with wood-fired bread.

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Bread from Dehestani’s on the table of a local customer. 

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