Iranian Sweets in Yazd

In Yazd, Iran sweets from a shop called Haj Khalifeh Ali Rahbar

YAZD, Iran — This desert provincial capital in central Iran is known for its honesty, generosity, high clay walls, fine woven silk textiles, a pre-Islamic Zoroastrian fire temple and soaring wind towers that naturally cool rooms below.

And sweets.

The first time I sampled the sweets of Yazd was one winter evening in 1998. It was at the end of Eftar, the nightly ritual of breaking a 12-hour fast that Iranian Muslims observe during the holy month of Ramadan. I had been invited to dine with some of the women closest to Mohammad Khatami, who was president then: his mother, three of his sisters and a gaggle of cousins, grandchildren and family friends.

After sitting cross-legged for a lavish dinner served on a tablecloth on the carpeted floor, we moved into a television room that smelled of cardamom and sugar, where glasses of strong, burning tea and a high pyramid of local specialties awaited us. The sweets were so sweet that I left on a sugar high that prevented me from falling asleep for hours.

Now when I visit Yazd, I stop in the shop called Haj Khalifeh Ali Rahbar, where for a century, three generations have been making the finest sweets in town.

Farah Diba, the widow of the Shah of Iran, came to buy sweets here before the 1979 Islamic revolution that ousted him from power; so did King Faisal of Saudi Arabia. President Hassan Rouhani, a cleric, stopped in the day before I did. The shop exports its sweets to Iranian exiles in London, Los Angeles and Paris.

“People know and trust us,” said Ali Rahbar, a 56-year-old German-educated chemist who changed course to manage the family business. “We have kept our fame.”

This is a no-nonsense operation, not the sort of place to dawdle and ask a lot of questions. Each variety of confection is displayed behind glass, its ingredients listed in Farsi and English. You write your name and order on a slip of paper and hand it in at one counter, pay the cashier at a second and take delivery at a third.

Preparing the sweets

There are more than a dozen varieties from which to choose, including Haji Badam, small round balls made with chickpea flour, eggs, sugar, almonds, cardamoms and nutmeg; Nan berenji, a round cookie made with rice flour, cardamom and rosewater and sprinkled with poppy seeds; and Souhan, a grainy version of brittle made with pistachios instead of peanut.

3 generations have been making the finest sweets in town

The flour-based baklava, made with almonds, pistachios, cardamom and rosewater, is nothing like the Lebanese variety made with phyllo dough and drowned in honey. The best seller is Qottab, an almond-shaped, almond-infused cookie with a crispy shell rolled in powdered sugar. Tasters test every batch for texture, aroma and taste; the recipes are secret. 

I left the shop with an assortment in a square red tin box. Saeid Haji-Hadi, the guide for a group of American tourists with whom I was traveling, was weighted down by a pile of boxes.

“You are with your sugar daddy,” he later told the Americans. “So you’ll have sweets with your lunch today.”


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