Craving kaleh-pache at New Year PartyPosted: 1 January 2012
Like aash (a thick soup of beans and herbs, with or without meat) and halim (wheat meal with shredded lamb), Kaleh-pacheh is a traditional Iranian breakfast that requires far too much preparation to be included in a daily meal, or to be prepared at home on regular basis. When viewed cross-culturally and from a vegetarian perspective, kaleh-pacheh may not be the most shameful, unethical and aesthetically disgusting animal product that humans choose to eat, but it most certainly makes it onto the list! Meanwhile, if you fancy Scottish haggis (sheep’s liver and lungs boiled in its stomach) or Greek kokoretsi (stuffed sheep’s intestine), or Jewish petcha (calf’s feet), then I’m sure you will love Iranian kaleh-pacheh. The dish is a smorgasbord of the most unlikely animal offal: all parts of the head, feet and tripe of a sheep or lamb cooked together to make a thin soup.
There is a whole culture of kalepch (as some have affectionately nicknamed it), which I do not intend going through here but the reader must be familiar with in order to appreciate the story I am about to tell. Get a crush course here, or start with the following backgrounder:
Back in the early ‘70s, before the rush of Iranian emigration resulting from the 1979 Islamic Revolution, there was a kaleh-pacheh joke going around that targeted Iranians living abroad. The joke, allegedly based on more than one true incident, ran like this: There is this Iranian man living in a tiny apartment in London. One day his neighbour, living in the apartment below, notices with horror some blood dripping from the bathroom ceiling. Convinced a murder has occurred, she immediately calls the cops, who in turn show up at the Iranian guy’s door only to discover that he has slaughtered a sheep in his bathtub to quench his uncontrollable craving for kaleh-pacheh, which is otherwise not to be found anywhere in London. The point of the story was not how likely the incident might have been or how badly the pal must have wanted kaleh-pacheh, or even how on earth he was going to transform the mess into an edible meal. The moral of the story was that desiring kaleh-pacheh in kharej, and going about satisfying that desire, was considered a culturally inappropriate, even barbaric act that must be avoided at any cost. No one would have predicted that in less than two decades, the Iranian Diaspora of some three million would have find their kaleh-pazi readily available in Los Angles and Toronto and other cosmopolitan cities.
It was not until I had settled in Canada in the ‘90s that I understood the immigrant’s side of the whole kaleh-pacheh dilemma. Once, a group of us (three couples, all Iranian) attended a public New Year’s party in a downtown hotel. We danced, wined and dined the night away–readily embracing the Western-Christian festivities. Around 3:30 in the morning, when we were getting ready to head back home, my cousin, who had travelled from Toronto for the holidays, was suddenly hit by a massive urge for kaleh-pacheh. He asked us, his hosts, if there was a kaleh-pacheh restaurant in Montreal, and we realized that we had no idea. His alcohol-fueled desperate desire for kaleh-pacheh drove him straight to the hotel’s receptionist, whom he asked–as naturally as if he were speaking in English–“injaa maghazeh kale-pahcheh-ie kojast?”
“Pardon me?” the confused receptionist politely responded..
My cousin pleaded with her, “Kaleh-pacheh. Kaleh-pacheh? Don’t you even know what kaleh-pacheh is?!” throwing his arms in the air in frustration and shaking his head. We finally dragged him away, some of us carrying the lingering thought of having kaleh-pacheh at the perfect time. The truth is that my cousin’s drunken search was actually perfectly timed. The kaleh pazi cook starts the procedure in the evening and slow-cooks the animal parts until dawn. Some cooks soak the head and feet for eight hours and discard the water before starting to cook it in fresh water–an alternative to discarding the boiled water. Usually by 3:30 in the morning the meal is served, or taken out, and the shop is closed for the day by seven or eight o’clock. Kaleh-pacheh marks the end of a full night. Before calling a close to a very late evening, the most proper thing to do is to treat oneself to a tempting, hot meal of kaleh-pacheh on the way home.
See? My cousin’s overwhelming craving at the dawn on the New Year in Montreal was a perfectly legitimate one, but accommodating him back then, was next to impossible. On that morning we came home, once again embracing two cultures simultaneously but having neither one at hand.
Happy 2012 everyone!