BERENJ “rice”


BERENJ “rice” (also gorenj; see Dehḵodā s.v.), Middle Persian brinǰ, Sogdian ryzʾkh, Khotanese rrīysua-, Pashto wrīžī (plur.), etc. (see Bailey, Dictionary, I p. 364), related to Old Indian vrīhí, Greek oruza (etc.), English rice, etc., see Mayrhofer, Dictionary III, p. 282.

i. In Iran.

ii. In Afghanistan.

iii. In cooking.


i. In Iran

History. Information establishing the precise era in which rice was introduced along the Caspian littoral and on the Iranian plateau does not exist; however, there is circumstantial evidence for hypothesizing that rice was, to use Wulff’s phrase (p. 242), a “relative new­comer” not widely grown before the Islamic period. Laufer (pp. 372-73) supported this hypothesis with the following arguments: (a) There is no word for rice in the Avesta; (b) Greek authors, in particular Aristobulus who accompanied Alexander and was quoted by Strabo (VII, p. 29), wrote about rice cultivation in Babylonia, Susiana, and Bactria but not on the plateau or in the

Caspian provinces; (c) Chinese travelers during the Sasanian period mentioned rice cultivation in Farḡāna and Parthia but not in Persia itself, and (d) the first writings by Iranian authors to provide substantial accounts of rice farming date from the 2nd/8th century.

These arguments, while serving as grounds for a plausible hypothesis, do not constitute proof. The sources mentioned by Laufer are too laconic for concluding beyond all doubt that rice was not grown on the plateau or in the Caspian provinces during the Achaemenid and Sasanian periods. Moreover, why would rice cultivation, which had spread from India toward the eastern shores of the Mediterranean centuries before the Christian era, not have reached these regions? The authors of the rice map in the Atlas of Food Crops (pp. 35-36) suggest that rice was grown in the Caspian areas of Iran in the 4th century b.c.

Regardless of when rice was brought into Persia, two points are beyond dispute. First, both the varieties of rice grown in the region and the terminology related to rice cultivation are evidence that rice farming reached Persia from southeast Asia and the Indian subconti­nent. Berenj, the generic term itself, derives from the Sanskrit vrīhí. Furthermore, all the varieties grown belong to the species Oryza sativa, which originated in southeast Asia. Second, the cultivation of rice and other tropical crops (cotton, sugarcane, oranges, and mulberries) in Persia thrived in response to urban growth and the demand generated under the first caliphates (Lombard, p. 40). Sources from 7th/13th-century Il-khanid Iran corroborate that rice was grown in Azer­baijan, Fārs (near Korbāl, Fīrūzābād, etc.), Ḵūzestān (Petrushevsky, pp. 500-01), and the Caspian provinces, the very regions that are still the principal areas of production.

Production. Rice is now grown in varying degrees in nearly all provinces of Iran (see Figure 13). In 1361 Š./1982, 397,000 ha, about 2,5 percent of all farmland, were used for rice. Paddy fields amounted to about 52 percent of farmland in Gīlān, 16 percent in Māzandarān, 3 percent in Fārs and less than 1 percent in the rest of the country.

Rice farming is a marginal activity in arid regions where, because of the inhospitable climate, it is limited to a few areas with an adequate water supply: namely the lower Aras and Qezel Ozon valleys; the upper Isfahan oasis; a few oases in Khorasan and in Sīstān and Baluchistan; various parts of the alluvial plain of Ḵūzestān, in particular the swampy areas of Dašt-e Mīšān watered by the Karḵa (Nezam-Mafi, pp. 106-09); the Marvdašt plain and other basins in Fārs, a province where this crop has expanded conspicuously in the last years (120,000 tons of paddy in 1361 Š./1982).

Production is concentrated in the Caspian provinces, which, in 1361 Š./1982 (as in 1309 Š/1930; see Kayhān, p. 150), yielded about 85 percent of the nation’s total crop. Only these provinces have enough water, thanks to an abundant annual precipitation of 1,200-1,900 mm in the lowlands and to a dense network of rivers and streams. Though favorable, the natural conditions in Gīlān and Māzandarān are not optimal, owing to the cold winter weather that limits the growing season to one crop a year and to spring and summer tempera­tures that are below the ideal for rice to germinate, tiller, ear, and mature. Furthermore, in small areas like Fūmanāt, traditional irrigation cannot make up for insufficient precipitation.

Gīlān was until recently the foremost producer of rice in Iran, yielding every year between 40 and 50 percent of the national harvest, but was surpassed by Māzandarān in 1361 Š./1982, getting only 429,000 tons of paddy whereas the neighboring province yielded 491,000. In Gīlān, nearly all low-lying, irrigable land is used for rice; on alluvial strips of slightly higher ground, hamlets with scattered buildings stretch out between unirrigated fields and patches of forest. The nearly monocultural Safīdrūd delta in Raft and Lāhījān districts accounts for 60 percent of the province’s production, whereas on the eastern and western marginal plains rice is combined with various specialized crops (Figure 14).

Until recently, Māzandarān was only second to Gīlān and yielded 35 to 40 percent of Iran’s total crop, before it took the first rank from 1361 Š./1982 onward. In the western half of this province, rice is the major crop, along with citrus fruit from Rāmsar to Čālūs and with cereals, melons, sunflowers, etc., in central Māzandarān (see Ehlers, pp. 331-34), where the two districts of Āmol and Bābol account for half of the province’s produc­tion. Toward the east, which becomes more arid the farther one goes, paddy is grown sporadically in areas where wheat and cotton predominate. It is difficult to ascertain whether or not the recent increase in Māzandarān’s harvest reflects an unusual combination of circumstances.

Anyway, Gīlān’s predominance was rather recent; in 1911, Rabino and Lafont (p. 38) noted, “Although rice is better from Gilan than from Mazandaran or Astarabad, the last two provinces supply the capital and the center of Persia with rice.” Likewise, Abbott (p. 23) and Churchill (1878, p. 754) noticed that, in the mid­-19th century, Gīlān had to import rice regularly from Māzandarān in order to meet local demand. There are two basic reasons for this: First, landholders in Gīlān gave priority to raising silkworms in order to satisfy the rising demand of European markets (see abrǰšam), and it was only during the 1860s, after pébrine had destroyed the silkworms, that farmers turned to rice; second, Gīlān remained isolated from the rest of the country until the start of the 20th century when the Rašt-Qazvīn route was opened, connecting it to the Iranian plateau. Churchill (1894, p. 5) commented that Tehran was supplied with rice by Māzandarān because of transportation facilities through the Āmol gap.

Rice cultivation, like many other activities in Gīlān, increased in response to demand from the Russian market. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, poor quality rice (čampā, rasmī) was exported to Baku both as a food stuff and as a product used in making starch for light cotton fabrics (Rabino and Lafont, 1911, p. 16). Exports to Russia rose sixfold from 1874 to 1892 (Churchill, 1894, p. 5), oscillated around 50,000 tons a year during the first third of the 20th century, and reached a maximum of 95,000 tons in 1915 (Kayhān, pp. 95-96). Rice was transported through numerous centers in Gīlān: Āstārā, Ḥasan Kīādeh, Langarūd, Rūdsar, and especially Anzalī (Rabino, p. 16). In 1892 (Rabino, and Lafont, 1911, p. 41), Gīlān was exporting 8,899,600 qerāns worth of rice to Russia but only 589,000 to “inner Persia,” which was principally supplied by Māzandarān. Given the cost and difficulties of carrying goods across Iran, rice was also grown in the south, which nonetheless was importing rice from outside the country in the early 1310s Š./1930s while Gīlān was exporting large quantities to Russia (Brjezit­sky, p. 66).

Iranian production as a whole has increased significantly since the Second World War, from 450,000 tons of paddy in 1329 Š./1950 to more than a million during the 1350s Š./1970s; however, demand has increased even faster because the population has grown rapidly and an urban model of rice consumption has been adopted throughout society. Once an exporter, Iran has had to import rice, for instance, 191,000 tons in 1352 Š./1974-75 and 283,000 in 1354 Š./1975-76 (Brun and Dumont, p. 4). After a sharp drop in production during the short period of the Revolution (741,000 tons in 1978 and 919,000 tons in 1979, no complete data for 1980 and 1981), Iran has come back to more than one million tons since 1361 Š./1982, but is still obliged to import rice.

Socioeconomic organization of rice growing.

Though subject to the same land tenure system as the rest of Iran, the rice-growing regions along the Caspian stand out in many respects. Before 1339 Š./1960, small, privately owned farms were extremely rare in Gīlān and Māzandarān, rice fields nearly always belonged to absentee landlords, represented locally by stewards (mobāšer). Beside vast estates, which state officials or local khans had acquired usually at the end of the Qajar period, were the smaller properties owned by merchants and urban functionaries. In 1313 Š./1934, properties of less than ten hectares made up 42.7 percent of the surface area used for rice in Gīlān, whereas estates of more than 200 hectares amounted to 9.7 percent (Sahami, p. 43).

The landholdings actually used in production were even smaller than the size of properties. In 1339 Š./1960, 83 percent of farms in Gīlān and 65 percent in Māzandarān (including, in each province, the much larger wheat farms) did not amount to more than three hectares (Ehlers, p. 339); the “standard” size of a farm worked by a single family in Gīlān was from 1.5 to 2 hectares (Sahami, p. 45). In these two Caspian provinces, most tenant farmer were not sharecroppers as in the drier regions of Iran; they paid fixed yearly rents in husked rice in proportion to the size of farms. Rent averaged about 660 kg/ha depending on local conditions: from 225 to 440 kg/ha in northern Ṭāleš, where water was not abundant, up to 952 kg/ha for the richer lands in the Safīdrūd delta (ʿAṭāʾī, p. 125; Bazin, 1980, I, pp. 123-24). As a consequence of land reform, deeds in most cases have been ceded to tenants, but holdings have not been consolidated.

Collectively organizing farm work, though necessary for irrigation, has not extended to other activities; housing is scattered in loosely defined hamlets. Each farmer tills his own plots and selects the varieties of rice as a function of his personal calendar. Nor is livestock herded together. The independent-minded and energetic farmers have willingly used the services of rural cooperatives; however, they have been reluctant to participate in the farm corporations (šerkat-e sahāmī-e zerāʿī) set up during the 1970s to consolidate landhold­ings. In 1355 Š./1976, there were but two such corpo­rations in all of Gīlān (near Fūman), and they held less than 1 percent of the province’s rice fields.

Thanks to intensive labor, yields of rice are relatively high. In 1352 Š./1973, an average of 27 quintals of paddy per hectare were obtained in Gīlān (Bazin, 1980, I, p. 138). ʿAṭāʾī (p. 113) calculated that 244 workdays were put into each hectare. This large labor requirement explains why tenant farmers, even before land reform, enjoyed a greater share of the harvest in these rice-­growing areas than in drier regions of Iran. Women do the most toilsome chores using rudimentary tools or none at all. Their wages were noticeably higher than men’s for their “productivity and effectiveness of transplanting and weeding operations was considered to be better than that of men” (Rashid, pp. 13-14). The social status of women in Gīlān and Māzandarān which is higher than that of women elsewhere in Iran undoubtedly owes much to their decisive role in rice production.

Medium-sized rice farms (more than 1.5-2 ha) and large estates worked by their owners have had to resort to migrant labor; landless workers and small farmers formed a small part of the work force; the rest were recruited from outside the Caspian lowlands. Since the mid-19th century, the main migration occurred when rice fields had to be prepared for planting. Every winter, several tens of thousands of men left their villages in eastern Azerbaijan (in particular, the districts around Ardabīl and Ḵalḵāl) and came to work in full teams on the rice estates in the Caspian lowlands (Bazin, 1980, II, pp. 122, 126). These migrations have lessened nowadays owing both to the utilization of power-driven cultivators and to the attraction of new labor markets in Tehran and other big cities.

Beside the wives of poorer rice farmers, transplanting and weeding still employ women who come from the less well-off neighborhoods of towns or from the livestock-raising districts in the Caspian mountains. Under contract for from six to eight weeks, these female hands (kerečī) are—like the men hired to plow—given room, board, fixed amounts of rice as well as money, and, sometimes, a measure of cloth to replace the clothes ruined by the dirty, toilsome work. Reaping calls for much less outside labor, since men and women work together.

The part of the crop sold by farmers passes through the extremely dense marketing network in the Caspian lowlands. Rice traders (ʿallāf) have an essential position in the many weekly markets and in the large bāzārs of towns and cities. They often increase profits by buying crops before harvest (salaf-ḵarī).

During the last years of Moḥammad-Reżā Shah’s reign, authorities tried to centralize the collection of rice in rural cooperatives. Efforts did not meet with much success, for many poor farmers were indebted to private traders whereas better-off farmers preferred storing surpluses in order to sell them at the best moment on the free market.

Varieties of rice grown in Iran. There is not enough information to draw up an exhaustive taxonomy of the varieties and subvarieties of rice grown in Iran. At the start of this century, Rabino and Lafont (pp. 145-54) counted in the Gīlakī and Māzandarānī lexicons 60 subvarieties, which fell into five major categories recognized by the size and shape of the grain: čampā (short and thick), rasmī (longer and wider) and, in order of length and thinness, ʿanbarbū, mawlāʾī (with one end of the caryopsis cloven), and ṣadrī (Rabino and Lafont, p. 146). With the exception of mawlāʾī, which is usually said to be a subvariety of ṣadrī, these are still the principal varieties and categories in vernacular classifi­cations. Varieties ranging between čampā and ṣadrī in size, which have been grown since the start of the century in the Caspian provinces and which are now prevalent, include: ḡarība, ḥasanī, āqāʾī and bīnām. Characteristics that enable farmers to distinguish among subvarieties are: (a) the time that the transplant­ed seedlings need to mature—early (zūdras or garm “hot”) rices mature in 110 days whereas late (dīrras or sard “cold”) ones have a growth cycle lasting from 150 to 160 days (Vérot, p. 6); (b) the color of the chaff (fal, fəl in Gīlakī)—white (safīd), red (sorḵ), black (sīāh) or, seldom, yellow (zard); (c) whether or not there is a tassel (domb, dom) or the tassel’s color—black, yellow, etc. (see Bromberger, p. 162). Subvarieties are usually identified by enumerating their distinctive characteristics; for instance, a rasmī(-e) safīd-e zūdras-e domdār is an early rasmī with a white husk and a beard. Other names refer to geographical or historical origins. For instance, the subvariety čampā-ye Šīrāz domdār was probably imported from Shiraz, and the variety itself may take its name from the ancient Indochinese king­dom of Champa, well-known for its early rice (Bazin, 1980, I, p. 128). The generic term ṣadrī brings to mind the title of the grand vizier of Persia, Mīrzā Āqā Khan Nūrī Ṣadr-e Aʿẓam, who introduced this variety into Gīlān from Peshawar during the 1850s. Other terms for rice refer to its shape (ḵanjarī, shaped like a dagger), smell (ʿanbarbū “amber perfume”), or taste (šekarī).

A rice farmer plants from three to six different subvarieties the same year; choice is based upon three factors: the amount of water required by the subvariety, whether it is for local consumption or to be marketed, and the season. In comparison with hot varieties, cold ones give a higher yield but require more water; they have to be irrigated six or seven times as opposed to four or five. Late subvarieties, most of which have long grains, are planted in areas where water is abundant. Traditionally, ṣadrī has been grown in the Safīdrūd delta, whereas čampā and intermediate varieties were planted in the neighboring regions of Māzandarān, Gorgān, Fūmanāt, and Ṭāleš where the water supply is limited (Vérot, p. 7; Rashid and Shaeri, p. 10; Bazin, 1980, I, p. 129). The second factor is the destination of the crop. Ṣadrī and mawlāʾī are grown to be sold (their grains do not stick together during cooking and the taste is appreciated), whereas the medium-sized varieties (ḡarība, ḥasanī, etc.) and, above all, čampā are usually kept for home consumption in the form of kata (since the grains, when boiled, become a paste). Prices reflect these differences of quality: Ṣadrī costs twice as much per kilogram as čampā (Bromberger, p. 162; Bazin, 1980, I, p. 128). The third factor is the farming calendar; chores can be spread out by combining several early and late varieties.

Varieties and subvarieties have appeared and disappeared with remarkable rapidity. In 1910, Rabino and Lafont (p. 145) wrote, “Fifty or sixty years ago, Gīlān only had two varieties of rice: amberbou and tchampa”; and counting only six subvarieties of ṣadrī, they men­tioned neither dom-sīāh nor dom-sorḵ nor dom-zard, which are the best known varieties today. During the last decade, čampā has clearly lost out to new and better rices, notably ḥasanī, ḡarība, āqāʾī and bīnām. Several factors account for the rapidity of these changes. First of all, seeds are carefully selected; this seems to be true throughout the world, for rice farmers are, in Grist’s words (p. 60), “prone to cultivate any paddy which strikes them as different.” Consequently, more and more subvarieties have appeared, especially of ṣadrī, within a period of a hundred years. Second, production conditions have been improved; the modernization of irrigation has led to more land being planted in ṣadrī. Furthermore, the utilization of chemical fertilizers has reduced the considerable differences that used to exist between the yields of čampā and ṣadrī-type rices. The third factor is changing food consumption patterns. Even in the Caspian region, more and more people eat čelow prepared from long or medium-sized grains instead of kata which is traditionally prepared with čampā, undoubtedly the first variety of rice grown in Gīlān.

Cultivation. Since available sources are not adequate for providing as full an account of regional disparities inside Iran, the techniques used to grow rice will be described in the areas about which information is available: in particular, Gīlān.

The main problem during the growth cycle of rice is the water supply. In Fūmanāt, for instance, an estimated 9,000 m3 of water are needed per hectare of paddy, in other words, 900 mm of precipitation. Rainfall from April to August, during the rice-growing season, only amounts to 350 mm and even in rainier districts irrigation is indispensable.

In the Caspian provinces, water for the irrigation system traditionally comes from three sources. On the numerous watercourses, dams made of branches and stakes are built to channel water toward the principal canal which is then divided and subdivided into many smaller ducts. Water for irrigation also comes from springs at the edge of the plain; in 1973, in the Ṭāleš and Fūmanāt areas, 20 percent of the rice fields were irrigated in this way. Finally, reservoirs (estaḵr, sal) are also used, a method that, though making it possible to regulate the water supply, takes up room: viz., 11,000 hectares in central Māzandarān (Ehlers, p. 332).

Modern systems of irrigation have been gradually installed, beginning in the late 1950s in the Safīdrūd area. A regular supply of water from the Manjīl dam-reservoir and from the Tārīk and Sangar dams is fed into the dense network of channels in the central Gīlān plain. Plans for modernizing irrigation in central Māzandarān as well as in western and eastern Gīlān were under study in the late 1970s.

The way irrigation is organized is still the same, regardless of whether the water flows through traditional or modern channels. A water marshal (mīrāb), assisted by an apprentice (mīrāb-šāgerd), supervises distribution, maintenance work, etc. The water mar­shal works under the Water Administration, which levies an irrigation tax that varies according to the source of the water.

Elsewhere in Iran only land with good irrigation can be tilled for rice. In the Isfahan area, paddy is planted in the upper oasis, in Lenjān district, which benefits from traditional regulations about the distribution of water from the Zāyandarūd (Planhol, p. 394). Fields are mainly irrigated from streams and rivers (Aras, Safīdrūd, Zāyandarūd, Kor, Kārūn, Dez, Karḵa, etc.) or sometimes springs (in the Bayżā and Abarj districts on the edge of the Marvdašt plain (Kortum, p. 213). Rice is irrigated throughout its especially complicated culti­vation cycle—usually during preparatory work in the fields, as well as after transplanting, weeding, and caring (Rabino and Lafont, 1911, p. 6).

Tasks involved in preparing the fields (bījār, bəjār) extend from winter to early spring and consist of plowing the fields three times, traditionally with a short, light swivel plow (Gīlakī kāvəl, gājeme) drawn by an ox (varzo) or on rare occasions by a horse (Bazin and Bromberger, pp. 18-25). Since about 1960, power-driven cultivators, Japanese-made “tillers” adapted to work in rice fields, have appeared; however, they are used in some regions more than others. Near Rašt, in the delta village studied by Rashid (p. 14), 99 percent of the farmers were using them in 1973, whereas in Fūmanāt, Lahījān, and elsewhere traditional techniques still prevailed.

After the second plowing (dobāra), repair work (marzbandī) is done with long spades (gərbāz, kəlīk) on the small dikes (marz) that mark off plots (kala) and keep irrigation water in the field.

Right after the third plowing (ūrān), fields are harrowed to break up the muddy soil. This operation (pīškāvəī) takes its name from the device used to perform it: a bent plank drawn by an ox and equipped with a handle with which the farmer can keep the harrow firmly pushed against the ground. Various other tools are used to finish harrowing. Afterward, fields are manured, and chemical fertilizers are applied along with traditional substances (straw, green fertilizers, ashes, dung from cattle and fowl, etc.).

At the start of the spring, seeds are dampened and then placed for germination in sacks (gūnī) or in rice-straw baskets (čīpī) hung from the beams of porches in homes. In Ḵūzestān and Fārs provinces (Wulff, p. 271) and along the lower Qezel Ozon in Ṭārom district, once germinated, seeds are sown straightaway in fields. Elsewhere, they are sown in seedbeds (tūmbəjār), a practice that dates from ancient times in the Near East. In Gīlān, seedbeds, laid out on the carefully prepared and manured ground, are located near homes or inside enclosures in the fields. In the northwest of the province, the seedbeds of several farms in a hamlet are laid out side by side (jamaʿāta tomājor). To protect them from birds, scarecrows, bells, or other noise-making instru­ments are used (Rabino and Lafont, 1911, p. 16).

The difficult chore of transplanting (nešā) is performed by women. About three weeks after sowing, when the seedlings are 10 cm high, they are uprooted, placed on wooden trays, and carried to the fields where the women plant them in rows “two or three seedlings together in recently cleared fields and up to seven or eight in the old fields where there is less tillering” (Rabino and Lafont, 1910, p. 162). Transplanting machines have been introduced, but hardly at more than the experimental level.

Women also weed (vījīn) the rice fields, which is more difficult than transplanting and must be done twice during the month of Ḵordād (21 May-20 June). Apart from repeated irrigations, weeding is the last operation before reaping. After earing the paddy also has to be protected from boars and cattle; therefore, fences (čapar, paṛčīn) are built around fields. If need be, a watchman is stationed on a platform (bījār kūtam) in the middle of the fields in order to ward off wild boars at night.

Harvest extends from late July till early November, depending on the area and the variety of rice. Men and, if need be, women do the reaping (berenj-bīnī) using a small sickle with a slightly curved blade (dara) to cut handfuls (mošta, qabża) of rice. The rice is carefully sheaved and stacked following strict rules specific to each locality; usually twelve handfuls make a sheaf (darz), and 50 sheaves, a stack (kūva). Such rules once facilitated sharing the crop between tenants and landlords; they are still the basis on which the volumes and weights of rice are directly related to the size of fields. For instance, a darz is a unit of volume (12 handfuls), a unit of weight (that can be divided into fractions of the bār, a “horseload,” that ranges from 120 to 150 kg), and a unit of surface area (1/1000 of the jarīb of 10,400 m2 that is generally used in Gīlān; Bazin and Bromberger, pp. 54-55). Once counted (and in former times, divided into shares) the paddy is carried away by horses or by men aided by a shoulder stick (čāṇčū).

The sheaves are stored in various structures (on the morphology and regional distribution of such structures, see Bromberger, pp. 165-67, 179; Bazin, 1980, I, pp. 139-41, pl. XIX-XX; and Bazin and Bromberger, pp. 25-28). The prevalent type of installation in the western Gīlān plains is a long, low storehouse (telem­bār, kūrūj). In the Caspian provinces, there are several variants of storehouses built on stakes (kūndəj, kūtī): West of the Anzalī lagoon, roofs are rounded and elongated; in central Gīlān, storehouses are pyramid­-like; and in eastern Gīlān and western Māzandarān, they are shaped like houses, cubical buildings covered by roofs with four equal sections. In Māzandarān, sheaves are usually stacked on a simple platform on stakes (kūppa) and then covered with straw for protec­tion. In areas where rice farming is a marginal or a relatively recent activity, for example, in northern Ṭāleš, in the Rostamābād area in the Safīdrūd valley below Rūdbār, and probably also in most rice-growing dis­tricts in the dry interior, the sheaves are stored in homes, in a room called darzaka in Ṭālešī.

Of all these structures, which are often found side by side in the same locality, only the storehouses on stakes, hence raised above the damp ground and thus protected from pests, are an efficient means for keeping sheaves. A central flue (hawākeš) is made in the middle of the mow to ventilate and dry the sheaves; thus the crop can be stored as speculative stocks for several months or even years till the best time, usually the spring, to sell it off. In many areas of Gīlān, only the wealthier farmers, who work more than two hectares of paddy field, own raised storehouses, which thus are a sign of social differentiation.

A practice peculiar to the Caspian provinces is to complete the drying process by smoking (dūd dādan) the rice; this, it is said, facilitates storage, gives the rice an unmistakable aroma, and keeps the grains from sticking together during cooking. There are two methods of rice smoking: 1. Sheaves may be hung in a place heated by the slow-combustion of a mixture of wood and rice chaff, as drying them too fast would increase the risks of their breaking during husking. 2. The grains of paddy (jo), once separated from the stalks, are spread out on racks covered with loam or placed in vessels (kālevī) made from cow manure and then smoked (Bromberger, p. 170). The latter method, though less efficient, does have an advantage: the straw (kūləš) can be reused as fodder, as roofing, or for various utensils (baskets, brooms, string, etc.).

In central Gīlān, for example, the sheaves are threshed by using a flail (jākū, gūčīn), in northwestern and eastern Gīlān by having horses or cows tread on them. Women then pass the panicles (qūša) between the two parts of a split reed in order to remove the remaining grains. The rice is then winnowed and sieved. Today, threshing machines (ḵarmankūb-e motorī) com­pete with traditional methods; however, only the wealthiest farmers are able to acquire these machines and they rent them to neighbors (Rashid, p. 15; Bazin, 1980, I, p. 141).

Formerly, to rid the grain of its glume and glumella, heavy wooden pestles with iron tips were employed. Rabino and Lafont (1911, pp. 20-23) and Wulff (pp. 290-91) described two sorts of pestles, similar to those used in Vietnam (Cerighelli, pp. 125-26): (a) the pā-dang, a device driven by foot, used to husk and polish rice for home consumption; and (b) the āb-dang, a hydraulic pestle belonging to a specialized miller, used on the rice owed to a landlord or for the market. In both cases, rice was pounded twice to be husked and then a third time with meerschaum to be polished; the broken grains were then sifted out.

Nowadays these traditional methods have been supplanted by industrial rice mills (kārḵāna-ye berenjkūbī), an undeniable technical improvement since the percentage of broken grain has been reduced from 40-44 percent to 6-7 percent (Vérot, p. 6). However, the economic dependency of farmers has worsened.

This inventory of techniques for producing and processing rice in the Caspian regions of Iran, although it must be completed by information about the inland provinces, does show that traditional methods and the use of modern machines vary depending on the local area and, within any given area, depending on the social group.

Rice in the Iranian diet. Although čelow kabāb is now a major national dish, rice has not always been the staple food for the whole country; in drier regions, bread has been the traditional staple. The consumption of rice is important for regional and social reasons. That rice is an essential part of the traditional diet in the Caspian provinces is confirmed by what is said about it, the ways in which it is prepared, and the quantities eaten during meals. Anecdotes emphasize the differences between the people from the Caspian region who eat rice and those from inland Iran who eat bread. Accord­ing to Rabino and Lafont (1910, pp. 139-40), “[The Guilek] does not eat bread; he considers it to be a food not fit for his constitution.” Nevertheless, consumption of bread as a part of one’s meal has spread recently, albeit unevenly, in the Caspian regions.

In Māzandarān and Gīlān, rice used to be eaten at all three daily meals (Lovett, p. 1071; Curzon, I, pp. 359-­60), as is still done, for instance, in southern Ṭāleš, which is less affected by urban consumption patterns (see the dietary chart in Bazin and Bromberger, chart 38 and p. 79). In this area, an adult male eats, on the average, nearly a kilogram of rice per day. Figures for Māzandarān were 27 ounces, about 760 grams, according to Lovett in 1881 (p. 1071) and about a kilogram according to Rabino and Lafont (1911, p. 30). These estimates, which need to be refined as a function of the season and of the social group, have been corroborated by recent surveys in the wetter areas of Gīlān (Bazin, 1980, I, p. 144).

A Caspian rice farmer eats almost as much rice as an Indochinese peasant but in quite different ways. In Iran, only polished white rice (berenj) is eaten, whereas, in most Far Eastern lands, the rice consumed is more nutritious. Eating polished rice alone could result in beriberi; what is missing in proteins and vitamins is replaced by serving other foods with the rice. While rice amounts to 90 percent of a peasant’s diet in the Far East, it only accounts for from 40 to 65 percent in the Caspian provinces where fewer and fewer farmers eat rice at all three meals. Elsewhere in Iran, rice is a “luxury” food that is consumed in ever larger quantities the higher one climbs the social ladder. Bread is still the staple for peasants and the urban poor (Bazin, 1973, pp. 246-50), who prepare rice for guests or on special occasions, or eat it in restaurants.

The three major rice dishes differ in terms of the way they are cooked, the ingredients—including the variety of rice—that are used, and the circumstances in which they are served.

The simplest and fastest way to cook rice is to make kata, the traditional rice dish of Gīlān. Once washed, the rice is cooked in a vessel containing one and a half times its volume of water. When the water is absorbed, clarified butter (rowḡan) may be added, and the vessel is covered till the rice finishes cooking. The unmolded kata is compact; the top is crisp and slightly brown. Kata is cut with a knife and rolled with the fingers into balls.

For breakfast, kata is served in several ways: heated and soaked in sugared milk like a porridge; with cherry (ālbālū) or bergamot (bādrang) jam; or with cold leftovers seasoned with cheese or garlic. At the noon and evening meals, kata is eaten with meat, fish, or stews (ḵᵛoreš) of various sorts (Bazin and Bromberger, p. 83). Čelow differs from kata not in its ingredients (plain rice and a little clarified butter) but in the cooking process, which takes much more time and care. Washed in lukewarm water, the rice is soaked overnight. It is then thrown into boiling water for parboiling. Drained and rinsed with the water used to cook it, it is shaped into a cone in a pot in which a mixture of rowḡan and water has been heated. The cooking pot is covered and placed on a medium fire that is eventually lowered. These operations (soaking, parboiling, steaming) and the choice of long ṣadrī-type rices serve to keep the grains from sticking together. If the rice is cooked at the right temperature, a crisp, golden brown crust (tah-dīg) will form at the bottom of the pot. Čelow is generally eaten with stews (then called čelow-e ḵᵛoreš) or broiled lamb (čelow-kabāb). The former is a dish prepared at home and reserved for special occasions in the Caspian provinces. Čelow-kabāb, which is partly prepared by men, is a favorite dish in restaurants. The rice is mixed with butter or even an egg yolk or a little turmeric (zarḍčūba) and sprinkled with sumac (somāq) and served with a raw onion or herbs (sabzī).

Unlike kata and čelow, polow is made by mixing rice with various ingredients during cooking, and it is usually served by itself. The rice for polow is first cooked in the same way as čelow, while meat, vegetables, fruit, spices, etc., are fried together and then placed in alternating layers with the rice; the mixture is then steamed. Among the many preparations are: sabzī-­polow (with herbs), bāqelā-polow (with beans), ʿadas-­polow (with lentils), māš-polow (with vetches), estānbolī-polow (with tomato sauce), ālbālū-polow (with sour cherries), kešmeš-polow (with raisins), qaysī-polow (with apricots), māhī-polow (with fish, a dish especially ap­preciated along the Caspian seashore), taḥčīn-polow (with broiled lamb and yogurt).

Beside being prepared as a main course, rice is also used to make various sweets that are the specialties of the northern provinces: e.g., nān-e berenjī (“rice bread” made with a mixture of wheat and rice flours and seasoned with fenugreek, ḵolpa, whence the name ḵolpanān); ferenī (a dough mixed with crushed almonds, sugar, and saffron); and jūkūlkū (a mixture of grape juice, crushed walnuts, cumin, and broken, prematurely harvested ṣadrī grains; Rabino and Lafont, 1911, pp. 32-33).

Nowadays, the same food habits are spreading throughout Iran: bread for breakfast and rice for lunch or dinner. However, the Caspian provinces still differ from the drier regions of the country.

Rice cultivation has left its mark upon social and cultural activities in Gīlān and Māzandarān. In architecture, rice straw is used to make roofs; rice chaff is mixed with clay for building; and the very layout of buildings is also related to rice. In handicrafts, rice stalks are used to make string and brooms. The constraints of rice cultivation explain the small sizes of farms and of plots, the complex organization of the irrigation system, and the division of labor between the sexes, which differs significantly from that in inland regions. Rice even figures in certain traditional forms of justice: the fel-e dūd punishment described by Rabino and Lafont (1911, p. 35), which consisted of shutting someone guilty of a misdemeanor up in a room filled with smoke from a rice-chaff fire.

Although rice has become diffused recently throughout inland Iran, where it is a prestigious food, it is a staple at the heart of cultural life in the Caspian regions.



K. E. Abbott, Narrative of a Journey from Tabriz along the Shores of the Caspian Sea to Tehran, ms., Foreign Office, 1843-44, fols. 23 and 50.

M. ʿAṭāʾī, “Gozāreš-e eqteṣādī dar bāra-ye berenj-e Gīlān wa sāyer-e gāllāt-e ān,” Taḥqīqāt-e eqteṣādī 5-6, 1963, pp. 64-148.

M. Bazin, “Quelques données sur l’alimentation dans la région de Qom,” Studia Iranica 2/2, 1973, pp. 243-53.

M. Bazin, Le Tâlech, une région ethnique au nord de l’Iran, Paris, 1980, 2 vols., I, pp. 111-44, and II, pp. 53-56 and 119-26.

M. Bazin and C. Bromberger, Gilân et Âzarbâyjân oriental, cartes et documents ethnographiques, Paris, 1982, pp. 17-30, 79-84, and maps 5 to 15 and 38.

J. Bertin, J. J. Hémardinquer, M. Keul, W. G. L. Randles, Atlas des cultures vivrières/Atlas of Food Crops, Paris, 1971, map “Riz”/“Rice” and bibliography p. 35-36.

M. Brjezitsky, “La culture du riz dans le nord de la Perse,” Riz et riziculture 10/2, 1936, pp. 65-80.

C. Bromberger, “Dis-moi quelle est ta grange . . . Variations micro-régionales et différenciation socio-économique des techniques de conser­vation du riz dans la province du Gilân (Iran),” in Les techniques de conservation des grains à long terme, Paris, I, 1979, pp. 161-84.

T. Brun and R. Dumont, “Iran: des prétentions impériales à la dépendance alimentaire,” Peuples méditerranéens 2, January-­March, 1978, pp. 3-24.

R. Čerāḡī, ed., Ṣedā-ye šālīzār, Rašt, 1369 Š./1990. R. Cerighelli, Cultures tropi­cales I: Plantes vivrières. Nouvelle encyclopédie agricole, Paris, 1955.

H. A. Churchill, “Report by Consul Churchill on the Trade and Commerce of Ghilan, Mazenderan, and Asterabad for the Year 1876,” Reports from Her Majesty’s Consuls on the Manufactures, Commerce etc . . . of their Consular Districts Published during the Year 1877, London, Foreign Office, 1878, pp. 748-61 (especially p. 754).

H. A. Churchill, “Report for the Years 1892-93 on the Trade of the Consular District of Rasht,” Dip­lomatic and Consular Reports on Trade and Finance, Persia, Annual Series, no. 1325, London, Foreign Office, 1894, pp. 5-6.

G. N. Curzon, Persia and the Persian Question, London (new ed. 1966), 2 vols., I, pp. 359-60.

R. Du Pasquier, “Riziculture en Iran,” Riz et riziculture, 1960, no. 1, pp. 5-10.

E. Ehlers, “Nordpersische Agrarlandschaften. Landnutzung und Sozialstruktur in Ghilan und Mazanderan,” Geographische Rundschau 13/9, 1971, pp. 329-42 (especially pp. 330-35).

K. S. Eškevarī, “Goḏar-ī dar šālīzārhā-ye Gīlān,” Honar o mardom 117, 1351 Š./1972, pp. 39-45.

J. B. Fraser, Travels and Adven­tures in the Persian Provinces on the Southern Banks of the Caspian Sea, London, 1826, pp. 119-20.

D. H. Grist, Rice, London, New York, and Toronto, 1953.

Keyhān, Joḡrāfīā III, pp. 93-98. G. Kortum, Die Marvdasht-Ebene in Fars. Grundlagen und Entwicklung einer alten iranischen Bewässerungslandschaft, Kieler Geogr. Schriften 44, Kiel, 1976, pp. 189, 212­-13, 285-90.

M. Lombard, L’Islam dans sa première grandeur (VIIIe-XIe siècles), Paris, 1971, pp. 40 and 162-63.

B. Lovett, “Report by Consul Lovett on the Trade and Commerce of the Province of Asterabad for the Year 1881,” Reports from Her Majesty’s Consuls . . . during the Year 1882, pt. 2, London, Foreign Office, pp. 1066-74.

M. Nezam-Mafi, Une région agricole de l’Iran. Le Khouzistan, Lausanne, 1962, pp. 106-09.

R. Pantanali, “La coltivazione del riso nella Persia,” Bollettino della Società Geografica Italiana, 1959, pp. 122-25.

I. P. Petrushevsky, “The Socio-Economic Condition of Iran under the Il-Khāns,” in Camb. Hist. Iran V, pp. 483-537 (especially pp. 500-01).

X. de Planhol, “L’oasis d’Isfahan d’après P. Fesharaki,” Revue géographique de l’Est, 1969, 3-4, pp. 391-96.

H. L. Rabino, “Trade of the Persian Caspian Provinces (Consular District of Rasht and Astarabad) for the Years 1907-09,” Diplomatic and Consular Reports, Persia, Annual Series, no. 4398, London, Foreign Office, 1910, pp. 16, 30, 39, 49.

H. L. Rabino and D. F. Lafont, “La culture du riz en Guilan (Perse) et dans les autres provinces du Sud de la Caspienne,” Annales de l’Ecole nationale d’agriculture de Montpellier 10, 1910, pp. 130-63, and XI, 1911, pp. 1-52.

Research Group, “A Study of Rural Economic Problems of Gilan and Mazan­daran,” Taḥqīqāt-e eqteṣādī 4/11-12, January, 1967, pp. 135-204.

A. Rashid and H. Shaeri (assisted by M. A. Momeni), The Rice Economy of an Iranian Village. A Case Study of Pir Moosa in Resht Sheh­restan, Grains and Industrial Crops Marketing Sec­tion, Center for Agricultural Marketing Develop­ment, Tehran, September, 1977, S 2 no 51.

C. Sahami, L’économie rurale et la vie paysanne dans la province sud-caspienne de l’Iran, le Guilan, Paris, Publications de l’Institut de géographie de Clermont-Ferrand 28, 1965, pp. 42-59.

C. Salmanzadeh, Agricultural Change and Rural Society in Southern Iran, Wisbech (Cambridge), 1980, pp. 143-49 and 254.

M. Vérot, La riziculture dans la region caspienne, COTHA-­SOGREAH, n.p., n.d. H. E. Wulff, The Traditional Crafts of Persia, Their Development, Technology and Influence on Eastern and Western Civilizations, Cam­bridge (Mass.) and London, 1966, pp. 242, 262, 271, 282-91.

(Marcel Bazin and Christian Bromberger)


ii. In Afghanistan

In Afghanistan rice cultivation (paddy: Pers. šālī, Pashto šāləy, šōlī; hulled rice: Pers. berenj, Pashto wrījī/wrīžī) is relatively more important than in Iran, accounting for 5-6 percent of the cultivated land (213,000 hectares in 1362 Š./1983), which makes it the fourth-ranking crop, after wheat, corn, and barley.

As no recent regional breakdown of production figures is available (see Krochmal, p. 186, for the years 1952-54), geographical analysis of rice growing in Afghanistan can be based only on figures for land planted in 1966, as recorded in the agricultural census of 1346 Š./1967 (Figure 15). These figures reveal extreme regional contrasts, which are determined by two types of ecological factors:

First, the temperature requirements for rice limit its cultivation strictly to regions of low or medium altitude. The maximum upper limit is 2,500 meters in the Solaymān mountains (Rathjens, p. 301) and seems to lie no higher than 2,000 meters in the Afghan Hindu Kush (Grötzbach, 1972a, p. 159), although rice fields have been observed at 2,300 meters in neighboring Chitral (Nagel, p. 136). Of all the grains cultivated in Afghanistan, rice is, then, the one that most quickly disappears at high altitudes.

Second, rice requires constantly wet soil throughout its growing period; cultivation thus depends upon summer irrigation. That is why the lowlands where the waters from the Hindu Kush converge are the only ones where more than 10 percent of the arable land can be devoted to rice: 17 percent in the middle Kābolrūd basin (Laḡmān, Nangrahār, and the lower Konar valley, 25,700 hectares in 1966) and 12 percent in Qaṭaḡan as a whole (75,400 hectares)—though as high as 15 percent in Qondūz province (37,800 hec­tares), where the Ḵānābād district is the main national area of production. These regions, the only ones that enjoy large and consistent surpluses, are the real rice basket of the country. Already at the beginning of the 12th/19th century Laḡmān supplied the Afghan court with rice (Strachey), and in 1967-68 about thirty local wholesalers controlled exports on the order of 4,500 tons a year (Hendrikson, p. 45). As for Qondūz and Baḡlān provinces, 42 percent of their production was marketed in 1972 (Afghan Agriculture in Figures, p. 63).

In the Paktīā, which is rich in springs and favored by tropical rains in summer, about 8 percent of the cultivated land (5,400 hectares in 1966) can be devoted to rice, especially in the Ḵōst basin and the northern valleys of the Solaymān mountains (the Jājī country and the Čamkanī basin). Production there fluctuates greatly, however, because of the unreliability of the monsoon (Wald, pp. 32f.). In 1970-71 rice fields occupied no more than 4 percent of the cultivated land (Osterkamp, p. 19).

Everywhere else rice growing is much more marginal, accounting for less than 4 percent of the cultivated area in 1966 (a total of 99,100 hectares). For all practical purposes it is absent from oases supplied by kārēz/kārīz (subterranean channel; see qanāt) and concentrated in narrow zones that are well watered by streams, like the oases of the Bactrian piedmont alluvial fans; the valleys of the Harīrūd and Farāhrūd; the Qandahār oasis; and the valleys of the Lōgar, upper Kābolrūd, and Panjšīr. As a general rule, the importance of rice (and of summer cereal crops in general) in those areas decreases the farther downriver the land is located. This pattern is particularly striking along the Lōgar valley, where the rice-producing Wardak contrasts with Lōgar proper farther downstream. Some production centers that are secondary today seem to have been exporters in the past: for example, Herat and Balḵ in the Middle Ages (see the references gathered by Canard, p. 118; and Miquel, p. 405) and Maymana in the 12th/19th century (Aitchison, p. 146). Today only Wardak still pro­duces regular surpluses, which are sent to Kabul.

The unreliability of the statistics renders the contemporary dynamics of rice growing in Afghanistan difficult to grasp. On a national scale it seems that rice lands have increased but slightly (reaching 200,000 hectares as early as 1956), while a spectacular rise in production has been recorded: from 300,000 tons in 1956 to 480,000 tons in 1983. The threshold of 400,000 tons was crossed in 1968, and since then production has not dropped below it, except during the two drought years of 1970-71. In a quarter-century the average yield has thus risen from 15 to more than 22 quintals per hectare. In reality, at this level of analysis, too, regional differences are considerable.

It is in Qaṭaḡan that the most profound changes have occurred. The vigorous encouragement that the Afghan state gave to cotton and sugar-beet cultivation there after 1935-40 led to a decline in traditional summer crops, the most important of which was rice. In the less richly watered zones rice growing was even forbidden outright in order not to divert irrigation water from the new industrial crops (see Grötzbach, 1972b, p. 383, for a specific example near Tālaqān). Elsewhere the peasants reacted to forced reduction of their rice fields by farming them more intensively. They thus adopted the previously unused method of transplanting. Although this system heightened the demand for seasonal labor, a spectacular increase in yields did result, reaching maximums of more than 35 quintals per hectare (Grötzbach, 1972a, p. 159). At the same time, a steady rise in retail prices stimulated rice growing in regions far away from the zones of government intervention, particularly in the well-watered main valleys of the northern slopes of the Hindu Kush: The Andarāb, Ḵōst, and Fereng valleys thus became major production areas, where the old communal rules for crop rotation have been weakened by expansion of the rice fields (Grötz­bach, 1970, p. 38; 1972a, pp. 167ff.). In recent decades rice growing has spread even to the upper Warsaj valley. The entire Qaṭaḡan has thus experienced a tremendous alteration in the geographical distribution of rice growing.

In comparison, all other producing regions have exhibited great stability. The only notable changes have been technological. Transplanting, which was already practiced south of the Hindu Kush at the beginning of the twentieth century (Vavilov and Bukinich, 1929, pp. 104, 309), has gained ground, especially in Pak­tīā, where, while absent from the Jājī country in the last century (Bellew, p. 126), it is now known though not always practiced. However, the spread of transplanting remains far from complete: in the Lōgar valley and in the western part of the Ḵōst basin, for example, it is totally unknown (Wald, p. 40). More significantly, the efforts devoted to diffusion of chemical fertilizers and above all the introduction of improved varieties of rice like IR 8, which was developed after 1966 at the Šīšam Bāḡ experimental station at Jalālābād, permitted the doubling of yields: whereas traditional local varieties yield 12 quintals per hectare, on the average, the yield is 25 quintals per hectare for improved varieties, which, however, involve the dual incon­venience of a longer growing cycle and less appeal to consumers (Sanyu Consultants, III, annex 6, p. 14). As the lack of irrigation water is clearly the major factor limiting rice cultivation, it seems paradoxical that the recent expansion of irrigated lands in southern Afghan­istan has not resulted in an increase in rice fields. In the Helmand region (q.v.), where rice growing had been spontaneously introduced by the first settlers, it was actually quickly forbidden because of its water requirements, which were judged exorbitant in relation to what was available, and the risk of waterlogging, with the concomitant danger of malaria (Stevens and Tarzi, p. 100). The same health argument had already been used to justify a ban on all rice growing around Kabul (Humlum, p. 172).

All these examples show clearly how modern state interventionism combines with the complex of natural constraints to explain geographical contrasts in Afghan rice cultivation.

The range of rice varieties traditionally grown in Afghanistan is very broad: fourteen different varieties were identified by Vavilov and Bukinich (pp. 311ff.), and the actual number is probably higher. Commonly designated by their supposed place of origin, which can be foreign (for example, the pēṧāwarī and dēra-dūnī varieties), they can all in fact be classified in two major subdivisions, distinguished in Afghanistan by their appearance, their eating qualities, and their price; the last commonly varies as much as 20 or 30 percent and sometimes more.

Long-grain varieties (Pers. berenj-e bārīk or berenj-e mahīn/maʾīn, Pashto narəy wrījī), of which there are three, are characterized by broad leaves and a slender, whitish kernel about 7 mm long. These varieties are the most valued, for the grains separate nicely in cooking. They are also those that require the most water and the highest temperatures to grow. They are found only below 1,000 meters, in Qaṭaḡan and between Laḡmān and Konar. Today they are almost always transplanted. Long-grain rice is mainly a cash crop and brings the highest returns of any agricultural crop except grapes. At Kabul there is a slight market preference for berenj-e bārīk-e laḡmānī over berenj-e bārīk-e baḡlānī, and the former sells for a correspond­ingly higher price.

Short-grain rice (Pers. berenj-e lok, Pashto ḡaṭ wrījī, also pənḍī wrījī) includes eleven botanical varieties, all having narrower leaves and a brownish, ovoid kernel 5-5.5 mm long. These varieties are much hardier and thus much more widespread than the long-grain types; they are the only ones to be cultivated at higher altitudes . They are also less prized, for in cooking they yield a sticky mass. They are generally not transplanted. At Kabul berenj-e lok-e wardakī is preferred to berenj-e lok-­e dōšī from the Hindu Kush.

As in Iran, in Afghanistan rice is always a summer irrigated crop. Within these limits it nevertheless fits into a variety of cropping systems, all based on cereals. The most intensive is the annual rotation of winter wheat and rice, which is possible only at low altitudes and is particularly characteristic of the Nangrahār and the northeastern part of Qaṭaḡan around Ḵānābād and, to a lesser extent, Tālaqān. The paddy is sown in May or the beginning of June in a nursery (Pers. qōrīa, Pashto bozḡalay or būzḡəlay), often previously spread with green fertilizer (freshly cut clover). Transplanting (Pers. and Pashto nehālī/nīālī) takes place about forty days later (June-July), which allows the time necessary to prepare the fields after the wheat harvest; this preparation involves plowing two or three times in criss-cross fashion, applying fertilizer, harrowing first with a spike harrow (rākōl) and then with a board (māla), and finally rebuilding the low earth banks (pōlwan) around the fields. The harvest takes place four to four and a half months later (September-October; Lévêque, pp. 107ff.). This system of producing two annual crops without fallowing, which seems relatively old in Nangrahār, has been introduced only recently in the eastern Qaṭaḡan, where adoption of transplanting in the years between 1940 and 1950 made it possible to replace the traditional rotation between single crops of wheat and rice in alternate years separated by a long fallow period (Grötzbach, 1972a, p. 165). Naturally such an intensive cropping system is one that quickly exhausts the soil. That is why it is frequently supplemented by the introduction of a soil-restoring crop, usually winter clover, which can be plowed under just before the transplanting of the rice. A two-year rotation cycle—­wheat, rice, clover, rice—can thus be obtained, whereas the more exhausted lands can support only a much less productive annual rotation between clover and rice or an even longer cycle involving successively wheat, corn, a winter fallow period, and rice, which yields only three crops in two years (Gul and Pickett, p. 28; Toepfer, p. 30; Michel, p. 37). There is thus a hierarchy of intensiveness in cultivation at low altitudes, depending on the richness of the rice fields and the availability of water.

At higher altitudes the crop systems are markedly less intensive. Although a biennial rotation of wheat, corn, clover (or barley), and rice does occur in the Jājī country (Paktīā), at these altitudes a triennial rotation of annual crops following the sequence wheat, rice, corn or two successive years of wheat alternating with rice is more common, whereas on more marginal rice-growing lands the predominating pattern is wheat, rice, and a one-year fallow period (two crops in three years). Often enough a between-seasons crop of clover follows wheat but rarely rice. The latter is in fact frequently succeeded by a winter fallow season, either because water is lacking in autumn to loosen the earth of the rice fields, which has been compacted under long submersion, so that it can be plowed or because there is too little time after a late rice harvest to carry out the preparations for planting before winter sets in.

Finally, at all altitudes there are some places where rice is the sole crop. They include particularly wet fields, notably in the marshy lowlands, which are permanently planted in rice.

Whatever the crop rotation, the rice field must be kept wet during the entire growing period. It is flooded before planting and is kept submerged by daily irrigation as long as possible. In summer, however, irrigation frequently can take place only once in every three to twenty days, depending on the availability of water, and the crop may then suffer from water shortage. The final draining of the rice fields usually occurs five to ten days before harvesting.

Hand weeding and pest control are uncommon. Weeds indeed pose a very serious problem, as they can greatly reduce yields (Mortensen et al.). The most common pests are stem borers (Tryporyza spp.) and, at harvest time, birds. The birds are frightened away by beating on pans, snapping grass whips, firing shotguns, or erecting scarecrows (Pers. jāl), none of which is very efficient. Rodents can also do great damage at times when the fields are not submerged.

Harvesting is accomplished by scything, the stems being cut at ground level. The straw is quickly separated under the hooves of animals on a floor of tamped earth (ḵerman-jā). Rice straw, mixed with straw from other cereals, is used as winter forage. As for the grain, after threshing and winnowing, it must still be hulled before it can be eaten.

Everywhere in Afghanistan the hulling of paddy has remained a cottage operation. No mechanized rice factory exists in the country. The methods used vary markedly from one district to another, depending partly on the importance of rice growing and partly on the type of rice grown.

In the large production areas specialized entrepreneurs own small rice mills. The equipment consists of a single, or more often a double, hydraulic pestle (aw­jowāz or, more commonly, pāykōb, from pay, “pestle”; Ferdinand, pp. 201ff., 224ff., for the description; Hum­lum, pp. 318ff., for illustrations). The yield ratio at such mills is about 5:8 (8 kg of paddy yielding 5 kg of hulled rice). The miller charges for his service a payment in kind that is customarily equivalent to 1/25 of the hulled rice.

In the middle Konar valley a more archaic rice mill, consisting of a simple foot-operated pestle, has been described (Vavilov and Bukinich, pp. 204f.). In regions where rice production is marginal and entirely consumed locally, hulling is an individual operation that each producer performs at home by means of a rotary quern of baked clay (jandalī, Ferdinand, pp. 213, 226, for the Lōgar valley) or a simple stone or metal mortar (jowāz-e dastī; Vavilov and Bukinich, p. 204, for the Herat oasis).

Hulling of long-grain rice is always preceded by a light roasting, which is intended to harden the grains and limit the losses through breakage during hulling but which has the beneficial side effects of improving the flavor of the rice, shortening the necessary cooking time, and ensuring better resistance to parasitic insects. This roasting is quite a long and complex operation, which is always carried out at home. Several different methods are used. The most common consists of roasting in contact with sand that has previously been heated to a high temperature in a special beehive-shaped oven lined with clay (Laḡmān) or in a great metal cauldron (dēg; Qaṭaḡan); the mixture must be sifted after roasting to separate the sand, which is reused, from the paddy. But there are also instances of roasting simply by grilling the paddy, especially in Qaṭaḡan. Another variant method is to parboil the paddy, sometimes before roasting (Laḡmān), sometimes after (Qaṭaḡan). In the latter instance the paddy is then dried in the sun. Fur­thermore, it seems that, in contrast to the practice in Laḡmān, in the Qaṭaḡan parboiling the paddy is less common than simply soaking it in cold water after roasting (on these methods, see the two complementary studies of Lévêque, p. 111, and Ferdinand, pp. 201ff., 224ff.).

In the major growing regions the entire processing of the rice, from harvesting through hulling, requires seasonal hand labor. In the Laḡmān the latter is traditionally hired from specific ethnic groups with hereditary specialized professional status: the Ebrāḥīmḵēl, the Hazārmēšī, and especially the Ḥosaynḵēl. These seminomadic groups live in the villages of the Laḡmān as hamsāya (clients). They round out their winter employment on the rice by participating in the harvest­ing, threshing, and winnowing of wheat, in late spring in Laḡmān and in summer around Kabul. They are paid in kind, usually receiving between one tenth and one seventh of the hulled rice. The Mosal(l)ī, a comparable seminomadic group, originally distinct from the preced­ing groups but gradually becoming less so, traditionally had a monopoly on rice cleaning at the mill, which consists of removing the hulls and the dust from the rice after the hulling process (Olesen). In a labor market that is growing more and more crowded and thus more competitive, however, these professional monopolies are tending gradually to disappear, and landless peasants, regardless of ethnic origin, are now participating in the complex work chain that follows the rice harvest. Nevertheless enough vestiges of the old tradition remain so that it is possible to recognize an organization of work very similar to the Indian caste system. Combined with the fact that parboiling the paddy is a specifically Indian technique and that roasting in sand is widely attested on the Indian subcontinent, it suggests that Afghan rice cultivation has been very much influenced by the Indian cultural sphere. Indeed the only distinc­tive feature of Afghanistan in this respect, one that it shares with northwestern Pakistan (Swat), is the use of the hydraulic rice mill, which is totally unknown in India. It should perhaps be recognized as a Central Asian invention that appeared at the meeting point between two great technological traditions, the Middle Eastern tradition of the water mill with horizontal driving wheel for wheat and the possibly Chinese invention of the rice pounder worked by foot pedal (Ferdinand, pp. 214ff., 227ff.).

Once hulled, the rice is ready for eating. There is no region of Afghanistan where it is not consumed. Because of its relatively high price, however, it is a luxury. Even in the great rice-growing regions wheat bread is the dietary staple, rice being served only on festive occasions. Rice consumption is still rarer in nonproducing regions. At any rate, only the middle and upper strata of society eat it regularly, and upward social mobility is always reflected in an increase in rice consumption. The rice trade is overrepresented in the large cities, where a specialized market is often reserved for it: at Kabul the number of rice merchants (berenj-forūš) registered by the municipal service rose to 304 in 1982 (Rahnamā-ye šahr-e Kābol, p. 82), a great increase over the number in 1973 (132, according to Haider, table facing p. 196). At the beginning of the 1970s eighty-eight were counted at Qandahār (Wiebe, 1978, p. 280), twenty-seven at Ḵolm (Charpentier, p. 70), and twenty-five at Sar-e Pol (Centlivres, 1976, table facing p. 133) respectively but only three each at Gerešk and Laškargāh, two each at Kalāt-e Ḡelzay (Wiebe, 1978, p. 284) and Āqča (Wiebe, 1981, p. 159), and none in small towns like Andḵōy or Spīnbōldak. It should be added that that part of the trade in rice in northern Afghanistan and in the Kōhdāman takes place in weekly markets (there were twelve specialized merchants in the great market of Qezel Ayāq-e Kalān, northwest of Šeberḡān, in 1976-77, according to Fischer, p. 212).

According to official statistics on foreign trade, Afghanistan does not export rice and imports it only occasionally: for example, 3,000 tons were imported from Japan in 1350 Š./1971-72, a year of severe famine, in which national production dropped to 350,000 tons. It is customary to conclude from these figures that the country is self-sufficient in normal years. This is, however, to overlook the existence of a noteworthy clandestine traffic in rice imports from Pakistan. For the Qandahār market alone it has been estimated that 26,500 tons were thus imported in 1971, admittedly an exceptional year; part of it was forwarded to Herat (Ata and Shah).

The methods of preparation and consumption of rice in Afghanistan are quite varied and differ for long-grain and short-grain rice.

Long-grain rice is considered a “hot” food in the Hippocratic classification of foods that is current in Afghanistan (Centlivres, 1985, pp. 42ff., 46). It is limited to preparation of čelow/čalaw (white rice boiled in water) and palaw (Pers. polow, rice cooked with meat, onions, caramelized sugar, and saffron or turmeric). The former is the more common dish, the latter being prepared only on special festive occasions. Two different methods of cooking are known: the rice is either simply boiled in water (dampoḵt-e berenj), or it is first parboiled, drained, and then boiled again in either fresh water or stock (ṣāf-berenj). Either way it is usually served with vegetables and a meat stew (qōrma) or meatballs (kōfta). There is a great variety of such dishes, which usually take their names from the accompani­ment (bādenjān/bānjān-palaw or čalaw [Pers. čelow] with eggplant; māš palaw with mung beans and apricots; narenj-palaw with orange peel, which is one of the tastiest; rešta-palaw with fine egg noodles like ver­micelli) or from the color of the rice (yāqūt palaw, made with tomatoes, zomorrod [or sabzī]-palaw or čalaw with spinach, zarda-palaw with nuts and saffron).

Short-grain rice, which is considered a “cold” food, is used for quite different dishes, like batta (rice boiled in water and served with eggplant or other vegetables), šōla (rice cooked with meat and pulses), and kečrī-q(o)rūt (a very popular dish of rice cooked with mung beans and served with q(o)rūt, which is dried and salted buttermilk or yogurt reconstituted with water). There are also a variety of rice puddings (šīr-berenj, dēġča) and other rice desserts (like šōla šīrīn, sweet rice with nuts; šōla-ye (ḥ)olba, sweet rice with fenugreek; and ḥalwā-ye ārd-e berenj, creamed rice pudding; all these dishes are described at length in Saberi).



Afghan Agriculture in Figures, Kabul, 1978.

J. E. T. Aitchison, Notes on the Products of Western Afghanistan and of North-Eastern Persia, Edinburgh, 1890.

A. Ata and L. Shah, Kandahar Trip Report (unpublished), 1971.

M. Canard, “Le riz dans le Proche-Orient aux premiers siècles de l’Islam,” Arabica 6, 1959, pp. 113-31.

P. Centlivres, “Structure et évolution des bazars du Nord afghan,” in Aktuelle Probleme der Regionalentwicklung und Stadtgeo­graphie Afghanistans, ed. E. Grötzbach, Afghanische Studien 14, Meisenheim am Glan, 1976, pp. 119-45.

Idem, “Hippocrate dans la cuisine: Le chaud et le froid en Afghanistan du Nord,” Identité alimentaire et altérité culturelle, Travaux de l’Institut d’ethnologie 6, Neuchâtel, 1985, pp. 35-57.

C.-J. Charpentier, Bazaar-e Tashqurghan: Ethnographical Studies in an Afghan Traditional Bazaar, Studia Ethnographica Upsaliensia 36, Uppsala, 1972.

A. D. Davydov, Sotsial’no-èkonomicheskaya struktura de­revni Afganistana, Moscow, 1976.

K. Ferdinand, “Ris. Træk af dens dyrkning og behandling i Østafghanistan,” Kuml (Århus) 9, 1959, pp. 195-232 (with detailed Eng. summary).

W. Fischer, Periodische Märkte im Vorderen Orient dargestellt an Beispielen aus Nordostanatolien (Türkei) und Nordafghanistan, Mitteilungen des Deutschen Orient-Instituts 24, Hamburg, 1984.

E. Grötzbach, “Formen des zelgengebundenen Feldbaus und dessen Auflösungser­scheinungen im Hindukusch (Nordost-Afghanistan),” Die Erde 101, 1970, pp. 23-40.

Idem, Kulturgeographischer Wandel in Nordost-Afghanistan seit dem 19, Jahrhundert, Afghanische Studien 4, Meisenheim am Glan, 1972a.

Idem, “Staatliche Agrarpolitik und Bodennutzungsgefüge in Nord-ost Afghanistan,” in Deutscher Geographentag Erlangen-Nürnberg 1971: Tagungsbericht und wissenschaftliche Abhandlungen, Wiesbaden, 1972b, pp. 380-89.

A. Gul and L. Pickett, An Agronomic Survey in Six Eastern Provinces of Afghanistan (multigraphed), Kabul, Faculty of Agriculture, n.d.

H. Haider, Contribution à l’étude de la commercialisation des produits agricoles en Afgha­nistan, doctoral thesis, University of Paris-Sor­bonne, 1976.

K. Hendrikson, Reconnaissance Study for the Regional Development in the Province of Laghman/Afghanistan (multigraphed), Kabul, 1968.

J. Humlum, La géographie de l’Afghanistan, Copenhagen, 1959.

A. Krochmal, “Rice Production in Afghanistan,” Economic Botany 12/2, 1958, pp. 186-91.

L. A. Lévêque, “Notes sur la riziculture en Afghanistan,” Riz et riziculture 4, 1958, pp. 105-­12.

A. A. Michel, The Kabul, Kunduz and Helmand Valleys and the National Economy of Afghanistan, Ph.D. thesis, Columbia University, New York, 1959.

A. Miquel, La géographie humaine du monde musul­man jusqu’au milieu du 11e siècle, Civilisations et sociétés 68/3, Paris and the Hague, 1980.

E. Morten­sen et al., Review of Rice Research Conducted at Shisham Bagh Experiment Station, Jalalabad (1966-­68) (multigraphed), USAID, Kabul, n.d.

E. H. Nagel, “Der Reisbau bei den Kho in Chitral,” in VergleichendeKulturgeographie der Hochgebirge des südlichen Asien, ed. C. Rathjens et al., Erdwissen­schaftliche Forschung 5, Wiesbaden, 1973, pp. 129-40.

A. Olesen, “The Musallis—the Graincleaners of East Afghanistan,” Afghanistan Journal 9/1, 1982, pp. 13-19.

H. Osterkamp, Landwirtschaftliche Pro­duktionstruktur, Grundlagen und Empfehlungen für eine Perspektivplanung zum regionalen Entwick­lungsvorhaben Paktia/Afghanistan 7/3, Düsseldorf, 1972.

Rahnamā-ye šahr-e Kābol, Kabul, 1362 Š./1983.

C. Rathjens, “Die Wälder von Nuristan und Paktia,” Geographische Zeitschrift 62/4, 1974, pp. 295-311.

H. Saberi, Noshe Djan. Afghan Food and Cookery, Lon­don, 1986.

Sanyu Consultants, Draft Feasibility Re­port for Kama Irrigation Project in Afghanistan, Nagoya, 1973.

I. M. Stevens and K. Tarzi, Economics of Agricultural Production in Helmand Valley, Den­ver, 1965.

R. Strachey, Memoir on the Revenue and Trade of the Kingdom of Caubul, ms., India Office Records, London.

H. Toepfer, Wirtschafts- und sozialgeographische Fallstudien in ländlichen Gebieten Afghanistans, Bonner Geographische Abhandlungen 46, Bonn, 1972.

N. I. Vavilov and D. D. Bukinich, Zemledel’cheskiĭ Afganistan, Leningrad, 1929.

H.-J. Wald, Landnutzung and Siedlung der Pashtunen im Becken van Khost, Schriften des Deutschen Orient-Instituts, Materialien und Dokumente, Opladen, 1969.

D. Wibe, Stadtstruktur und kulturgeographi­scher Wandel in Kandahar und Südafghanistan, Kieler Geographische Schriften 48, Kiel, 1978.

Idem, “Probleme stadtgeographischer Forschung in Afghanistan—Wandel und Beharrung afghanischer Provinzstädte,” in C. Rathjens, ed., Neue Forschungen in Afghanistan, Schriften des Deutschen Orient­-Instituts, Opladen, 1991, pp. 149-62.

Zmaryālay, “Də wrīǰō kəṧt aw maṣraf pə Afḡānestān kē,” Majalla-ye eqteṣād 236-37, 1320 Š./1941, pp. 745-49.

(Daniel Balland)


iii. In Cooking

The use of rice as a staple food had been introduced in Iran by the Sasanian period at the latest. Ṯaʿālebī (Ḡorar, p. 585) mentioned among dishes served at the court of Balāš (484-88) both a royal dish and a Greek (rūmī) dish that contained rice. Eṣṭaḵrī (p. 91) and Ebn Ḥawqal (p. 254) wrote that rice was milled and baked in bread in Iraq and Ḵūzestān, where, according to Yāqūt, about 50,000 ovens were in daily operation in the vicinity of Ahvāz (Boldān I, p. 413; cf. Jāḥeẓ, p. 117; Ebn Boṭlān, p. 32). Some people were so accustomed to this bread that they became ill when they ate wheat bread. Rice bread was also a staple in Ṭabarestān, Deylam, and Gīlān (Moqaddasī, p. 354; Ebn Ḥawqal, p. 381; Ebn Esfandīār, p. 76). The rice bread (lākū) prepared in Gīlān today, as well as the varieties made in Ker­mānšāh, Qazvīn, Shiraz, and elsewhere, is a kind of cookie or tea biscuit, not a dietary staple (see Pūr[-e] Dāwūd, p. 59). The 15th-century Spanish ambassador Ruy Gonzalez de Clavijo (p. 166) mentioned various dishes cooked with rice that were served with sweets after kabobs and other main dishes at the court of Tīmūr.

Since the Safavid period the main use of rice in Iran has been in two kinds of dish, polow (palāw, pilaf) and čelow (čolāw or čolow), which differ mainly in the kind of ingredients used. J. A. Vullers (s.v. polow) considered the term polow to be derived from Sanskrit palāla (millet), a suggestion rejected by E. Pūr(-e) Dāwūd (pp. 59-60). It is first attested in Persian in the Mūš o gorba of ʿObayd Zākānī (d. ca. 772/1370-71; p. 123). Recipes for polow are given in two Safavid cookbooks (Kār-nāma, compiled 927/1520-21, Bāvaṛčī Baḡdādī, pp. 103-37; Māddat al-ḥayāt, compiled 1003/1594-95; N.-A. Āšpazbāšī, pp. 201-30), but they differ from those in common use today, which seem to have originated in the Qajar period.

The current method of preparing either polow or čelow (Dehḵodā, s.vv.) involves first soaking the rice in heavily salted water overnight, then draining it, adding it to boiling water, and cooking it until the grains are enlarged but not soft. (In earlier times the rice was soaked in salted water for a full week, then used gradually.) The cooked rice is then drained and placed in a pot containing a simmering mixture of ghee and water. For čelow, which is served as a side dish with a variety of ḵᵛoreš(t)s (stews) or kabobs, the rice is added alone; for polow it is layered with other ingredients in the pot. The dish is then cooked over low heat for about ten minutes; when steam begins to rise from the rice, more of the ghee mixture or plain water is poured over the rice, and the pot is covered and allowed to steam (dam kašīdan) over low heat for about an hour. (Traditionally the pot was covered with a damkonī, a flat round basket filled with straw or scraps of cotton material, then sewn into a cloth cover, but nowadays it is more common simply to cover the pot lid with a clean cloth.) If the dish is to have a tasty crust (tahdīg), yogurt, saffron, and an egg are combined and a little of the rice added. This mixture is spread over the ghee in the bottom of the pot; then the rest of the rice is added in the normal way.

Polows are generally designated by the names of the ingredients added to them. The most common kinds are sabzī-polow māhī, with green vegetables and fried fish, customarily served with kūkū (omelet) on the last evening of the year (in Khorasan it is served at the sofra­-ye haft-sīn, the moment when the year changes; Šakūr­zāda, pp. 99, 100, 101); rešta-polow, with noodles and sometimes ground meat, often also served on the eve of the New Year (Nowrūz) to bring good fortune for the whole year (ibid., p. 102); qeyma(-ye) polow, with ground meat and split peas; lūbīā-polow, with cut green beans, ground meat, and tomato sauce; ālbālū-polow, with chicken or small meatballs (kūfta(-ye) rīza) and pitted tart cherries boiled in sugar; bāqlī-polow, with fava beans and dill; zerešk-polow, also called morḡ-polow, with chicken, saffron, and barberries (zerešk); ʿadas-­polow, called setāra-polow, in Khorasan, with lentils, raisins, and dates (in Khorasan prepared for sofra-ye Abu’l-Fażl, one of the leading Shiʿite observances; ibid., pp. 48-49, 54); māš polow, with vetch and some­times cubed or ground meat and tomato sauce (in Khorasan the wealthy prepare zerešk-, rešta-, ʿadas-, and māš-polows on the eve of čahāršanba sūrī, the last Wednesday of the year, as gifts for their close relatives); šīrīn-polow (lit. “sweet pilaf”), with sautéed carrot slivers, candied orange peel, chicken, saffron, slivered almonds, and pistachio nuts; kalam-polow, with chopped, sautéed cabbage leaves, ground meat, and tomato sauce (in the variant known as kalam-polow-e šīrāzī kohlrabi [kalam-e sang, kalam-e qomrī] is used instead of cabbage leaves, and basil and lime juice are added; another variant is made with red cabbage leaves, sugar, lime juice, and ground meat); moraṣṣaʿ-polow (lit. “studded pilaf”), with chicken, saffron, spices, barberries, and slivered candied orange peel, served with raisins, almonds, hazelnuts, pistachio nuts, and barberries scattered over the top; noḵod-polow, with fresh green peas combined either with chunks of meat, dill, and ghee or with ground meat and tomato paste or sauce; kabk-polow, with partridge and spices; maṣāleḥ-polow, with browned meatballs, saffron, and spices; estāmbolī-polow (lit. “pilaf from Istanbul”), like qeyma­(-ye) polow with either ground meat, split peas, or browned ground meat combined with onions and tomato sauce; qorma(-ye) sabzī polow, with sautéed greens, chunks of meat or meatballs, and dried lime; šīrāzī-polow, with chicken, miniature eggplants, barberries, saffron, sugar, eggs, and yogurt; vālak-polow, with vālak, a kind of wild green; felfel-polow, with sautéed green-pepper strips, carrots, ground meat, and tomato sauce; bādenjān-polow, with sautéed chopped eggplant, ground meat, and tomato paste; taḥčīn, with yogurt, saffron, eggs and either cooked chicken (taḥčīn-e morḡ) or the meat of unborn lamb (taḥčīn-e gūšt) or with sautéed spinach, eggs, sour grape juice, and meat or meatballs (taḥčīn-e esfenāj).

A dish called kata is prepared with rice cooked with double the amount of water, salt, and ghee in a tightly covered pot over low heat; saffron and yogurt may also be added. Other variants involve cooking in tomato sauce rather than water and adding diced raw potatoes and browned ground meat (kata-ye estāmbolī); chopped vālak (kata-ye vālak); and vetch (kata-ye māš).

Dampoḵtak, or damī, a dish resembling polow and popular with less affluent families, is made by adding water to pīāzdāḡ (sautéed onions) and boiling them with peeled fava beans, rice, salt, and turmeric until the water is completely absorbed. Dampoḵtak may also be made with bulgur (dampoḵtak-e balḡūr or a mixture of rice and bulgur). Rice is used in a number of other dishes, especially ground-meat mixtures shaped into balls, patties, and the like (e.g., kūfta[-ye] berenjī, kūfta-ye tabrīzī, kotlet-e berenj) or used to stuff vegetables (dolma).

Delicacies prepared with rice include šīrberenj, with milk, cardamom, sugar, and rose water, often eaten with grape syrup; šola, boiled in a mixture of water and large quantities of sautéed onions; and šolazard, with saffron, sugar, and rose water (traditionally ghee was also used, and some families still follow this practice; in many areas šolazard is prepared as alms for religious occasions like arbaʿīn (20 Ṣafar), the fortieth day after the martyrdom of Imam Ḥosayn, or 28 Ṣafar, when the death of the Prophet and the martyrdom of Imam Ḥasan are commemorated).

There are also a number of sweets made with rice flour. For ḥalwā-ye ārd-e berenj, the flour is first lightly browned in oil and set aside. Sugar is dissolved in water and brought to a boil; this syrup, called šīršekar, is then combined with saffron, rose water, cardamom, and the browned rice flour. The mixture is returned to the heat until it is thickened; it is eaten garnished with pistachios and almonds. As ḥalwā-ye ārd-e berenj is of a somewhat thinner consistency than ḥalwā-ye ārd-e gandom (made with wheat flour), it is also called tarḥalwā (soft ḥalwā). There are two more variants, tarḥalwā-ye gol-e zard, to which candied yellow flower petals add a special aroma, and tarḥalwā-ye pūst-e portaḡāl, which includes boiled orange peel. Ferenī is similar to šīrberenj, though sweeter, and was traditionally served to infants or hot to adults who required soft food; in some cities it was sold on street corners in the morning. Yaḵ dar behešt (called tarḥalwā in Shiraz) is like ferenī but thicker. Its ingredients are rice flour, milk cardamom, sugar, rose water, and starch (not used in ferenī). Spread on trays, it is cut in lozenge-shaped pieces and garnished with pistachios. In the past it was made thinner and served, like šīrberenj, with grape syrup. In Shiraz it is particularly popular during the month of Ramażān. Nān-e berenjī is a traditional cookie baked especially during the New Year holidays; it is prepared with rice flour, ghee, generous amounts of cardamom and rose water, and egg whites and is sprinkled with sīāhdāna (Nigella sativa). The home­made variety is small and was traditionally made in thimbles, though nowadays molds with raised designs are used; Kermānšāh and Qazvīn are well known for their nān-e berenjī.

Berenj-e bū-dāda or berenjak is rice soaked and drained as for polow and set aside in a basket until nearly dry; it is then placed in an iron skillet and roasted (bū dādan) in the same way as melon seeds. Rešta-­berešta, a traditional cookie prepared mainly during the New Year, consists of rice-starch paste scooped up in strands on a special comb, twirled, then deep-fried in oil and sprinkled with powdered sugar.

Rice is also used to make certain kinds of thick soup (āš).



Mīrzā ʿAlī-Akbar Khan Āšpaz­bāšī, Sofra-ye Aṭʿema, Tehran, 1353 Š./1974, pp. 7­20.

Nūr-Allāh Āšpazbāšī, Māddat al-ḥayāt, in Āšpazī-e dawra-ye ṣafawī, ed. Ī. Afšār, Tehran, 1360 Š./1981, pp. 201-30, 248, 251, 254.

Ḥājī Moḥammad-­ʿAlī Bāvaṛčī Baḡdādī, Kār-nāma, ibid., pp. 103-37.

Jean Chardin, Voyages du Chevalier Chardin en Perse et autres lieux de l’Orient, ed. L. Langlès, IV, Paris, 1811, pp. 32, 35.

Żīāʾ Laškar Taqī Dāneš, Kollīyāt-e Ḥakīm Ṣūrī, 2 vols., Tehran, n.d., I, pp. 6, 8, 12, 15, 19, 20, 24, 26, 29, 34, 35, 37, 38, 40, 45, 55, 58; II, pp. 5, 8, 21, 27, 43, 59, 66, 68, 69, 70, 71, 78, 93, 112.

ʿA-A. Dehḵodā, Maqālāt-e Dehḵodā, ed. M. Dabīrsīāqī, Tehran, 1364 Š./1985, II, p. 27.

Ebn Boṭlān, Taqwīm al-ṣeḥḥa, Pers. tr., ed. Ḡ.-Ḥ. Yūsofī, Tehran, 1350 Š./1971.

R. Gonzalez de Clavijo, Historia del gran Tamorlano, 2nd ed., Madrid, 1782 (Pers. tr. by M. Rajabnīā, Safar-nāma, Tehran, 1344 Š./1965).

Abū Esḥāq Ḥallāj Šīrāzī, Dīvān-eAṭʿema, ed. Ḥ. Eṣfahānī, Istanbul, 1303/1885-86.

Jāḥeẓ, Ketāb al-boḵalāʾ, ed. Ṭ. Ḥājerī, Cairo, 1948.

A. Ketābī, “Berenj dar Īrān,” Āyanda 11/6-7, 1362 Š./1983, pp. 459-66.

Īraj Mīrzā, Dīvān, ed. M.-J. Maḥjūb, Tehran, 1342 Š./1963, p. 89.

Jahāngīr Mīrzā, Tārīḵ-enow, ed. ʿA. Eqbāl Āštīānī, Tehran, 1327 Š./1948, p. 62.

James Morier, The Adventure of Haji Baba of Isfahan, London, 1824 (Pers. tr. Mīrzā Ḥabīb Eṣfahānī, ed. Y. Raḥīmlū, Tehran, 1354 Š./1975, pp. 51, 284-85).

Nāder Mīrzā Qājār, Tārīḵ-ejoḡrāfīā-ye Dār-al-salṭana-ye Tabrīz, known as Joḡrāfīā-ye moẓaffarī, 1324/1905, pp. 219, 220.

Mīrzā Moḥammad-ʿAlī Naqīb-al-Mamālek, Amīr Arslān, ed. M.-J. Maḥjūb, Tehran, 1356 Š./1977, pp. 270-71.

Mostawfī, Šarḥ-e zendagānī I, p. 244.

E. Pūr(-e) Dāwūd, “Berenj,” in Hormozd-nāma, Tehran, 1331 Š./1952, pp. 36-65.

Mīrzā Abu’l-Qāsem Qāʾemmaqām, Monšaʾāt-e Qāʾemmaqām, with an introd. by M. ʿAbbāsī, Tehran, 1356 Š./1977, pp. 134, 219.

Moḥammad-Hāšem Rostam-al-Ḥokamāʾ, Rostam al-tawārīḵ, ed. M. Mošīrī, Tehran, 1348 Š./1969, p. 81.

E. Šakūrzāda, ʿAqāyed o rosūm-e mardom-e Ḵorāsān, 2nd ed., Tehran, 1363 Š./1984.

Ṣadr-al-Dīn Moḥammad Šīrāzī, “Jawāb be nāma-ye Moḥtašam Kāšānī,” in Asnād o nāmahā-ye tārīḵī o ejtemāʿī-e dawra-ye ṣafawīya, ed. Ḏ. Ṯābetīān, Tehran, 1343 Š./1964, p. 371.

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(Marcel Bazin and Christian Bromberger, Daniel Balland, Ṣoḡrā Bāzargān)

Originally Published: December 15, 1989

Last Updated: December 15, 1989

This article is available in print.
Vol. IV, Fasc. 2, pp. 147-163