New Course: The Silk Route-Origins and History

A new course by Kaveh Farrokh entitled “The Silk Route-Origins and History” is being offered at the University of British Columbia (final lecture on December 16, 2014):


The lectures will be delivered at the Tapestry Center in the University of British Columbia’s Wesbrook Village. For information on registration, etc., kindly contact the University of British Columbia-Continuing Studies Division.


Tajik girls celebrate the Iranian Nowruz (New Year) on March 21, 2014 in Dushanbe, Tajikestan.

Below is a synopsis of the course as delivered in the Class syllabus:

The origins and history of the east-west Silk Route that connected the empires of Asia, Central Asia, Persia and the Romano-Byzantine West, as well as the lesser-known north-south route that connected Persia, the Caucasus and East- Central Europe. Emphasis will be placed on the development and transfer of the arts, music, culture, mythology, cuisine, and militaria. The peoples of the Silk Route from China across Eurasia, Central Asia, Persia to Europe are also examined


The curriculum and impetus of this course is the direct outcome of meetings with the Cultural Diplomacy’s Department of Traditions & Cultural History of the WAALM Academy based in London, England. WAALM is affiliated with the Academic Council On The United Nations System (ACUNS) and The International Peace Bureau. WAALM was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011. Kaveh Farrokh has been featured in WAALM’s Tribune Magazine (click here…).

silk painting

Chinese painting of Leizu (Xi Ling Shi) the ancient Chinese empress credited with inventing silk in c. 2700 BCE; she was the teenage wife of the Yellow Emperor Huangdi.


The “Shir Dar” (Lion Gate/doorway) of the Islamic college at Samarkand built originally in 1627 (Nafīsī, 1949, p. 62). The sun motif is characterized by Kriwaczek (2002, picture Plate 1) as ”…the image of Mithra, the rising and unconquered sun, Zoroastrian intercessor between God and Humanity” (Courtesy of Kriwaczek, 2002).

Chinese women silk-12th century CE

Chinese women produce silk in the 12th century CE.

Kyrgiz MusiciansKyrgyz musicians performing with traditional instruments. Hsiang-Nou races replaced Iranian speaking peoples of Central Asia; Despite this: These greatly assimilated the cultural and mythological traditions of their Iranic predecessors.


One of ancient founding peoples of the Silk Route? Mummies bearing Caucasoid features uncovered in modern northwest China; these were either Iranic-speaking or fellow Indo-European Tocharian (proto-Celtic?). Archaeologists have found burials with similar Caucasoid peoples in ancient Eastern Europe. Much of the colors and clothing of the above mummies bear striking resemblance to the ancient dress of pre-Islamic Persia/Iran and modern-day Iranian speaking tribal and nomadic peoples seen among Kurds, Lurs, Persians, etc.  (Source: Kaveh Farrokh’s lectures at the University of British Columbia’s Continuing Studies Division – this was also presented at Stanford University’s WAIS 2006 Critical World Problems Conference Presentations on July 30-31, 2006, the annual Tirgan event at Toronto (June, 2013) and at Yerevan State University’s Iranian Studies Department (November, 2013) – Diagram is Copyright of University of British Columbia and Kaveh Farrokh). For more on this topic, see also here…

Iran’s Favorite Dish: the Chelo Kebab

The article below on Iran’s Favorite Dish, the Chelo Kebab (ČELOW-KABĀB), by S¡oḡrā Bāzargān and Ṣoḡrā Bāzargān was originally published in the Encyclopedia Iranica on December 15, 1990.

ČELOW-KABĀB is a popular Persian dish which consists of cooked rice (čelow; see berenj) and a variety of broiled (kabāb, see below) mutton or veal (though less popular) and is served with butter, egg yolk, powdered sumac, raw onions, broiled tomatoes, and fresh sweet basil.


ČELOW-KABĀB, a popular Persian dish which consists of cooked rice (čelow) and a variety of broiled (kabāb, see below) mutton or veal (though less popular) and is served with butter, egg yolk, powdered sumac, raw onions, broiled tomatoes, and fresh sweet basil. It is served in the form of a mound with some butter buried inside. Different čelow-kabābs are usually named after the type of kabāb served with it (for examples see below). The drink traditionally served with čelow-kabāb is dūḡ, a beverage made with yogurt and water; in the past two decades, however, beverages such as Coca Cola have also become popular. Accord­ing to Nāder Mīrzā (pp. 240-41), the people of Tabrīz used to eat čelow-kabāb with cotton candy (pašmak) and sekanjabīn (sweet-and-sour mint drink, q.v.).

Nasseredin Shah-KamalolmolkOne the  Čelow-kabāb’s first distinguished (and regal) fans: Nasser-e-din Shah (1831-1896) of the Qajar Dynasty (1785-1925) as portrayed in a painting by  Kamal ol Molk (Picture Source: Public Domain).

The dish is not mentioned in the two culinary tracts of the 10th/16th century (ed. Afšār) and was probably created in the Qajar period. It was part of Nāṣer-al-Dīn Shah’s diet (Āšpazbāšī, p. 8) and, according to Nāder Mīrzā (loc. cit.), a favorite dish of the people of Tabrīz, where it was served in restaurants (čelowpaz-ḵāna).

Chelo Kabab-Tabriz[Click to Enlarge] Serving of fresh skewers of Čelow-kabāb in the city of Tabriz, Iran’s Azarbaijan province (Picture Source: Payvand News). Tabriz is famous throughout Iran for its culinary style of the Čelow-kabāb dish and is also known for having popularized this throughout the country as well. There are still traditional restaurants in Tabriz that serve skewers almost a meter long!

Čelow-kabāb-e solṭānī

Strips of the fillet of the best-quality meat are marinated overnight in a mixture of finely chopped onions and saffron, then gently beaten flat with the back of a kitchen knife, and finally broiled slowly on a skewer over charcoal fire. After the kabāb is cooked, it is placed on a platter or tray and pulled off the skewers with a piece of flat bread. The kabāb is then brushed with butter, decorated with onion rings and fresh sweet basil, and served with rice, butter, sumac, and broiled tomatoes. This highly regarded dish is a specialty of Tabrīz restaurants. In some restaurants it includes both kabāb-e barg and kabāb-e kūbīda.

Chelo Kakab-Soltani-Pars Times[Click to Enlarge] The Čelow-kabāb-e solṭānī (Picture Source: Pars Times).

Čelow-kabāb-e barg

This kabāb is prepared like kabāb-e solṭānī except that the meat pieces are cut into smaller chunks and saffron is omitted from the marinade.


[Click to Enlarge] A serving of Čelow-kabāb-e barg (Picture Source: How to Cook Persian Food Blog).

Čelow-kabāb-e kūbīda

The ingredients consist of ground meat, grated onion, minced fresh sweet basil (only in a recent variety popular in Shiraz), salt, pepper, and egg yolk, which are mixed together and thoroughly kneaded. (In the past, the meat was placed in a bowl over steam and kneaded to melt the fat and mix it well with the meat.) Then, small portions of the mixture are placed around wide skewers, which are slightly damp­ened with water, and pressed with the fingers. The skewers are then placed over a hot charcoal grill, and the fire is fanned immediately, until the kabāb turns brown­ish; then the kabāb is left to cook until it is done. Finally the kabāb is placed between layers of flat bread to soak the fat and sprinkled with sumac and served with čelow. In another variety, kabāb-e dīgī (pot kabob), strips of the kabāb are broiled on a stove in a pot or a broiler tray. Kabāb-e kūbīda is also eaten with bread (nān o kabāb) instead of rice, and in recent years many fast-food restaurants specializing in kabāb-e kūbīda have opened in large cities.

Kabab-Koobideh[Click to Enlarge] A serving of Čelow-kabāb-e kūbīda (Picture Source: Akbar Joojeh Restaurant, Thornhill, Ontario).

Kabāb-e ḥosaynī

Chunks of meat (often marinated in a mixture of yogurt, saffron, grated onions, salt, and pepper), sheep tail fat (donba), small white onions, and green peppers are put on skewers made of pomegranate or fig branches or stainless steel, and then layers of tomato rings, chopped onion, and kabāb skewers are arranged in a large pot and simmered over low heat. An almost identical variety is šīš-kabāb (or kabōb-e sīḵī, kabāb-e kenja), except that it is broiled over a low charcoal fire rather than in a pot.

Kabab-Husseini[Click to Enlarge] A serving of Kabāb-e ḥosaynī (Picture Source: Armandeep Singh 1980).


Ī. Afšār, ed., Āšpazī-e dawra-ye ṣafawī, Tehran, 1360 Š./1981.

Mīrzā ʿAlī-Akbar Khan Āšpazbāšī, Sofra-ye aṭʿema, Tehran, 1353 Š./1974, pp. 8-9.

Nāder Mīrzā Qājār, Tārīḵ-ejoḡrāfīā-­ye dār-al-salṭana-ye Tabrīz, Tehran, 1323/1905.

N. Ramazani, Persian Cooking, New York, 1974, index.

Żīāʾ Laškar Dāneš, Kollīyāt-e Ḥakīm Sūrī, Tehran, n.d., I, pp. 3, 40, 61, 68, 75.