Hearing a relative returning from a pilgrimage to the holy city of Qom was the most exciting news for us as a child. We knew that we would receive a bunch of souvenirs. The most impressive of them was a red circular tin box full of a heavenly taste candy, Sohan. Having a piece of this caramelized brown, brittle candy can make you experience a burst of sweet buttery taste melting in your mouth.
When the box was opened, the magical aroma of cardamom and saffron was poured the room with its mouthwatering scent. But the sohan feast always comes to a tragic end when we opened the lid and faced the empty box with some scattered tiny pieces in it, and that was the end of our sweet-taste happiness!
There is a wide variety of sweets and pastries around Iran. So, each city of Iran is known by a specific sweet. For example, Isfahan’s distinctive brand comes to the mind by thinking of Gaz & Polaki, while Ghottab is unique to Yazd. Sohan, which technically means rasp, is a crumbly scented candy originated in Qom, a pilgrimage city in the proximity of Salt Lake and the only symmetric salt dome in Iran. The history of making sohan in Qom dates back to the 18th century.
Sohan was made in Qom for the first time in the home of a man called Hossein Baba by his wife. After him, another person named Seyyed Mostafa started to make and sell sohan. It was only women who exclusively made sohan at home and delivered their products to the market to be sold. Yet, only a small amount of sohan was sent to stores.
There was an interesting belief among sohan cooks. Women who made sohan believed if men come to the sohan kitchens, it would become spoiled. But there was another sake for preventing men from entering the sohan kitchen, and women did not want men to learn how to make sohan and its secret recipe.
There are tens of stories people tell about the sohan’s birth incident and how it happened to be named as sohan. They say Naser Al-Din Shah Qajar, whose reigning monarch is the third-longest in Iran’s history, went for an opening ceremony in Qom. He was given this delicious halva-like sweet by a grocer. He enjoyed its heavenly taste and stated it acted like the rasp for his full stomach and rubbed all the dense food inside it. However, the more accurate quotation says that naming Sohan relates to a Qajar noble.
Sohan is made based on the authentic recipes, following the traditional cooking methods and sold in traditional confectionery shops all through Qom. The original quality sohan is made in Qom; however, due to its high popularity, sohan producers export their products to other cities in Iran and other countries as well.
Sohan is a traditional Persian brittle candy with an ancient recipe that has remained a secret now for more than a century. In Qom, every sohan manufactory has at least a unique type of sohan with mystery recipe to present it to the market and add innovation into the taste of this favourite halwa.
The general recipes for cooking sohan are a handful that seems to be no big deal. But it’s not just ingredients, and how they were mixed that makes an original sohan!
The first generation of sohan producers used some odd kinds of stuff to weight the amount of each ingredient. It could be a piece of stone or even one of a pair of shoes or any irrelevant thing. Whatever stuff it was, it is weird that the next generations have kept that stuff and use them as their ancestors did. Nobody, even the employees and cooks, has no idea about this secret family trick.
Now if you thrive on the making sohan, here it is the general recipe of cooking sohan. Wheat sprouts powder first get mixed with water and stirred continuously over high heat for hours. When the water evaporated, and the colour changed to caramelized brown, it is time to add ghee, sugar, and egg yolks. On the next step, rosewater, saffron, and cardamom are added to make the magic completed. The mixture stirred till it turns into dough. Then each piece of the paste flattens and studded with pistachio and almonds.
Sohan is an excellent companion for a cup of afternoon tea. A few nibbles and you will become a sohan-lover for the rest of your life.
By Samaneh Zohrabi