The mystery of Komaaj
"What is Komaaj?" This question has plagued me for a long time. In Iran, there are so many different variations of the bread known as Komaaj that you cannot really find an “Original” version. Depending on where in Iran you are from, what you grew up knowing as Komaaj is different. They can be sweet or savory, filled or plain, an everyday staple or made only on special occasions. Even how you pronounce the word differs around the country: Komaaj (کماج), Komaach (کماچ), Koomaj (کوماج), Kamak (کمک), … So, with all these differences, why are they all Komaaj??
There is an old theory about the word Komaaj not referring the bread itself, but to the container the bread used to be kept in known as Komaaj-Daan. But, that is a very backwards theory since Komaaj-Daan literally translates to: “Komaaj-Holder”
The word Komaaj can also be found in the dictionary, with the definitions being: bread that is baked over coals or hot ash. Again, this does not really help, since before the invention of modern ovens, ALL bread were baked like that one way or another.
As much as I have researched, I still don’t have a definite answer for This question. What I can say is that for the most part ( because there are always exceptions to rules) they share 3 attributes:
1. They are not flatbreads. 2. They are always shaped into a round. 3. They are Baked (as opposed to being grilled or fried) Outside of these 3 parameters, they can be as different as night and day. And they are an interesting case study of regional tastes and cuisine.
So, let us look at a few different versions of Komaaj:
Komaaj -e-Tabrizi: This Komaaj named for the city of Tabriz in the Northwestern region of Iran, is a sweet bread made only on special occasions (usually to celebrate the month of Ramadan). This elaborate bread is flavored with Cardamom or Rosewater and topped with Almonds and pistachios, designed into a beautiful pattern. Komaaj -e- Tabehyi: more a cake than a bread, made in a pan, with a mix of Rice flour and Wheat flour. Found mostly along the Mazandaran stretch.
Komaaj - e- Hamedan: Hailing from the Province of Hamedan (set in the hillsides of the Alvand mountain) this one is arguably the most well-known Komaaj. A sweet pastry, flavored with Cardamom and topped with sesame seeds, it is made and sold daily to be had for breakfast or a midday snack. What sets it apart is the soft, cakelike texture and subtle flavor. >> Here is a video of a traditional Komaaj bakery in Hamedan.
Komaaj -e- Ghasem Abaad: This was the basis for my Herb Komaaj. This dimpled bread made in a small village near the Caspian Sea, has the feel of Focaccia and is made with Yogurt, Heavy cream, and Eggs. >> Here is a video of this Komaaj being made.
Komaach -e- Yazdi: Showcasing the aromatic herbs and spices used vastly in the central and southeastern regions of Iran, this savory bread from the Yazd province has many of those items folded in: Tarragon, Coriander, Safflower, …
Komaach Sehen: the Famous Komaach Sehen, made in Kerman during New year’s. This one is technically a pie rather than a bread. Made with Sprouted wheat flour and filled with a date and walnut filling, it is both intricate and simple, and can be very addictive. >> Here is a wonderful documentary about this delicious pastry.
There are others, many others, all named after the cities they come from. All different and all undoubtedly delicious. What makes them Komaaj? Who knows? Maybe one day I’ll find out. Until then, I’ll just enjoy making and eating them!