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CULTURE
A Box From Tehran
CULTURE
A Box From Tehran
A hand-selected souvenir series by Elin Aram, this edition is drawn from Iran's cultural landscape
by David Graver
on 24 July 2013
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Elin Aram drew much attention with her new hand-selected souvenir series, A Box From. Its debut offering shed light on Seoul, South Korea, and told a story of the city by means of uniquely personal gifts. The "beta" box sold out almost as quickly as it was released. We are pleased to announce that Aram is ready for A Box From's second iteration. This time, she opens up the world of Tehran, Iran.

Once again, Aram has taken the trip, and the products she collected invoke a sensory journey across a city that you might not ever visit. Ready to purchase today, the Tehran box has a unique backstory that Aram shared with us—full of her experiences in an ancient city of spice and wonder. She set out to pick the city's best and box them up for the curious among us.

With so much cultural relevance attached to each of the objects, we asked Aram to tell us more about why she chose Tehran, and to guide us through the selections inside the box.

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Why Tehran?

There are several reasons I went to Tehran for this box. It's a captivating, dramatic and beautiful city that people rarely go to, and I would like people to explore more places out of their comfort zone. It's also the birthplace of my father, which made it easy for me to go there, speak the language and get help from locals to find the best things. It's all hand-picked from bazaars and small stores, so that's why the boxes are limited.

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Tehran is a city where you need to know the locals. It's impossible to get around without the help of them. You will only hear about the best bazaars from a taxi driver—not a guide book. You cannot find the secret garden in the mountains without someone showing you the way. A Box From Tehran is a result of all the people who helped me along my trip. I found the saffron in the great bazaar of Tehran, walking past miles of booths selling scarves, spices and forbidden sexy underwear. I even met with a guy who sold his handmade boardgames from the trunk of his car. Too bad they were to big to put in the box.

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Can you offer us some insight on this box's contents and the story behind them?

No respected guest leaves a friend's house without having a small cup of tea. Even the gas stoves are built to leave room for a permanent samovar. So each box contains 100 grams of tea. It's important that the tea is prepared in the proper way with the following steps: Heat up water in a big teapot. When the water is boiling, bring out a smaller teapot and spoon in some tea leaves and a small amount of the water. Put the small teapot on top of the larger one and steam the tea on top until it comes to a boil. Ready! Pour a small amount of the concentrated tea in your glass and fill up with the rest of the boiling water.

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A map of Iran: How much do you know what Iran and its surrounding countries look like geographically? This map won't help much unless you can read Farsi, but here's a short explanation: In the north, there's the beautiful sea and jasmine trees. In the south, there are cities made of sand, and further south lies the island of Kish, home to the country's only women's beach.

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A basket: These are handmade in the north of Iran. To go there from Tehran, you have to travel over the mountains with a bus or a car. After two hours on the road, you are so high up in the mountain that you ride through the clouds. At the very top there are tea places and kiosks selling dried fruit. All along the road are colorful houses with pink or red rooftops. This, for me, is reminiscent of these baskets. They come in all different sizes and colors.

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A plastic bag: Branding in Iran is a completely different business than elsewhere. Adidas stickers are slapped on the buses, Apple logos exist on clutches, and then there was Versace—everywhere. On everything from towels, baby toys to kitchen supplies. It is there because it looks good, and so did these plastic bags from the big bazaar in Tehran. The black bag comes with a wonderful golden Versace logo and a white bag with nine sports brands paired with Lorem Ipsum text. Your bag can be framed or used to carry things.

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Two servings of Nabat: Imagine that you are being taken to a café in Iran to escape from the city heat. The place is a secret garden with a view over the city. Each group of friends sits down on a big Persian rug. The plants and trees are building their own roof. You order a water-pipe together with some tea. The possibility is very high that your tea will be served together with Nabat, a crystallized sugar that you stir your tea with. Combine this with a couple of fresh dates and walnuts for the full experience.

Two tea glasses: You can never get a cup of tea in Iran. Only glasses. Tea is served hot. The secret is to hold the glass at the very top with your fingertips and take small, slow sips. They're also very suitable for other liquids, like wine for instance.

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One gram of saffron: The most important spice in Persian cuisine. This saffron was sold in the bazaar underneath dangling lightbulbs, as illustrated above.

The latest A Box From can be purchased from the site for €40 while supplies last.

Images courtesy of Elin Aram

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