Underneath the second Bridge in Hafez Avenue, just before Jomhuri, on a street known as "France Street," there is an alley called Lowlagar. You would never notice it unless you paid close attention. An old alley it is, with a door and a gate. Upon entering this alley, you find yourself in a seemingly private stretch. All parts of the alley bespeak the passage of time: old houses, commercial structures, and a couple of stores aged more than 30 by year. You may not see these, on the other hand, and find the whole place weird and deserving no more of your attention. But just before the end of the alley, if you slow down a bit and look to your right, you'll find a diner. Surely if you realized that this was the first place in Tehran that served Tehranis pizza your interest would be pricked.
Forty years ago when Davud and his Armenian partner started making pizza, this part of the city didn’t look like the way it does today. Lowlagar was known as the Doctors' Alley and it was the residential area of rich families. Davud didn’t make his pizzas for ordinary people; people who were still regulars at Kebab and their empty pockets wouldn’t allow them the expenditure of 2 or 3 tomans on a fancy piece of bread covered with bologna and cheese.
Nearby, however, stood several schools whose students courted anything new in town. The building of some of these schools are still standing; schools that hosted students with enough pocket money to dare things unfamiliar. In March 1961, Davud pulled his first pizza out of the oven and sold it for 11 rials. In no time, the alley became the hangout of girls keen on novelties related to the West. Daughters of those who were forced to take off their Islamic cover by Reza Shah, became the mother of those who now wore miniskirts and who made their presence known. Add to this the foreign customers to see how popular the store was at that time.
The Armenian partner gave up on the business soon enough, left the entire business to Davud, and went to America. Davud, on the other hand, was never intoxicated by the machinations of the western culture. To the contrary, he was a staunch Shiite Muslim who never forgot his prayers, attended all religious ceremonies, and gave alms to the poor and orphans. Even now, if you go there on a religious holiday he'll give you a fresh bill with an Emam’s name printed on it to celebrate the occasion.
Three or 4 years passed and Tehranis grew to like the taste of pizza. The popularity of this mixture of bread and various ingredients went beyond high-school students and foreigners. In three years, Pantry Pizza would open in Villa Street with more publicity and class – with tables, seats, waiters, menu, and so on. The owner topped it all by inviting the King himself to attend the gala opening. Today, every sandwich shop in town boasts of offering pizza to customers.
Still, Davud has remained unique. Everything around it has changed drastically, the walls, neighbors, stores, but Davud's small shop is right where it was. Nor are the customers the same. Although some return to the shop from time to time for old times’ sake, they are no longer regulars. The regulars of Davud are sales people from Jomhuri Avenue, and they are mostly men. The place is out of shape and customers' lack of care has made Davud indifferent too. A few years ago he covered the walls of his joint with hung rosary beads, but had second thoughts and removed some of them. There are nonetheless interesting things on the walls to keep you busy until the standard appetizer arrives.
|The "standard appetizer" is a plate of boloney. Those who lived in Tehran during the Iran-Iraq War remember the boloney offered then. They would turn into powder as soon as you bit into them. Sliced thickly and covered with a lot of ketchup and spices, and in the right season with some green peppers, these strange breeds are handed to you by Davud wrapped in aluminum foil. You can eat it at one of the four tables, which are older than you are, or stand next to the shelves, which are for latecomers. Of course, the number of seats is usually less than that of customers but you can transform some of the soft drink boxes into seats in no time.
Through or not through with the standard appetizer, Davud calls you and hands you more of the same. Although you are absolutely aware that this is the cheapest kind of sausage available, and despite witnessing the not-so-clean hands of Davud cutting them in front of you, you may feel obliged to eat and the interesting thing is that after a while the hot and spicy taste does not even bother you.
Davud's store is not a place to mince hygienics. Not only Davud but also the customers have no regard for such matters anymore. I suggest you go with the crowd and gloss over minor details. Close your eyes and await the main course while masticating on bologna.
You ordered upon entrance and you are now waiting, with full stomach. There were 7 different combinations: cheese, sausage, bacon [sic.], pepper, onion, mixed and mushroom, the most expensive being the last one (1900 tomans) and the least the first (1600 tomans). It is noteworthy that the menu and combinations are exactly as there were when the shop opened, no change whatsoever.
Finally your order is called. Your pizza is not large but heaping. It's made of cheap material, plenty of it. The most expensive is also the stockiest, which is actually a compound of sausage, bacon, and mushrooms. Pizzas are made in an electrical oven installed in Davud's shop from day one. Perhaps because of this oven (and let's not forget the cook's visibly at-work hands) the taste of Davud's pizza is unique, smothered with sauce. He covers the dough completely with tomato juice before putting the other ingredients over it. Once he takes the pizza out of the oven, he pours a considerable amount of sauce on it again. The first couple of bites overwhelm your taste buds, and then, slowly, you start to actually taste it, which isn’t all that bad. Now you can enjoy your food while chatting with Davud about his memories of forty years ago, listen to university students complain about their professors and the tuition fee, or you may listen in on a conversation about cell phone and high-fi equipments.
The most trying part is when you come to the last couple of bites. The "standard appetizer" that you forced down your throat has now reached your intestines and you can't possibly finish your food. Whether you continue eating or not, you're coming out with a full stomach and whether you enjoyed it or not, for the next four hours your system will be busy digesting it. Davud's food may be unhealthy, the place may be dirty with uncomfortable seats, you may regret the experience post facto, but eating in Tehran's first pizzeria is an experience worth the try.