KĀK, a general term applied to several kinds of flat bread or small, often thin, dry cakes variously shaped and made, and therefore differently defined in dictionaries and cookbooks. The earliest source which mentions kāk is perhaps Asrār al-tawḥid, where one reads of Shaikh Abu Saʿid (d. 1048, q.v.) sending his servant to “a kāk-pazi,” similar to a bakery, to buy a large quantity of kāk, and praising the kāks made there for their topping of white sesame seeds and pistachios (Moḥmmad b. Monawwar, I, p. 71).
At the present time in Iran, the best-known kāk seems to be made in, and widely exported from, the city of Kermānšāh in western Iran. It is neither round nor flat, but relatively thick and lozenge-shaped. To make a kāk, a mixture of dough, shortening, a small amount of beaten egg, and a little baking soda is prepared with a sprinkling of salt and allowed to rest for a short while. The dough is then made into globular pieces, each the size of a small orange. These are then flattened with a rolling pin and placed on a pre-heated sāj (a round iron pan). After a few seconds the flattened dough is removed, and its whole surface is abundantly sprinkled with a mixture of icing sugar, powdered cardamoms, and almonds, and then folded into a lozenge-shaped cake some 3 to 4 cm long. Very quickly the kāk becomes brittle and crunchy. The color may turn either whitish or yellow. Since the dough can set within minutes and become too hardened to fold, all the abovementioned steps must be taken very quickly. This kāk is often called nān yoḵe in Tehran (Moʿin, s.v. kāk). Najaf Daryā-bandari gives two recipes for what he calls kāk-e bādām, almond kāk and kāk-e māst o fandoq, yoghurt and hazelnut kāk (II, pp. 1580-81), which, far from being nationally widespread, seem to be, at most, varieties of kāk, not the typically traditional one.
The 17th-century Borhān-e qāṭeʿ defines kāk as “dry bread, or the kind of bread inadequately baked, containing no fat and milk.” It then adds that kaʿk is the Arabicized form of kāk. Under the same entry, it states that kāk, according to some, refers to a kind of flat, round, and greasy bread (s.v. kāk). However, in a gloss to this entry, Moḥammad Moʿin cites Paul Horn, the German orientalist and philologist, as considering an Aramaic origin for the word. A non-Iranian origin also might be suggested by the geographer Strabo’s reference to kákeis, a type of Egyptian bread (17.2.5) that had an astringent effect on the digestion (cf. Ḥakim Moʾmen’s comment on kāk, below). In favor of an Iranian origin with Indo-European connections, Moʿin cited the orientalist Enno Littmann (1875–1958), comparing “kāk” with English “cake” and its related Germanic words (for these, see the OED, s.v. “cake”); J. T. Platts (p. 802) wanted to connect “kāk” with Sanskrit karkara “hard.”
The compiler of Farhang-e Ānandrāj defines the word as “thin and light bread, changed in Arabic as kaʿk” (Moḥammad Pādšāh, s.v. kāk). The two Arabic wordlists, Aqrab al-mawāred and al-Moʿarrab both regard kaʿk as being the Persian kāk Arabicized, the former defining it as “round bread made with flour, milk, sugar, and some other items,” and the latter simply as “dry bread” (Šartuni, s.v. kaʿk; Javāliqi, s.v. al-kaʿk). Jār-Allāh Zamaḵšari defines “kaʿk” simply as dry bread (p. 350). In northern Persia, in the Gilaki dialect of Ẓiābar, the word is pronounced as kākā and in Lāhijān and Ābkenār as kake (Sotuda, p. 183).
In a number of books on traditional medicines in Iran, there are references to kāk/kaʿk with short descriptions of its medical effects. Ḥakim Moʾmen equates kaʿk with ḵobz al-ṣābun, which the author defines as “a kind of bread containing little bran and mixed with [cooking] oil; it is hard to digest but very nutritious, harmful to those running a fever.” The same work defines ḵobz al-kaʿk as bread made with twice-sieved and twice-baked flour, which can be prepared as ointment useful for joint pains (Ḥakim Moʾmen, pp. 328, 728). Another book on traditional medicines, Maḵzan al-adwia (materia medica), also regards kaʿk as the Arabicized form of the Persian kāk, a kind of bread also called količa in Persian. It then describes its qualities and medical advantages and disadvantages (ʿAqili, p. 749; also see p. 1015). In Khorasan and Qazvin kāk is called qāq (Dehḵodā and Moʿin, s.v. kāk).
Sayyed Moḥammad Ḥosayn b. Moḥammad Hādi ʿAqili Ḵorāsāni, Maḵzan al-adwia, Tehran, 1976.
ʿAli-Akbar Dehḵodā, Loḡat-nāma, 30 vols., Tehran, 1958-1966.
Ḥakim Moḥammad Moʾmen Ḥosayni, Toḥfa-ye Ḥakim Moʾmen, Tehran, n.d. Mawhub b. Aḥmad Jawāliqi, al-Moʿarrab men kalām al-aʿjami ʿalā ḥoruf al-moʿjam, ed. Aḥmad Moḥammad Šāker, offset print, Tehran, 1966.
Moḥammad b. Monawwar, Asrār al-tawḥid fi maqāmāt al-Šayḵ Abu Saʿid, 2 vols, ed. Moḥammad-Reżā Šafiʿi Kadkani, Tehran, 1987.
Moḥammad Ḥosayn Tabrizi, Borhān-e qāṭeʿ, 4 vols., ed. Moḥammad Moʿin, Tehran, 1951-53.
Moḥammad Pādšāh (Šād), Farhang-e Ānandrāj, 7 vols., Tehran, 1956-58.
Moḥammad Moʿin, “Kāk (7),” in Farhang-e fārsi III, Tehran, 1966, pp. 2852–53.
Saʿid Šartuni Lobnāni, Aqrab al-mawāred, 2 vols., and one suppl., Beirut, 1891, 1893, reprint, Tehran, 1960.
John T. Platts, A Dictionary of Urdū, Classical Hindī, and English, Oxford, 1968.
Manučehr Sotuda, Farhang-e Gilaki, Tehran, 1953.
Jār-Allāh Abu’l-Qāsem Zamaḵšari, Pišrov-e adab yā moqaddemat al-adab, ed. Moḥammad Kāẓem Emām, Tehran, 1963.
(Etrat Elahi and Eir.)
Originally Published: December 15, 2010
Last Updated: April 19, 2012
This article is available in print.
Vol. XV, Fasc. 4, pp. 352-353