Tehran, dateline mid-1990s. I was ensconced in the not-totally-fabulous Esteghlal International Hotel, biding my time, waiting for a drill rig to be released from customs clearance which was taking weeks. Fact is, there wasn’t a great deal to do in Tehran if you don’t speak the language, and you’re not in to strolling around the polluted streets or drinking tea in one of the many tea houses. I’d been to the carpet bazaar a few times and bought some antique rugs. I’d seen the crown jewels (they make the British crown jewels look like baubles). I’d visited the Shah’s palaces and the incredible carpet museum. The only thing left was to get to know the amazing food and try to get drunk, which is possible in Tehran with the right contacts.
I became obsessed with working my way through the hotel restaurant menu. Chicken kebabs, lamb stews, lovely herb and cheese plates; I loved Iranian food and still do. But there was one item I couldn’t bring myself to try: Estrogen kebab. It stared back at me from the menu, challenging me to have a go. What the fuck was an estrogen kebab? Of course I knew what Estrogen was:
“..the primary female sex hormone. It is responsible for the development and regulation of the female reproductive system and secondary sex characteristics. There are three major endogenous estrogens in females that have estrogenic hormonal activity: estrone, estradiol, and estriol. The estrane steroid estradiol is the most potent and prevalent of these.”
In other words, I eat the kebab and there’s a chance I grow boobs. After weeks of celibacy in the hotel the idea was mildly appealing – eat a few plates of these puppies and a little bit of self fondlement could ensue.
One evening I was chatting to an Iranian colleague. Nice guy. Newly married, full of the joys of wedded bliss, he’d travelled a bit and had worked briefly in Australia. We were waiting for a geologist to arrive from the UK; my friend Stuart. It was when my Iranian colleague asked me what time Stuart’s flight was due to land that the penny dropped. Iranians can have trouble with the “St” sound at the start of English words. So what came out of his mouth was: “When does es-stuart arrive?”
And there it was. The key to the riddle. Estrogen kebabs. Drop the extra Es sound and what do you get? You get Sturgeon. They were fish kebabs.