A visit to Iran yields a stunning variety of culinary delights. Between the familiar kebab and the decidedly outré grilled lamb’s testicles, there’s a vast spectrum of foods: caviar, pickle, and smoked fish in the north; samosas, falafel and hot and sour shrimp in the south; noodles, flatbread and rosewater-scented ice cream across the country.
Take a look at Iran’s place on the map and it’s easy to understand why the scope of native foods is so wide.
Many coveted ingredients are native to Iran, including pistachios, almonds, walnuts, saffron, mint, oranges, pomegranates and grapes. Iran has a variable climate with four distinct seasons, and unlike other parts of the Middle East, where the dry terrain limited what food could be grown, the ancient Persians transformed vast stretches of arid land into fertile oases via underground aquifers that drew melted snow water into the desert. A bright, sensuous, fruit-and-herb filled cuisine was born.
Rice and bread are the staple foods of the Iranians which they eat with meat and vegetable dishes along with herbs and yogurt.
Iran has a wide range of bread types and Iranian breads are some of the tastiest anywhere in the world. But of course European types of bread such as the French baguette, and the English white slices are also available in Iran. Naturally, most Iranians prefer their traditional breads such as the lavash, taftoon, sangak and barbari Plain rice a la iranienne is called chelo. It is either eaten with kebab (pieces of meat, poultry or minced meat barbecued/grilled on open fire) or with one of the many khoreshtes. A "khoresht" is similar to a curry: it is composed of pieces of meat and vegetables (e.g. aubergines, potatoes, marrows...) cooked in a relatively thick sauce. Chelo-kebab is normally eaten with grilled tomatoes and herbs such as mint with the red powder of somagh sprinkled on the rice added to it. The powder is sourish and adds taste to the dish.
A khoresh is usually prepared by frying shredded onions and pieces of meat or poultry. There are many kinds of khoresh such as the ghromeh sbazi which is made of shredded onions and herbs with pieces of lamb and certain spices.
Abgoosht (literally meat-water) resembles a soup and contains boiled fatty pieces of lamb, potatoes, and tomatoes, as well as dried peas and beans, with dried lime to give it a slightly sour taste. It is left to simmer for hours. This dish is particularly popular in East and West Azerbaijan, and Ardebil provinces.
Aash is very think soup made with all sorts of cereals, vegetables and herbs, sometimes with meat added. There are many types of aash depending on the region of Iran you happen to be in, but a few are popular everywhere in the country: sholleh ghalamkar, reshteh (noodles), kashk etc. On certain occasions, it is customary to serve aash.
Most provinces have their own special dishes. In the north on the Caspian Sea, and the south, on the Persian Gulf and the Sea of Oman, people naturally eat a lot of fish and prepare many dishes with sea foods. Both in the north of the country, in the Caspian Sea and in the south, the Persian Gulf and the Sea of Oman, many fishes exist that allow delicious dishes to be prepared.
Iranians also make a wide range of sweets and confectionery in most of which they put pieces of almonds, pistachios and hazelnuts as well as dried fruits. Yazd, Kerman and Tabriz are well known for their sweets. The sohan of Qom and Isfahan, and kolooches of Gilan are well known throughout Iran and are very much relished. Iranian also prepare many type of shrbats or sweet drinks.
There are many varied traditional Iranian dishes such as the chelo-kabab (kebab and rice), every Western dish, as well as, Indian, Chinese, Korean... cuisines. And of course pizzas and hamburgers can be found anywhere.
Noosh-e jan! (that’s Farsi for “bon appétit.”)