Some say you can taste history. Food is not just a means of nutrition. Traditional food tells you all sorts of interesting details about a cultural, a people, or a even a whole region. What people predominantly eat throughout the day is, in reality, an extension of their beliefs.
Iranians have always placed nature and its abundant resources at the highest level of admiration. You can see this concept brought to life in most traditional Persian food. If you didn’t know any better, you’d think Iranians are in fact vegetarians. Fruits, vegetables and nuts form the majority of the Iranian diet. Snacks include seasonal fruits, various roasted nuts or other natural and organic treats are often served as appetizers.
In order to give you a sense of what to expect, here are a few common main meals that are can be found throughout the day:
Iranians sure love their hearty breakfast. However, unlike most western cultures, Iranians generally do not eat a lot of meat in the mornings. Instead, they opt for the most famous and iconic of middle eastern staples: bread and cheese or noon-o-panir. It may sound simple, but this tradition has been instilled in almost every Iranian around the world. In general, the particular bread and cheese used is not important, but to get the real, authentic Persian experience, you have to try some of the local materials.
Most Iranian bread such as Sangak, Barbari and Shirmal are in the form of thin to medium thick flatbread. Since a large portion of Iranian food involves bread, the preferred quick and easy way to eat almost any dish involves ripping off a bite size 3cm x 3cm piece of flatbread and stuff with almost anything. This is called a logh-me.
The most common breakfast logh-me involves liberal amounts of goat cheese along with some all-time favorite add-ons such as tomatoes, cucumbers, walnuts or all three at once. It’s sort of like a cold breakfast mini-pizza. Of course, an assortment of fruit jams, jellies and honies along with copious amounts of sheep’s butter are are also spread individually or layered on top of each other on top of the bread to form another type of logh-me.
Other breakfast options include Iranian omelette, a must have for egg lovers. Cooked and served in a traditional steal bowl, Iranian omelettes are often eaten combined with thin slices of raw onions to form another traditional logh-me. Various poridges and stews such as haleem and Ashe-shol-ghalam-kar are also used for convenient and nutritious early morning options.
Of course, the most universal part all breakfast options is the beloved black tea. Whether you drink it light or dark, Iranian black tea is often served with sugar cubes, dates or saffron rock-candies. Always brought out steaming hot, sweet tea is used to wash down and stimulate your stomach after a hearty meal.
You can find all of the options mentioned above in your hotel’s breakfast menu.
Although Iran is famous for its bread, it’s rice is equally legendary. Most mid-day dishes include some sort of plain white or mixed rice known as polo. Toppings like saffron, berberries and green slivered almonds are the most commonly ingredients found adorning the top of white rice, where as all sorts of fruits, beans, nuts and meats can be found in other forms of mixed rice. The most prized part of any rice dish is the tah-dig, the crispy pan fried layer of rice at the very bottom of the pot. Literally translating to “the bottom of the pot,” tahdig can be made with not just plain or mixed rice, but even potatoes and all kinds of bread.
Accompanying the rice is usually some variety of kebab. There over 30 different types of kebabs using different skewers, meats and marinades (Wiki). Saffron chicken kabob, both bone in and out, known as jooje-kabob, is among the most common dishes. However, ground lamb kabob, known simply as koobide, is by far the most famous and sought after type of kabob. Skewered tomatoes, peppers and onions are roasted and served alongside each dish of kebab.
Side dishes are also quite common and numerous. Iranians eat a lot of dairy, so plain, white, sometimes sour, yogurts are a staple alongside any type of dish. Olives, pickles, garlics, onions, and an assortment of other vegetables are also served either raw or fermented (known as torshi) as flavor enhancers. A particular favorite side dish is a kind of salad crossed with a vegetable buffet consisting of fresh herbs and raw vegetables such as basil, parsley, and radishes known as sabzi-khordan. Along with each bite of the meal, one is encouraged to consume a small amount of any particular side dish to enhance the overall flavor.
As far as drinks go, Iranians typically consume water, soda or non-alcoholic flavored malt-beverages alongside their meals. One of the most beloved traditional drinks, doogh, is yogurt drink made of light yogurt and many herbs and spices. It may be a strange concept for non-dairy eaters but yogurt drinks are a perfect way to wash down a heavy and hearty meal. Finally, to finish off the meal, some tea is almost always customary.
Iran also has a strong afternoon-nap or siesta cultural known as chorte-asrane. Most Iranians typically try to consume their lunches at home. Following their lunch and afternoon prayers, it is very common for whole cities to shut down until mid-afternoon in order to accomodate a short nap.
Dinner times are often family times. While Iranians usually like to fill up during lunch time, they eat dinner rather late, sometimes even 9 or 10 at night. When families do get around to eat, they usually try to eat something light.
Soups, stews and other vegetarian dishes are the most common type of dinner options. Some of the more famous soups include ash-reshte, a vegan soup consisting of thick rice noodles and an assortments of baked beans and sauteed vegetables. Most soups are consumed on their own or as appetizers. Stews on the other hand are often served with white rice. Famous stews usually include some sort of meat mixed with a variety of beans, nuts, or vegetables. One of the most famous stews, khoresht-gheime, has an orange hue and includes lentils, tomato paste, lamb chunks and a variety of spices.
All the side dishes mentioned in the post above such as pickled vegetables are always a must alongside all dinner options. Of course, don’t forget the plain white yogurt. Oftentimes, in order to have room for a much bigger breakfast, Iranians will simply eat a salad instead of a full meal. A typical side-dish/salad option is salad-shirazi which includes diced tomatoes, cucumbers and onions mixed in lime, vinegar and sea salt. Often referred to as a ‘mediterranean salad,” salad shirazi is a must have for those who also love authentic salsa.
To wash down their dinner, Iranians often snack on seasonal fruits. Iranians in general have a particular passion for fruits and consume them quite often throughout the day. No matter how full they are, they always have more room for fruit. To finish off the night, either the classic black tea or a variety of local herbal teas is prepared to give you a sound night’s sleep.
Here is a brief description of what Iranian cuisine is all about by Mohammad Jafari:
“The cuisine refers to the traditional and modern styles of cooking related to Iran. The Iranian culinary style is unique to Iran, though has historically both influenced and been influenced by Iran’s neighboring regions at various stages throughout the history. Specifically, these have been mutual culinary influences to and from Mesopotamian cuisine, Anatolian cuisine, and especially the Central Asian cuisine. The cuisine includes a wide variety of food families ranging from rice served with roasted meat (chelow kebab), different kinds of Persian-style Kebabs, namely Barg, Koubideh, Shishleek, Soltani, Chenjeh; various types of stews served with rice (Khoresht), namely Ghormeh Sabzi, Gheimeh, Fesenjan; different types of thick soup (Ash) including ash-e reshte, ash-e anar, ash-e dough; a special type of vegetable souffle, namely kuku; a wide variety of rice served with other food items, named in Persian “polo” for example Loobia Polo (Rice with green beans), Albaloo polo (Rice with Black Cherry), Rice with Vegetables (Sabzi Polo), Rice with Barberries (Zereshk Polo), etc. and a diverse variety of Salads, Pastries, and soft drinks specific to different parts of Iran.”
Tags:Iran, Iranian Cuisine, Persian food