Since antiquity, Persian culture has been known throughout the world, not just for their prized exports such as carpets and spices, but also for their music, poetry, romantic novels, and heroic epics. You can experience almost every part of Persian culture in local cuisines. All across the world, people are discovering the magic and flavor of Iranian cooking, and it’s helping the world connect more with Iranian culture.
Persian cuisine can be an everlasting highlight of any visit to Iran. Once you leave the country, you may even feel like some part of you is missing. But don’t worry, we have just what you need to bring back all those lovely memories and emotions. Here are the top 10 Iranian foods every traveler should know about.
Fesenjan or Fesenjoon (Walnut Pomegranate Stew)
A luxurious dish, an essential part of each traditional dinner-party (Mehmooni). The common ingredients are mixed walnuts and pomegranate concentrate. An amazing concoction of tangy, sweet flavors, the dish usually includes chunks of chicken or lamb, and may include other additives such as fried onions, or whole pomegranate seeds. The dish may take up to 4 hours of cook time.
Ghormeh sabzi (Parsely, Cilantro & Fenugreek stew)
A really popular persian stew served and ate with rice. Ghormeh means stew while sabzi translates as herbs. The essential ingredients are mostly spinach, parsley, spring onions, fresh coriander and fenugreek leaves cooked with red kidney beans. The dish is commonly served with a side of Tahdig, special, crispy layers of rice or bread, placed at the bottom of the rice pot to gather all the delicious flavors and juices of the rice as it cooks.
Gheimeh Bademjan (Split-Pea, eggplant Stew)
Another famous Iranian dish is Gheimeh Bademjan, which is a very exciting dish no matter where you get it, specially for travelers. The ingredients include: split peas, dried limes, tomato sauce, onions and most likely lamb shoulders. Gheimeh Bademjan is often cooked with large pieces of fried eggplants (bademjan), and is served with Persian white rice.
Zereshk Polo Morgh (Barberry Chicken)
A classic Iranian dish made of steamed, fluffy Persian rice. Zereshk polo is one of many mixed rice dishes that you will find at small casual gatherings, as well as larger Persian dinner parties, weddings and most festive celebrations and holidays. The dish is often served with a side of Shirazi Salad (cucumbers, tomatoes and onions). The chicken is the main component, cooked separately in a tomato, saffron sauce. The dish is topped with zereshk (barberries), slivered almonds and golden, fried onions.
Baghali Polo (Fava Bean Rice)
Baghali polo is a rice dish, which includes heavy doses of Fava beans and dill (shivid). Fava beans are a common ingredient in many middle eastern cuisine, however, they are seasonal, so you can only find fresh ones around summertime. It’s an absolute favourite of Persian families and is found in almost any restaurants.
Ash-e-Reshteh (Noodle and Bean Soup)
Ash-e-reshteh is a very delicious soup which could be served as a main dish or an appetizer. To make this soup, the needed ingredients are persian wheat-noodles, peas, lentils, various other beans, grilled onions, mint, leafy greens and spices.
Abgoosht (Beef Stew)
Abgusht (ab stands for water and gusht for meat) is a very rich and delicious local dish in Iranian cuisine. The dish is very similar to another popular entre known as Dizi. Abgoosht is commonly prepared with pieces of lamb and chickpeas. Just like most Iranian foods, abgoosht takes a very long time to simmer. It is served in two different dishes. First the broth is poured into a large bowl on its own, while the solid ingredients such as the meat, potatoes, chickpeas and white beans are mashed together inside a second dish.
A Goosht Koob (wooden mallet) is often used for the mashing. The dish is usually served with raw onions, and sumac.
Koofteh Tabrizi (Tabrizi Meatball)
Its said that the Turkish-Iranians of Tabriz cook the most tantalizing cuisines.
Koofteh Tabrizi has the aroma and texture of heaven that plays with your senses. Koofteh is a super-sized meatball (baseball to melon sized)
mixed with split peas and stuffed with walnuts, berries, barbarries or prunes, cooked in broth.
Koobideh Kebab (Ground-Beef Kebab)
Koobideh is a traditional Iranian food that you may find in either fancy restaurants, during holidays at home, while walking in parks or as a street food in different styles. Koobideh is a mix of ground beef, lamb and onion pulp. The trick is to balance the fattiness of the ground mixture so that it sticks perfectly to the skewer as it’s grilled on a shallow grill. The dish is garnished with grilled veggies including tomatoes, peppers and onions, and served with Persian rice or sangak (a flat bread cooked on pebbles).
Joojeh Kebab (Chicken Kebab)
We kept the best for the last. Joojeh can be served bone-in or bone-out, depending on your eating style. Opt for the bone-out if you do not like eating with your hands. Iranians like to marinate their Joojeh (chicken) with lime juice, sliced onions, saffron, salt and pepper for 24 hours. The pieces of chicken are then skewered and grilled over an open fire, along with skewered pieces of tomatoes, onions and chilli peppers.
Other Items You May Find on the Table
Iranians set their tables with appetizers such as soup, kashk-e-bademjan (Persian eggplant dip), kookoo (Persian Herb Frittata), leafy-green salads, Shirazi Salad (Persian Cucumber Tomato Salad) or Zeytoon Parvardeh (marinated olives).
Regular soft drinks are often found no matter where you go. The most popular beverage, however, are refreshing, bubbly yogurt drinks called doogh, which are mixed with basil, rose petals and mint.
While jello and cake happen to be quite popular desserts, traditional items such as Shole Zard (saffron rice pudding) can also be found.
Dinner Table Culture
It can be a bit hard to find home-style cooking on the street, but don’t worry, there is always a chance that you’ll meet a really kind Iranian who’ll invite you to have a meal at his house. Persians believe that guests are cherished gifts from god, and will do whatever they can to make them feel at home.
As the guest, you will be honored with endless food. Each time the host ask you to have more it would be much more easier to say yes, rather than him insisting and you accepting after your fourth “no”.
Before you start eating, don’t forget to say the magic phrase: Nooshe-jan (Bon appetit).
Shahdad Kalouts, Shahdad, Kerman Province, Iran
Abyaneh, Isfahan Province, Iran
Tange Reghaz, Fars Province, Iran
Tehran, Tehran Province, Iran
Alamut Valley, Qazvin Province, Iran
East of Kerman at the margin of Lut Desert in the city of Bam
Lut Desert, Kerman, Kerman Province, Iran
Meshkin Shahr, Ardabil Province, Iran