The Persian food guide: Eating your way through Iran

The Persian food guide: Eating your way through Iran

Years ago, when I was still a small child and I never even heard of Iran, our family was invited for dinner by an Iranian family. I never forgot that evening. We had such a great time and the food was delicious. Unfortunately, living in the Netherlands, I got very few opportunities to taste home cooked Persian food again. When I booked my trip to Iran I was really looking forward to the food. Persian cuisine in Iran itself was even better than I expected, even tough the best dishes were not always easy to find as a tourist.

My first day in Iran I was honestly a bit disappointed. There were fast food restaurants all over the place serving either kebab or chicken and fries. Not too bad for a quick and cheap lunch, but where were all these delicious Persian stews and delicacies? The secret is that the best restaurants don’t need advertising and are sometimes hidden behind non descriptive doors, in cellars or the back of dark alleys. Iranians know where to go and will be happy to show you where their favourite restaurants are.

Persian food is delicious and can be an essential part of your experience when travelling to Iran. I wrote this food guide to make sure you don’t miss out on what Persian cuisine has to offer.

Persian breakfast

My first morning in Iran I had a hard time finding a place for breakfast. Things in Iran don’t open up early. Luckily breakfast is included in most hotels and otherwise your best bet is to go to a local bakery to buy some fresh bread. The traditional Iranian breakfast is fresh bread, some white cheese and herbs on the side and a cup of tea.

1. Persian bread

That first morning in Tabriz when I was hungry and looking for some breakfast a friendly Iranian helped me out by showing me the nearest local bakery. Iran is still full of traditional bakeries, called noonvah, where every morning bread is served fresh from the oven. The best noonvah are extremely busy and people struggle to get that fresh loaf of bread in their hands. Lines are non-existent, but if you are a foreigner you will likely catch the bakers attention. They might all look like white flatbread loaves to us, but there is a wide variety in types available.

  • Barbari: A long elongated shape of thick and fluffy soft dough with sesame seeds on top. My favourite bread in Iran.
  • Sangak: This rectangular whole wheat bread is still baked the traditional way on river stones.
  • Taftun: Round shaped soft bread made with milk, yoghurt and eggs.
  • Lavash: Thin and flaky breads. delicious when fresh, but it gets stale pretty quickly
  • Nan Tanduri: Bread baked in the tandoor oven, similar to naan in India
  • Shirmal: slightly sweet round breads flavoured with saffron.

2. Kaleh Pacheh

Honestly, I did not try this, but it is one of Iran’s most traditional breakfasts. A soup made out of sheep’s head and hooves. Iranians eat it in the very early morning around 5 am before they go to work. There are special restaurants opening up at this hour of the day serving this delicacy. To get an idea of how popular these restaurants are and how it looks like, you can see this short Youtube movie.

Gilan Rasht Masouleh

Persian lunch & dinner

1. Dizi/ Abgoosht

My favourite lunch dish in Iran was Dizi, also called Abgoosht. It is a stew of lamb meat with chickpeas and potatoes served in an earthenware pot with a stamper, a bowl and bread on the side. First you pour the liquid in the bowl, tear off pieces of the bread and mix it together. because the liquid cools down pretty quickly you eat this first. Make sure you leave some bread for the next step when the stamper comes into view. You mash what is left in the pot, scoop it in the bowl and eat it with the rest of your bread.

They often serve it with a big chunk of fat that gives a great flavour to the stew. I noticed that in some of the restaurants that are more geared towards tourists they leave this out. Traditional tea houses often serve the best abgoosht, but are a men’s affair and not the best place to go to as a solo female traveller. If you are in the bazaar be on the look out for the earthenware pots as a sign they are serving abgoosht. In Tehran the best place to eat abgoosht is Dizi Sara. Prices range between 80,000 in a teahouse to 500,000 rials in a restaurant for tourists.

2. Asht-e Reshteh

Another favourite lunch was Asht-e Reshteh. A noodle soup with fresh herbs and beans. Most bazaars have places where they serve asht for lunch and it is on the menu of some restaurants. The best Asht I had was in Masouleh where most restaurants were serving both asht-e reshteh and some sort of yoghurt soup. Inside the tomb of Hafiz in Shiraz is also a restaurant serving delicious Asht, so it is best to plan your visit to the tomb during lunch time.

3. Ash-e Shuli

This vegetable soup made out of herbs is a speciality of Yazd. Yazdi’s might ask you:”Shuli khordi?”, Did you try shuli ? My advice is that you should. The Orient hotel serves shuli and it is a great soup to eat before your meal. Don’t leave Yazd without trying it.

4. Kebab

You will have no difficulty finding kebab in Iran. There are plenty of restaurants serving kebab in all kind of varieties served with a huge platter of rice and butter. To help you choose your kebab I will describe some of the options available:

  • Chelo kebab: chelo is steamed fluffy saffron flavoured rice served with any of the kebabs below.
  • Kebab koobideh: the most famous kebab in Iran and what they will most likely serve you as a foreigner ordering kebab without specifying what type you want. Koobideh is lamb, beef or chicken mixed with onions placed on a flat stone and mashed with a wooden pallet.
  • Joujeh kebab: barbecued chicken with olive oil, tomatoes and saffron. This was one of my favourites in Iran.
  • Kebab Barg: I was only introduced to Kebab Barg after I came back from Iran, but I wish I knew about this kebab before. It is a thin barbecued meat of beef tenderloins with onions, saffron and olive oil.
  • Kebab Soltani: Kabab Soltani means a king’s meal and is the combination of one kabab barg and one kabab koobideh
  • Kebab Torsh: This speciality from Gilan is beef kebab marinated in a paste made of crushed walnuts and pomegranate juice
  • Mahi Kebab: Barbecued fish
  • Liver kebab: Kebab made from liver (jigar). Absolutely delicious. For the more adventurous foodies, there is also kebab made of beef heart (del), kidneys (gholve), and pure fat. The kebab stores under the Amir Chakmakh complex in Yazd serve it all.

5. Rice: Tahdig, Tahcheen & Zereshk pollo

In Iran you will eat a lot of rice. Luckily Iranians have perfected the art of making it. Rice is often flavoured with saffron and served with some butter. Iranians love it when the bottom is crispy. It is called Tahdiq and considered to be the best part of the rice. Some even make potato Tahdiq by adding a layer of sliced potatoes at the bottom of the pan.

Iran’s best rice dish is Tahcheen. Rice is mixed with yoghurt, eggs, saffron and chicken and then baked in the oven. The best Tahcheen can be found in Moslem restaurant in Tehran’s bazaar. The Tahjeen in Moslem restaurant is served with zereshk pollo. Rice with barberries on top. They give off a slightly sour taste and many Iranians love them.

6. Fesendjoon

Fesendjoon is my number one favourite food of Iran. Unfortunately it is hard to find on a restaurant menu. It’s a complicated stew of walnuts, chicken and pomegranate syrup made for special occasions at home. After several failed attempts I finally mastered the art of making fesendjoon myself, but it comes nowhere near the fesendjoon I ate in Iran. My advice is that if you are lucky to find it on the menu, you should order it. It doesn’t look very good, but it is absolutely delicious. The best fesendjoon I had was at Ehsan house in Kashan and the Orient Hostel in Yazd.

IMG_5009

7. Gormeh Sabzi

Gormeh Sabzi is another Iranian dish that does not look like it is any good, but is a delicious hearty stew of herbs, beans and lamb meat. I really love it, but it has a quite specific taste and I can imagine that not everyone appreciates it. I was lucky to try a home cooked version when I was invited by an Iranian family in Gazor Khan.

IMG_4545

8. Geymeh & Geymeh Nasser

Geymeh is a yellow split pea stew served with rice and fries. The best Geymeh I had in the bazaar in Esfahan. Qazvin has its own variety of Geymeh called Geymeh Nasser. This will be a highlight of your stay in Qazvin. The stew is enriched with cinnamon and orange peel slices, while the rice is topped with barberries, almonds and pistachios.

9. Khorest e Bademjan

Eggplants are widely available in Iran. Khorest e Bademjan is a stew with eggplants, beef and herbs. I am not a big fan of eggplants, but this stew surprised me. It is tasty and filling.

IMG_4873

10. Beryani

If I hear Beryani I think about Indian rice, but Esfahan’s Beryani has nothing to do with this. Instead it is a dish made of minced sheep’s lungs and intestines. They serve the meat in a rolled bread with some fresh herbs. The bread and herbs were delicious, but the meat patty was greasy and had an interesting taste. It is very popular among Iranians and they will love it when a foreigner is trying it out.

11. Kalam Pollo

This rice dish is a speciality of Shiraz. It is rice with cabbage, herbs and meatballs. This dish is quite tasty due to the herbs. They serve it once a week in the Niayesh boutique hotel and I was happy I took the chance to try it.

IMG_5918

12. Shirazi salad

Another speciality from Shiraz is the Shirazi salad. It is really simple, but sometimes the simple things are the best. It’s a salad of cucumber, tomato, onion, mint and lime juice. I now make it often as a side salad at home.

13. Kuku Sabzi

Iranians love their fresh herbs and they can even make a regular omelette into a delicacy. Honestly, before I would not have ordered an omelette in Iran. I was lucky that I got the home-made version at the Koorasan hotel in Gazor Khan. That way I learned that kuku sabzi is not just an omelette, but a delicious mix of herbs and eggs in a fluffy pancake

Persian Drinks

1. Tea

Persians love their tea and a cup of tea is never far away. Tea is often served with nabaat (sugar crystals on a stick) and ghand (sugar cubes). The iranians don’t mix the sugar cubes through their tea tough. They put it in their mouth between their teeth while taking sips from their tea.

Iran Kurdistan Sanandaj Palangan

2. Doogh

Doogh is a refreshing yoghurt drink similar to ayran in Turkey. The iranian version often has mint in it too and it is very popular throughout Iran.

3. Pomegranate juice

I loved the availability of fresh juice stands in most cities in Iran. Fresh orange juice and carrot juice are very popular, but my favourite was ab anar (pomegranate juice).

Persian Sweets

Persians have a sweet tooth and love their candies and cookies. If you have a sweet tooth too you will feel like you are in paradise.

1. Yazdi sweets

Yazd in particular is famous for its sweets and near the Amir Chakmakh mosque you will see several stores selling a variety of sweet things for you. Haj Khalifeh Rahbar is one of the best. It is a tradition in Iran that whomever goes to Yazd brings back home candies for everyone to enjoy. There are several sweets that Yazd is famous for

  • Ghotab: deep fried almond filled pastries
  • Haaji Baadam: almond cookies made with nutmeg and chickpea flour
  • Bakhlava: The Yazd version of baklava using rose water syrup.
  • Pashmak: Iranian cotton candy
  • Loze nargil: coconut sweets with rose water
  • Cake Yazdi: Iranian cupcakes

2. Gaz

Gaz is a nougat like sweet with pistachio’s or almonds. It was one of my favourite sweets in Iran. When I was in Nain I was invited inside a local gaz factory so I could see how it was made. The gaz I ended up buying here was absolutely delicious.

3. Klucheh Fuman

Klucheh Fuman were another highlight in Iran. These walnut paste filled cookies are only available in Fuman. A small town where most people have to transit on their way to Masouleh. Don’t rush to get to your next bus or taxi, but stop here and find a bakery. Every bakery in town sells the round cookies. They taste best when still warm from the oven.

4. nan berenji

Nan berenji are delicious rice flour cookies. Originally they come from Kermanshah and this is also where I tasted them. Every pastry shop in Kermanshah sells them.

IMG_4129

5. Saffron ice cream

Soft icecream, but flavoured with saffron. Iran has a way of turning ordinary things into heavenly delicacies. I had saffron ice cream in Esfahan and Yazd, but couldn’t find it easily in other cities.

6. Faludeh

Shiraz is famous for it’s icecream and faludeh. Especially faludeh is very popular among Shirazi’s. The noodles with sugar, rose water and lime juice are served semi frozen and make a perfect dessert after your lunch or dinner.

There are 12 comments for this article
  1. Melanie Trethowan at 2:39 am

    Fascinating! You can learn so much about a country through its food. I am not a foodie at all but I do enjoy trying new things. Having said that I think I will pass on the sheep’s head and lungs! That is just too much culture shock for me! 😉 Thanks for sharing. Mel

  2. Monica at 3:34 pm

    Mouthwatering. Your post and pictures can make anyone hungry. I have not known half of the dishes like Doogh, Gaz, Gourmet Sabzi. Its amazing how travel can enrich your knowledge and taste buds. Learning this in books will be boring and can never make you remember them. I loved the biryani and Kebabs. Delicious post

  3. Kristine Li at 3:45 pm

    Wow, this post is very comprehensive! You covered so many kinds of food in Iran and they all are very exotic and interesting to learn about! I must admit that I wouldn’t be able to bring myself to eat the dish made with sheep head, unless I was completely unaware what it was made of.

  4. Alina from Reverie Chaser at 6:34 pm

    What a detailed post! That childhood dinner must have really made an impression! Did you use a book or some source to find information about all of these dishes or did you have someone who could explain this all to you? I had never imagined kebab can have so many variations, and honestly, I have never hear of the rest, but pomegranate and walnut stew sounds like something I would like to try! I will be on a lookout for Iranian restaurants elsewhere, while I don’t yet have the chance to visit Iran!
    Alina from Reverie Chaser recently posted…DELFI: All Articles 2017My Profile

  5. kathy at 12:25 pm

    I am really keen to visit Iran and want to make it there this year. I have heard such amazing things about it. I think I might struggle a little with the food as I am vegetarian but there are a few items that you mention which I can try such as the Ash-e Shuli and the rice dishes (minus the meat).
    Sometimes I feel like I am missing out on some wonderful mouth watering foods being vegetarian which is a shame but then again I can always have the tea and sweet treats 🙂

    • ellisveen Author at 10:12 am

      Being a vegetarian in Iran is not easy indeed, but yes, you can try asht-e Shuli,altough you will find it only in Yazd. Elsewhere you have asht-e reshteh. A delicious soup with beans and herbs and it is vegetarian !!. And then they make delicious stews of eggplants. most of them are without meat, but i am sure that if you ask they can guarantee you they make it without. Ask for Khorest-E-bademjan. i don’t eat meat in farsi = man gusht nemikhoram.

    • ellisveen Author at 10:03 am

      The food is amazing. I am not vegetarian so I havent really looked, but I think it could be done. Honestly, it will be tough, but Asht-e Reshteh is vegetarian. kuku sabzi is a vegetarian omelette and they have several different versions of delicious eggplant stew.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge