I’ve heard lots of praise about Persian cuisine – its kebabs, rice dishes, spices, juices. It always seemed really varied and the reports of those who had a chance to visit a Persian restaurant seemed to support that.
You cannot imagine how surprised I was when suddenly Iran became a popular tourist destination with all my travelling friends and they would return claiming that Persian cuisine is boring and on the last day of staying there you are simply fed up with kebabs.
With the opinions so extreme, I was really looking forward to my trip to Iran wandering what culinary experience was awaiting and what my personal opinion would be.
So what you find here is a culinary report of a tourist and her 9 day experience of Persian cuisine!
Breakfasts served at hotels might be better or worse and I experienced both. When you’re lucky you get a choice, when the breakfast is poor you just get bread, egg, jam and butter packed in little small packets. And tea, you always get tea.
Niayesh Hotel in Shiraz (picture below) was a good example of breakfast which was alright – there was a choice (even dates which for me a perfect energy buster for breakfast) and the surrounding where pleasant.
We received a very simple breakfast at Soroosh Guesthouse in Yazd, but there I could sit on my favourite day beds and when I could relax leaning on the cushions food was not so much important as long I could fill up my stomach.
Obiady i kolacje
Everybody, really everybody claimed that by the end of the trip I would be sick of kebabs. Well, come on! I only spent nine days in Iran and in those nine days I only managed to eat three kebabs because I wanted to try other stuff as well. You cannot be fed up with kebabs after eating three delicious lamb kebabs, that simply not possible. I could easily stay longer and eat a few more!
Kebabs were usually served with rice which you can’t see in my photos because I hate rice served as a side dish (well, the official version given in restaurants is that I’m allergic to rice). Fortunately, there’s always bread and that’s how I survive. Iranian break was really tasty, sometimes it was really thin and other times more thicker and spongy but it was perfect for everything.
I tried asking for French fries and while once I got perfect ones, the other times I got strangly cut potatoes (into a very thin sticks) that tasted more like chips than French fries. Kebabs were always served with broiled tomatoes which were perfect, sometimes cabbage, onions or cucumbers would accompany the dish as well. Yoghurt mixed with spices was a fine addition as well. Bear would be perfect for this kind of dish, but unfortunately, there’s not chance of drinking alcohol in Iran in a legal way so I simply had to order pepsi. Once I went for non-alcoholic beer as I had never drink it in my life before. That was a very bad decision – never again.
I’m a big fan of soups so whenever I go I try new flavours, Iran was not different then. People are usually bored with soups as they either eat no more than three popular types or claim that you cannot fill you stomach with soup. Well, it all depends on what kind of soup you eat!
Ash-e-reshte was a very thick soup with noodles, legumes and lots of spices (reshteh in Farsi means noodles). Delicious and hearty – with onion. I tasted it in a traditional teahouse at Abbasi Hotel in Esfahan.
Walking through bazaars I saw many huge bags and bowls with spices – some of them looked and smelled familiar, in other cases I had no idea what they were or what they were used for. Asking questions not always helped because sellers sometimes where not able to explain because of their lack of English (and my lack of Persian) and sometimes even if they spokes some English it was too difficult to find translations.
It was impossible to miss many bags filled with ‘greens’ and I guess this different ‘green stuff’ was added to many things. Once we got green delicious soup a bit similar in flaver to sorrel soup, but it was not quite like sorrel soup. What was it? I’m not quite sure, but it was yummy.
I also ate tasty and filling soup at Zaratustrian Fire Festival (Jashn-e Sadeh Festival) which took place near the city of Yazd on 30 January (it takes place 50 days before Nowruz – Iranian New Year). They called it “āsh” so it’s like soup but thicker. I don’t remember what it was but google tries to help saying it might have been ash-e khairat made of lamb, legumes and barley.
The only soup I’d heard before my visit to Iran was dizi. Unfortunately, I only remember the name and I forgot about the complicated instructions how to it it. There was nobody next to me to help and explain when I ordered it, so I ate my own way, withouth drinking the broth first, crushing the bread, mixing and so on. Well, when I get back to Iran one day, I’ll make sure to order it again and then I’ll eat it the way it should be eaten.
This vegetable needs its own separate paragraph here! Vegetarians often say that it was their staple food when in Iran, for meat-eaters (like me) it’s a lovely addition to Persian cuisine – all the aubergine dishes are simply delicious!
Fesenjan is a stew flavoured with pmergranate juice, ground walnuts and onion served with mean (often chicken, like in the dish in the photo). Depending on what you add and in what proportions it might be more sweety or sour. The one I was served at a restaurant of Saraye Ameriha Boutique Hotel was somewhere in between and it was perfect. One of the most interesting dishes I’ve eaten in the recent years.
Ghormeh sabzi is a herb stew as ‘ghormeh’ means herbs. You’re likely to have here parsley, leek, green onions, cilantro and dried fenugreek. The mixture is cooked with meat and beans – it tastes much, much better than it looks like.
Kufteh Tabrizi are meatballs made of (usually) beef and rice with spices, eggs, onion, legumes, tomato sauce and pomergranate. I don’t really like rice, but here, when it was not a separate dish it was a very good.
Shirazi salad - or salad typical for the city of Shiraz consisted of finely chopped cucumber, tomato and onion – simple but delicious. Perfect addition to kebab,although not so good as broiled tomatoes.
Zereshk Polo – rice with saffron water and dried barberries. At first, when I sawa it I thought that the dark red pieces might be some kind of pomergranate, but they were barberries. Rice is not my thing but barberries have wonderfully sour taste – a perfect addiotion not just to rice.
Kashk. Have you ever eaten yoghurt in cubes? You haven’t? Well, try when in Iran! It’s made of drained yoghurt or sour milk, popular not only in Iran but also for example in Turkey or Central Asia. It looked strange packed in big bags in many baazar shops, but the flavour suprised me when I tried it.
It is used in many dishes, can be also dissolved in water and drunk as yoghurt, or simply eaten as it is.
Gol-gav-zaban & Somboletib with nabat. Sometimes people say that knowing a language helps you while travelling. Sometimes, however, knowing English is not enough. Well, what would you think reading this on the menu? I checked that gol-gav-zaban is borage, but still, it didn’t tell me much. I new that nabat is Iranian sugar,but what somboletib is I still don’t know.
However, I wish I had bought these dried purple-bluish flowers sold at many places because they are perfect when served as tea!
Pistachios have never been my nuts of choice, and I wouldn’t have paid much attention to them at Iranian baazars, but I was invited to try and when I tasted them the taste surprised me. Covered in all kind of stuff tasted spicy or sour. Flavouring the nuts always seemed like a strange idea to me, but here it really worked!
My only regret now is that I didn’t fill all the empty spaces in my suitcase with those local pistachios. Don’t make the same mistake I did when Iran – buy more!
When you go to an Iranian place for dinner you might need to sit on day bed or there might be regular tables – Personally, I always preferred day beds layerd with carpets and with comfortable cushions to lean on – it seemed so different and so relaxing for me!
Many restaurants could be find at hotels – there were in redecorated former houses of rich people – the goverment supports financially this kind of renovations and the results are often stunning. Ruins are turned into beautiful places.
I had one problem with restaurants…. they were sometimes hard to find! While fastfood was easily seen in the streets, better places where ‘hidden’ or at least they seemed hidden with names only in Persian – if was hadn’t been told, I wouldn’t have guessed what was inside!
Menus at many places were often available in English (not always), but even with English version I was often at a loss and I needed a waiter’s help in explaining.
If you are planning a trip to Iran or you simply want to visit a Persian restaurant, I suggest watching Athony Bourdain and his “Parts Unknown”, season six, episode six about his culinary adventures in Iran – see the trailer below!
In the trailer Bourdain says that the best Iranian food can be found at Iranian homes. It might be true, I had not chance to find out about it. However, if find it a huge and unjust exagerration that this is a country of kebabs and nothing more. If you like tasting new food, there is enoug to keep you occupied for a long time.