Food in Iran
Meal hours in Iran differ significantly from those in Europe and the United States. Lunch is usually served between 12 and 3 p.m., while supper is usually served around 8 p.m. In Iran, these and other social gatherings are often lengthy, drawn-out events with a leisurely pace, including pastries, fruit, and perhaps nuts. Because refusing what is given is considered impolite, guests should accept the things supplied, even if they do not plan to eat them.
Alcohol imports and use are severely prohibited in the vast part of Iran, but are permitted in a few remote and poorly controlled regions. The consequences are serious. Religious minority, on the other hand, are permitted to make and consume limited amounts of alcohol, but not to sell, export, or import it. Pig and pork products are prohibited, and their import, like alcohol, is banned; nevertheless, in reality, businesses servicing the Christian community are permitted to sell pork without incident.
Travelers will be pleased to learn that Iranian food is excellent. A broad range of influences from Central Asia, the Caucasus, Russia, Europe, and the Middle East have resulted in a variety of reasonably healthful meals that emphasize fresh vegetables and fragrant herbs. The bad news is that Iranians prefer to dine at home rather than at restaurants, thus good restaurants are hard to come by and provide a limited menu of foods (mainly kebabs). An invitation to dine at an Iranian house will undoubtedly be a highlight of your visit. It is traditional for Iranians to bring a little gift while visiting an Iranian home for the first time or on a significant occasion. Popular gifts include flowers, chocolates, and pastries.
Iranian cuisine is similar to that of surrounding Middle Eastern and South Asian nations, yet it is unique in significant aspects.
Iranian cuisine is based on fragrant rice (, berenj). It is often colored with saffron or flavored with a variety of spices after being boiled and then steamed. It is known as chelo () when served simply as an accompaniment. Kebab variants (chelo kabb, ) and rotisserie chicken (chelo morgh, ) are the two most popular meat / chelo combos. Polo, or flavored rice, is often served as a main meal or as a side dish to meat dishes. Shirin polo with orange zest, young cherries, and honey glazed carrots, bghli polo with broad beans and herbs, and sabzi polo with parsley, dill, and mint are just a few examples.
On Iranian restaurant menus, the rice and kebab dish chelo kabb () and its half-dozen variants are the most frequent (and sometimes the only) dishes. A grilled skewer of meat is served with a variety of sauces atop a bed of fluffy rice. Butter, grilled tomatoes, and a sour spice called somgh may be added to your rice, and some places will also offer a raw egg yolk. Between mouthfuls, a raw onion and fresh basil are used to cleanse your palette. The meats with which kabb meals are prepared provide variety. You’ll often come across:
- Kabāb koobideh (كباب كوبيده) – is a kebab made with minced beef, chopped onion, and spice.
- Kabāb barg (كباب برگ) – Pieces of lamb marinated with lemon juice and chopped onion are known as kabba barg.
- Joojeh kabāb (جوجه كباب) – A skewer of chicken parts marinated in lemon juice and saffron is known as joojeh kabb.
- Kabāb bakhtiāri (كباب بختیارِی) – a skewer of alternating chicken and lamb chunks that is excellent for the picky eater.
People often eat rice with a thick stew (khoresht) including a little quantity of meat at home. There are hundreds of khoresht variants, such as the sweet and sour fessenjn created from crushed walnuts and pomegranate syrup; the most famous ghormeh-sabzi is based on fresh herbs, dried limes, and kidney beans; and gheimehflavoured with split-peas and often topped with French fries.
Hearty Iranian soups may be a meal in and of itself. The most popular dish is the vegetarian sh reshteh, which is prepared with herbs, chickpeas, and thick noodles and topped with kashk (which looks like yoghurt but is not) and fried onions.
Flat bread (nn, ) is another staple of Iranian cuisine. It is served with herbs, feta cheese, and a variety of jams for breakfast or as a complement to meals. Sangak is a dimpled variation that is baked in a pebbled oven, while lavsh () is a thin and tasteless staple.
In Tehran and other large cities, there are many excellent foreign restaurants that provide Chinese, Japanese, Italian, and French cuisine, as well as vegetarian options.
Fast food and snacks
The majority of food outlets in Iran are either kabbis or fast food restaurants offering conventional cuisine such as burgers, sandwiches, felafels, or pizza (). At noon, a burger and a soft drink at a snack store would set you back about IR 40,000, while pizzas start at IR 50,000.
Traditional snacks and small dinners are also available at many teahouses. The most popular is bgusht (), a hot pot composed of lamb, chickpeas, and dried limes that is also known as dizi, the name of the dish in which it is served. You will be handed a bowl (the dizi) holding the bgusht as well as a second, smaller dish. Drain the liquid into the smaller dish and serve with the bread supplied as a soup. Then, using the pestle supplied, pound the remaining meat and veggies into a paste and serve with more bread, raw onion slices, and wads of fresh herbs.
Sweets and desserts
The country’s love with sweets and pastries, known collectively as shirini, explains the country’s never-ending need for dentists.
Iranian baghlava is firmer and more crystalline than Turkish baghlava, while the pistachio noughat known as gaz is an Isfahan specialty. Sohan is a rich pistachio brittle famous in Qom, and freshly made pastries are often taken as housewarming presents. Lavshak fruit leathers are excellent dried plum fruit leathers.
Honey-saffron and pistachio are only two native ice cream flavors, whereas floodeh is a delightfully refreshing sorbet prepared from rosewater and vermicelli noodles produced from starch, topped with lemon juice.
Vegetarians will have a particularly tough time in Iran, given that the majority of visitors are forced to consume kebabs for the majority of their stay. Most snack shops offer falafels and garden salads (sld-e-fassl) and greengrocers are plentiful. Most sh variants are meatless and hearty, as are most kookoo, an Iranian spin on the frittata. In addition, some restaurants provide Spaghetti with Soya (Soy). Pizzas such as Vegetarian Pizza (Pitz Sabzijt, ) or Cheese Pizza (Pitz Panir) or Mushroom Pizza (Pitz Ghrch, ) are available nearly everywhere, while Margherita Pizza is available in certain places. The words man giaah-khaar hastam (I am a vegetarian) and bedoon-e goosht (no meat) will be useful.
Most food in Iran is halal (all, halaal) and will comply with Islamic dietary rules as stated in the Qur’an, with the exception of certain stores in areas with significant Christian populations. Those wanting a strictly kosher diet, on the other hand, may need to focus their efforts in areas with a larger Jewish population. If you’re in Tehran, seek for older neighborhoods in the city’s south, such as Udlajan or the Yusef Abad neighborhood.
Drinks in Iran
Iran’s national drink is black tea (chi, ). It is served hot and with crystallised or cubed sugar (ghand, ) held elegantly between the teeth as the tea is drunk. You may request milk in your tea, but anticipate odd stares or a long wait in return. Tea houses (chi khneh, ) are a popular local hangout for males (and, less often, families) to sip tea and puff on a water pipe.
Coffee (ghahveh, ) is less popular than tea. When Turkish coffee, French coffee, or espresso is available, it is offered. Imported instant coffee (nescffe,) and instant Cappuccino are also available. Coffee shops (called “coffeeshop” in Persian, as opposed to “ghaveh-khane” (literally, coffee house), which refers to tea houses) are more common in wealthy and youthful neighborhoods.
Fruit juices (b miveh, ) are sold by stores and street sellers. Cherry cordial (sharbat lbloo) and banana milkshakes (shir moz, ) are also offered.
There is a broad variety of soft drinks available. International brands like Coca-Cola and Pepsi, as well as their brand names like 7up, Sprite, and Fanta, have sold alongside indigenous brands like Zam Zam Cola (, Zam Zam Kola). The local cola tastes similar to “Coca-Cola Original” or “Pepsi Original.” Coca-Cola and PepsiCo’s concentrates reached Iran via Irish companies, avoiding US trade embargoes. ZamZam, ironically, was founded in 1954 as a subsidiary of the Pepsi Cola business. As an intriguing result of the Iranian cola wars, genuine coke was generally sold in plastic bottles, while non-genuine coke was distributed in the real thing bottles that the then syrup-less bottler was stuck with at the time, using a substitute syrup devised to overcome earlier Clinton era US imposed embargoes.
Doogh is a sour drink consisting of yoghurt, salt, and water (occasionally gaseous) that may be flavored with mint or other herbs. It takes some getting used to, but it will rapidly rehydrate you in the heat of Iran’s summer. It’s the same thing as Turkish Ayran. It can be bought nearly everywhere and is often eaten in the afternoon with kababs. It is available in two flavors: fizzy (gaz-daar) and non-fizzy (bigaz).
Only Muslims are permitted to consume alcohol, and those who do so may face penalty if caught. As a result, it is uncommon to locate establishments in Iran that openly offer alcohol. Non-Muslims, on the other hand, are permitted to manufacture alcohol for personal use. Drinking is, nevertheless, popular among certain individuals, particularly during celebrations and weddings, and is legally permitted for usage in the tiny Christian and Jewish communities, although exclusively for religious reasons (e.g., wine for holy communion). Non-Muslims have no legal drinking/purchasing age. Non-Muslims are permitted to import alcoholic drinks into Iran by the Iranian government.