Guest post by Ellie Cleary of Soul Travel Blog
Think about travel in Iran, and your mind might jump to the country’s beautiful mosques, Silk Road Caravanserais and desert scenes.
Compared to its architectural wonders, the food in Iran barely gets a look in.
But that doesn’t mean that food and gastronomy are not a huge part of Iranian culture.
Chances are, while traveling in Iran you may well be overwhelmed with the charm and welcoming nature of Iranian people — who, contrary to what the news might have us believe, are widely acclaimed as some of the friendliest people in the world.
Iran is also a safe country to visit, so don’t remove it from your bucket list just because the media has told you otherwise.
You’ll experience this if you get the chance to visit an Iranian home, which will also reveal the importance of food in Iranian culture and family life.
So, what food in Iran shouldn’t be missed?
Without further ado, here are some culinary highlights to look out for when traveling around the beautiful country of Iran.
Nooshe jan! (Bon appétit!)
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The Best Food In Iran
Iran is not an Arab country, but rather it’s where the Middle East meets Asia.
This is reflected in the cuisine you’ll savor as you explore Iran. Meat kebabs, rice, and stews are staples of the diet, saffron abounds, chai stalls populate street corners — though plenty of street-side falafel vendors can be found, too.
Just make sure you save space for the delicious Iranian deserts and sweets!
Kebabs. Meat Kebabs are a staple of the Iranian diet, and are almost always served with rice, a grilled tomato and a chunk of raw onion — something of a staple in its own right in Iran!
The most popular meats are lamb / mutton and chicken, with duck sometimes being served, too.
Note you won’t find pork on menus in Iran. This is because Iran is a muslim country, and eating pork goes against Muslim beliefs.
Koobideh is one of the most common forms of kebab, made up of ground mea. On the other hand, Juje Kebabs feature chunks of grilled chicken, while Bakhtyari is grilled filet of barbecued lamb or veal.
Flatbreads. The Iranians love their breads, and while some types are far more familiar to the western eye — baguettes can often be found — the Lavash and Sangak look far more interesting.
Both are flatbreads, presented in sheets in either rectangular or oval shape. This Iranian bread looks slightly akin to bubble-wrap, with raised dots of air in them.
Rest assured, they taste much better!
Barbery Rice. Normally an unexciting dish, the Iranians have managed to transform the ordinary into something memorable with barbary rice.
Served with pomegranate seeds and butter, this rice is traditionally served at weddings, but also makes its way onto many Iranian restaurant menus, served with kebabs. Enjoy!
Khoresh. Another staple of Persian cuisine is Khoresh, or stew. Almost always meat-based, stews often include prunes, spinach, potatoes, chickpeas, kidney beans and even dried limes.
My favorite was Khoresh e alu-esfenaj, made from spinach, kidney beans and prunes supposedly without the meat. See more on vegetarian food in Iran below!
The Spices. Just like its Middle Eastern and Asian neighbors, spices are an integral part of Iranian cooking, and a visit to any bazaar in Iran will support this.
Perhaps the most quintessential Iranian spice of all — saffron — is also its finest. From ice cream to Iranian sweets, to rice you’ll find saffron abounds, and I couldn’t get enough of it!
Must-Try Drinks In Iran
When you’re thirsty, there are a few Iranian drinks you’ll want to sip to quench your thirst, including:
Persian Chai. To enter an Iranian tea house is arguably to see Iranian society at its best.
Tea houses are often beautifully decorated. They’re also a natural meeting point for everyone in a country where alcohol is not allowed.
Tea is traditionally served black, with (lots of) sugar and spices like cardamom, cinnamon and rose water.
Iranian tea houses often also have musicians playing in the background, and have shisha (Ghaliyan, which means water pipe) on offer — although in some places such as Isfahan, the Ghaliyan is being clamped down on by the authorities.
Doogh. Say what?
Or as I think it’s pronounced… “duur”.
Iranians please feel free to correct this!
This Iranian drink is simply fresh buttermilk, often served with mint that I found to be just perfect for cooling me down from the scorching heat of Iranian summer. More Doogh please!
Must-Try Iranian Desserts
Craving some Iranian sweets? Here a few that will satisfying your sweet tooth while bringing you deeper into Iranian culture.
Faloudeh. Perhaps one of the most famous sweet treats of Iran, Faloudeh is a speciality from the beautiful and literary city of Shiraz.
Rice noodles are served in a semi-frozen syrup with rose water and more than a few spoons of sugar.
Lime is added to lessen the sweetness as needed. Yum!
Halva. Iranian Halva is slowly toasted with sugar, rosewater and saffron, giving it a unique flavor compared to other Halva found across the Middle East and even in India.
Halva is traditionally served during religious holidays at funerals, but it’s delicious texture and taste is bound to have you calling for more at any time!
Saffron Ice Cream. Last but not least, for those on the go or in a hurry, pick up a saffron ice cream for a cooling sweet with a truly local touch.
Food In Iran For Vegetarians
Ah, my fellow vegetarians, I wish I had better news for you about food in Iran.
Unfortunately for us, the diet is heavily meat-focused.
During my two weeks of traveling as a vegetarian I had to be flexible.
Most restaurants — especially outside of major cities — are not used to catering to the meat-free, but will usually come up with an option or two.
The number one vegetarian option is aubergine (eggplant).
The second option:
After a few days, you may start to crave more variety!
Some stews can also be served without the meat — although I found myself fishing out chunks of meat that had been “missed” on more than one occasion.
Falafel stands are a great go-to option in the evenings for a tasty snack, and as a worse-case scenario you may need to stick to rice and salads for some meals.
In big cities like the capital of Tehran, finding a vegetarian meal or even cafe is not a problem.
How To Eat Persian Food
Persian food is usually served “family style” with dishes placed at the center of the table. It’s usual for most guests to share and try a bit of everything.
Where bread is provided, it’s picked up with the right hand and used as a vessel for picking up meat or vegetables.
Spoons and forks are usually also provided and commonly used to eat rice, stews and other liquid dishes.
Do avoid eating with your left hand! In Persian culture, the left hand is regarded as the “bathroom” hand.
Persian Recipes On YouTube
If you’re wanting to try to make a few of the above Iranian dishes yourself, there are some helpful Persian food recipes on YouTube.
A few to get you started:
How To Travel To Iran
After visiting for myself, I genuinely feel Iran is a beautiful, safe and welcoming country. It’s also one of the most fascinating places for exploring Islamic culture.
Do you want to travel to Iran?
For most nationalities a trip is relatively simple to arrange, but for Americans, British and Canadian citizens there is some red tape and conditions you need to meet to be able to go.
You can read all about how to travel to Iran for Americans, British and Canadian Citizens here.
What food in Iran would you add to this list?
Bonus Iran Resources:
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