If you have never tried Iranian food you are in for a treat!
It’s a very flavorful cuisine without being spicy or overwhelming – quite ideal for our fairly bland Western palates.
M&V made a point of eating as many different dishes as we could decently get away with in our 23 days in the country. We only came across 2-3 dishes that didn’t win us over – a pretty good ratio!
Eating in Iran in general means rice (except for breakfast). All the rice.
Also, many different types of usually fresh bread and yogurt. I can count on one hand the meals we had that didn’t include rice, bread or yogurt… and those were fast food.
So here’s a little taster of the good, the bad and the ugly of Iranian food:
(Just some of) THE GOOD
You can divide Persian food into wet and dry dishes, i.e. roast meats and stews. Fesenjoon is my personal favourite of the stews despite its muddy, almost black colour. Fesenjoon is made with pomegranate syrup and walnuts, and everyone has their own recipe. It’s a great balance of the two most prominent flavours in Persian cooking, sour and sweet. Recipes here.
Another stew, this translates into green/herb (Sabzi) stew. (Not to be confused with Gorbe, cat. Do not order a green cat for lunch). As the name suggests this stew is made with lots of herbs and preserved limes – delicious even in the middle of nowhere at a bus station. Recipes here.
This has nothing in common with the dirty greasy kebabs you’ll get in the UK after a night of drinking. Instead the term kebab here refers to skewered meats such as chicken (jujeh), beef or lamb (bargh or bargh file) or delicious but quite rich minced meat (koobideh) grilled on open flames, paired with grilled tomatoes and sweet peppers. My favourite is the Torshi Kebab which is similar in flavours to Fesenjoon. Koobideh recipe here.
Definitely the prettiest dish we had in Iran, a Tahchin is essentially a rice cake with a savoury filling.
Iranians leave the rice in their rice cookers until the rice on the bottom gets baked into a golden crust called tadiq which is served alongside the soft rice as a special crunchy morsel. Tahchin takes tadiq to a whole new level, so that not just the bottom of the rice cooker is crispy but the whole surface area, creating a little golden cake. In the heart of that cake is added whatever savory dish you’d like and voila, Tahchin.
Ash is one of the most common dishes in Iran. It’s a filling soup that comes in many different varieties. I personally wasn’t ecstatic about it but perhaps I didn’t have a good version. It’s incredibly popular both with the locals and other travelers and easy. Ash recipes here.
Any fast food in Iran
Now you may think I’m joking, because how can you make burgers, fried chicken and pizza badly? You can. Even in the UK you can.
A lot of research has gone into this from our side and we can conclude that no enjoyable fast food noms were to be had in the Islamic Republic.
The lack of American brands means there is also a lack of experience when it comes to making American staples. Iran can copy the styling etc., like in the below carbon-copy of a Five Guys in Tehran, but the food invariably is a pale comparison.
Or it’s an over-the-top monstrosity like this “pizza” which is layered with 7 types of bird meat and still haunts us now. Friendships were renounced because someone recommended we eat this.
Iran, just stick with your own amazing dishes, they’re so much more delicious!
Special mention: the worryingly high amount of sugar Iranians consume! No wonder diabetes and related diseases are so common.
And finally, THE UGLY
Fancy a boiled sheep head for breakfast?
No? Neither did we. The less said about this the better.