Food in Iran – A Guide to Traditional Persian Dishes
You all know how much we love to eat, and we will start off by saying that the food in Iran is superb! You’ll have a great time sampling the traditional Iranian food, especially if you are a foodie and non-vegetarian. Strict vegetarians on the other hand, should be a little more attentive to the food in Iran, especially since some veggie-looking Persian dishes might have easily been prepared using meat products.
This is a guide to some of our favourite Persian dishes and traditional Iranian food. We can’t wait to get back to the country just to feast on all the wonderful food in Iran (among other things). We miss it so much!
Let’s give you an idea of what Persian dishes you are likely to encounter during your time in Iran, but keep in mind that the food in Iran may be likely to change a little depending on what region you are in. Traditional Iranian food is often heavy, and mildly spicy, but so very tasty! Stews and rice dishes feature extensively on the menus, whilst different types of kebabs are a staple food in Iran.
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Ghormeh Sabzi – green herb stew
This is one of the most popular Persian dishes, and often contains beans and beef or lamb, a favourite food in Iran. The green colour is from fenugreek leaves as well as other green herbs and vegetables like parsley and coriander.
Ash e Reshteh – noodle bean soup
My favourite soup hands down and a very popular street food in Iran. The green soup with short noodles is served from steaming pots, and flavoured with fried onions, mint oil and kashk (a fermented milk product commonly found in many Persian dishes).
Fesenjan – pomegranate walnut stew
This blackish stew may look peculiar, but might easily become a firm favourite food in Iran! Indeed, we would order it with some excitement whenever we would find it listed in a menu! The thick sauce is made with walnuts and pomegranate syrup in which chicken or lamb (or other meat) is stewed. Although it is a traditional Iranian food, different regions of Iran make slightly different version of Fesenjan.
Tachin – layered rice cake
This large, yellow ‘cake’ made from rice and saffron is stuffed with chicken or lamb and even aubergine sometimes. I was really looking forward to this rice dish, but eventually found that it was far too buttery for my taste, and I could only eat it in small portions. It is rather pretty when served, and one of the very popular Persian dishes!
Zereshk Polo – rice with barberries
This festive looking traditional Iranian food of white, yellow and red rice dish, cooked with plenty of butter and dried barberries (which taste like a more sour version of cranberries) as well as citrus rind, is one of our favourite food in Iran!
Khoresh Bademjan – eggplant and tomato stew
Another staple food in Iran, both in homes and restaurants, this incredibly tasty stew is not hard to find on a menu, and ‘might’ just be vegetarian. Be sure to check properly, since it is not uncommon for meat juices to be used in vegetable dishes.
Kashk e Bademjan
A mixture of aubergine/eggplant, kashk (a fermented milk product) and mint. I would say that this is my favourite food in Iran, and I still dream about it. It is usually served as a starter though I would order portions of it whenever I saw that it was available, at any time of the day, just to get as much of it as possible! Luckily, it is one of the fairly popular Persian dishes so I could pretty much eat my fill!
Dizi (Abgoosht) – mutton stew with chickpeas and potatoes.
mutton stew with chickpeas and potatoes. There’s a special way in which to eat Dizi, a very traditional Iranian food (Dizi is actually the name of the earthenware pot in which it is served). The solid parts of the stew are mashed and served with bread, whilst the resulting soup is served in a different pot. The serving staff at a restaurant will perform the whole ritual for you, although locals are likely to strain their own soup.
Dizi is one of the fattier Persian dishes, and is considered to be a high calorie food, since it was traditionally eaten by labourers for sustenance, although it can now be found at high-end restaurants too.
Kufte – meatballs
A variety of different meatballs are usually stewed in a variety of different dishes, especially in Tabriz where you will find kufte Tabrizi, a traditional Iranian food of the region.
A whipped egg based dish to which different ingredients are added, much like an omelette and pretty tasty!
Kebabs – skewered meat
You will find plenty of different kebabs in Iran, made from either ground, seasoned meat, chicken pieces, chicken marinated in yogurt, lamb, beef or even tender fish. We loved them all! Kebabs are an ubiquitous food in Iran, and usually served with a roasted tomato, pepper, and lemon wedge.
A cold sorbet-like dessert with thin noodles containing rose water and sugar. Very refreshing after a heavy stew!
Finally this dish is the most peculiar food in Iran which we came across. This traditional, sweet dish from Isfahan is usually served as dessert. The neck of lamb is braised and shredded. Yogurt and sugar are simmered inside a separately after which, the shredded meat is slowly added. Brewed saffron and rosewater are then added, to give the khoresht mast its yellow colour and a fruity taste. The dish is served chilled, or in our case, frozen. Yup – lamb in a dessert – we can only tell you that the frozen, yellow sweet was absolutely divine!
The Bread in Iran
We’ve already spoken about the wonderful bread in Iran in our post about what to do in Tehran. Iranians bake several types of flat breads, the more popular ones being Barbari, Sangak, Taftoon and Lavash. Your travels in Iran will likely take you to places where you will get to sample all four types and others!
Our favourite bread of all is the thick Barbari bread topped with sesame seeds although it is mostly Lavash, that is served at every meal.
Breakfast in Iran
Keeping up with the rest of our experience of the country, we also loved our breakfasts in Iran! Typically, breakfast in Iran is quite simple consisting of freshly-baked flatbread, cucumber and tomatoes, jams – sour cherry and carrot are popular (sometimes homemade), soft cheese and some lovely butter.
In some parts of Iran, especially in the desert areas, we were also served sesame seed paste (similar to tahini) and grape molasses to spread on our bread, a combination we fell in love with and tried to recreate (unsuccessfully) at home.
One very particular and weird, yet hearty breakfast food in Iran is Kaleh Pache, a sheep’s head soup. We were quite enthusiastic to try out this traditional Iranian food, but sadly it is only served in the early morning and we never woke up early enough to find any place which was still serving it.
You can read more about Kaleh Pache here.
Tea with sugar is the typical breakfast drink, but coffee is sometimes served too. If you love coffee, as much as I do, you will be relieved to hear that in the larger Iranian cities, you will find some very modern coffee shops serving all kinds of espressos, cappuccinos and lattes.
Balance of Hot and Cold Concepts of the Food in Iran
One of the most interesting concepts about the food in Iran was explained to us by our host in Ghalat whilst we were there on a trek.
Traditional medicine in Iran dictates that that foods can be ‘hot’ or ‘cold’, terms assigned to them depending not on their temperature, but on their nutritional properties. The idea is to maintain a balance between ‘hot’ and ‘cold’ foods at every meal. If the main dish is ‘hot’, the side dishes should be ‘cold’ to create a balance (you get the idea).
Persians believe that ‘hot’ foods increase metabolism and temperature and improve digestion, whilst ‘cold’ foods contribute to the strength of the body. Eating too much of either will contribute to health problems.
We were actually rather surprised to find out how the food in Iran is classified – for example walnuts and lamb are ‘hot’, rice, cheese, eggplant and cucumber are ‘cold’, dates, honey and coconut are ‘hot’ and fish, milk, yogurt and beef are ‘cold’.
Alcohol is forbidden in Iran and bringing alcohol into the country is banned.
Special mention to the wonderful Naan Berenji (rose water and cardamom cookies) in Kermanshah and Kolompeh (stuffed date cookies) in Kerman – if you’re in either city, be sure to try them out! Other popular middle eastern sweets such as Baklava can also be found in almost any part of Iran!
Of course, there are several other very tasty and popular Persian dishes, with different regions being popular for particular dishes and food in Iran. If you’re a foodie, you’re going to absolutely love trying out all the different food in Iran!
Read more about Iran!