Food and drink play a great part in celebrating special events or honoring guests in Iran and it has to be recognized that the food that is eaten today has evolved over three millennia and has been influenced by environment and culture.
To really experience and enjoy the best of Iranian cooking you need to get invited to an Iranian home. And frankly when visiting Iran the chances of this are high so when the invitation comes just say “yes”.
A guest in an Iranian home is looked upon as a gift of God and you will experience humbling hospitality and fantastic food. This will be one vacation memory that you will never forget.
You will discover that just about all Iranian meals are accompanied with nun (bread) and berenj (rice).
Nun is actually very cheap and there are four main types:
Lavash – flat and thin and usually served with breakfast
Barbari – crisp and salty and often covered with sesame seeds
Sangak – long, thin and baked on a bed of stones this is the elite of Iranian breads
Taftun – crisp with a ribbed surface
The base of many Iranian meals is chelo (steamed or boiled rice) and is served in vast helpings especially at lunchtime.
Polo is a rice worth asking for and is cooked with other ingredients such as spices, nuts or barberry (small red berries).
Let’s look at an Iranian meal
A standard starter for an Iranian meal is a basic green salad with a pink dressing and ash-e-jo (pearl barley soup).
If you find yourself in a restaurant with a long menu you will probably find that 90 percent of the main dish options are kababs served either on bread or a mound of rice with some grilled tomatoes.
On the whole kababs are healthy, tasty and cooked shish-style over hot coals.
If after a couple of weeks you should get a tad tired of kababs then whether it is on the menu or not it is worth asking for the common stand by zereshk polo ba morgh (chicken on rice with barberries), ghorme sabzi (a green mix of diced meat, vegetables, beans served with rice), or various dishes made from bademjan (eggplant).
Dessert in Iran is usually a bowl of fruit but Iran also produces a wonderful array of freshly made shirini (sweets).
Socializing in Iran will inevitably involve chay (tea). Probably no matter where you find yourself albeit in the carpet shop or an office you will be offered tea.
Tea in Iran is served black and offered with a bowl of gland (sugar chunks). It is the custom to dip the sugar into the tea and place it between the front teeth or on the tongue before sucking the tea through it.
Traditional Iranian ghave (coffee) is served sweet, strong and black. Nowadays though there is a new urban fashion for coffee houses that serve a variety of brews that are made on espresso style machines.
Whilst in Iran you will never be far from a delicious fruit ab (juice) and fruit shir (milk-shake).
Dugh (churned sour milk or yogurt mixed with water) is a sour but highly refreshing drink is also widely available.
Customs and Habits
Breakfast in Iran is usually a simple affair consisting of lots of tea served with left over lavash, feta style cheese and jam.
Lunch tends to be the main meal of the day and is eaten between noon and 2pm.
Dinner is usually consumed from 7pm onwards.
Many restaurants close early on a Friday.
You will find that just about everywhere that sells food will be closed on a religious holiday.
During the month of Ramadan most eateries will be closed from dawn until dusk and some do not open at all.
Thankfully it is recognized that many travelers to Iran do not fast so hotel restaurants and bus terminal restaurants do stay open. It is bad form though to eat, drink or smoke in public during Ramadan.
The Iranian table is usually a plastic sheet round which you sit either on the floor or on a takht (a type of day bed). Your cutlery will consist of a fork and spoon. There is little conversation whilst the meal is eaten but it flows freely with the tea taken after dinner.
Oh, and be sure to remove your shoes before sitting down.