Iran’s reputation as a foodie destination is almost blank. There’s been zero effort in promoting Persian food around the world and very few restaurants serving it outside of Iran.
For a long time, even the restaurants serving traditional Persian food have been limited to kebabs and a few stews. Mostly because the eating out culture is a still a new thing in Iran. For centuries, Iranians have been eager to eat at home or even take their own home-made food out for a picnic. That’s quickly changing and consequently, the restaurant scene is also making a huge shift.
The restaurant menus that were once limited to kebabs are quickly becoming more diverse. Not to mention, the growing competition has pushed restaurant owners and chefs to put their best skills in presenting their Persian food in the most creative way.
Still, to this day, travellers have little knowledge of the food they should be trying in Iran and what are the top unmissable Persian food. So here’s a list of dishes to take note for your next trip to Iran.
Dizi, also known as Abgoosht is one of the oldest Persian recipes that is loved by everyone all around Iran. It’s something you would have on the weekend shared with family and friends with an afternoon nap to follow.
Cooked in clay pots, Dizi is a mixture of lamb, chickpeas, white beans, tomatoes, potatoes and onion garnished with dried lime and turmeric. The mixture is usually served in the same clay pot with a masher for you to give it a good mash. Once everything is well-mixed, you’d pour the broth in a separate bowl and break small pieces of bread in it. The broth is then eaten as a soup and the Dizi would be eaten with bread.
It’s also quite common to have your Dizi with a variety of pickles and a big glass of Dough.
This well-loved herb stew definitely makes it to the top popular Persian food of all time. Ghormeh sabzi is all about the fenugreek that gives it the signature aroma and taste. The stew is cooked with a mixture of sauteed herbs such as leek, parsley, green onions and coriander and seasoned with fenugreek. Kidney beans and dried lime are also added to the combination and the stew is always served with a carefully made Persian rice.
Fesenjoon is the kind of dish you’d have on a special day or when you’d really want to please your guests. The stew is made with lots of walnuts and pomegranate molasses combined with chicken, duck or meatballs. The amount of walnuts needed to cook the dish is what makes it pricey and more of an occasional platter. Not to mention, the cooking process requires a lot of time and effort and is definitely a sign of the hosts’ respect and honour,
Tahchin is also known as the Persian rice cake outside of Iran and is very popular amongst tourists. It’s basically rice, yoghurt and saffron cooked with layers of chicken fillets. The mixture is carefully pushed in a pot to be cooked and later flipped into a dish to have the crusty bottom layer on top. It is then garnished with lots of barberries, coarsely chopped pistachios and almonds.
Persian food usually comes with meat and vegetarian options are limited. However, in the Caspian Sea region of Iran, eggplants are a popular ingredient and the locals have come up with some amazing recipes based on eggplants that don’t involve any meat.
Kashk-e Bademjan is an admired food from the Gilan province which is easily found in every restaurant around the country. In most places, it is served as a starter but could easily replace a light meal for lunch for dinner.
Fried eggplants are mixed with onions, garlic and Kashk (a thick dairy product similar to whey that tastes close to feta cheese). The preparation takes very little time and is served with bread.
Gheimeh is the kind of meal you’d make on a normal weekday. It’s cooked in a variety of ways depending on where you get it in Iran but the traditional form consists of mutton, tomatoes, split peas, onions and dried lime. The stew is always served with a plate of rice and can have fried aubergines added to it as well. We also love to top it off with a good amount of fried potatoes on the stew.
Ash is Iran’s national soup and has hundreds of recipes. The most famous Ash is Ash-e Reshteh which is literally the noodle Ash cooked with a bunch of herbs such as parsley, spinach, dill, spring onions and dried mint. However, every city or even a small village in Iran will have its own Ash. There’s so many of them that we would have Ash festivals happening around the year.
They are normally cooked throughout winter and served as a starter for lunch or dinner. Cities such as Shiraz have a special Ash called the Sabzi Ash which is always served for breakfast with bread.
Koofteh is basically a huge rice and meatball with a lot of other ingredients. Depending on where you eat it in the country, it could be different as every city has its own variety of Koofteh. But the Tabrizi Koofteh is the most cooked version in the country consisting of leek, parsley, mint, onions, yellow split peas, ground beef, egg and cooked rice. The real version of it in Tabriz might have a whole boiled egg or even a small chicken in the middle. You can imagine it’s much bigger than your average meatball! But in the rest of Iran, it’s likely to be filled with barberries, raisins and dried plums.
Mirza Ghasemi is another remarkable vegetarian creation from the north of Iran. What makes it extra special is that the eggplants are cooked over a fire and give it that unique smokey taste and small. Once the eggplant is fully cooked, we’d add it to a mixture of eggs, tomatoes and garlic seasoned with turmeric, salt and pepper.
Mirza Ghasemi is always served with bread and usually eaten as an appetizer in restaurants, but you can totally have it as a main dish if you want.
Alabaloo polo translates into sour cheery rice. It’s basically a mixture of cooked rice with sour cherries and sugar which comes with chicken fillets or small meatballs. It’s not an everyday dish as sour cherries are not around all throughout the year and it isn’t found in a lot of restaurants. But it’s a very unique Persian combination of rice and sour cherries and definitely worth the try.