Iran is a vast ancient country with its special beauties and climatic specifics. We call Iran “the four-season country”. It is the home for various ethnics; each of them has a rich background and culture to introduce; evidently, part of this culture reflects in their food and eating customs. Let’s have a look at the best Persian food; those that are famous and popular among either Iranian themselves or the tourists who had paid a visit to this beautiful territory.
The Persian Cuisine: The representative of the four-season country
Every country or region depending on its geographical resources, native medical sciences, as well as old customs, has reached to its exclusive recipes which after decades or even centuries passed, it has become part of the culture they are known with. Iranian cuisine has been no exception, either.
Thanks to its various geographical regions, Iran benefits from different climatic and territorial opportunities. As a tourist you may decide to go skiing in the north-west or to swim in the south; go climbing in the center or experience rafting in the west, wandering in the deserts or hiking in the jungles – all in one country or even in one season. That’s tempting, isn’t it? So, now you can guess the reason we would have diverse cuisine.
The Origins of Persian Food
Historically, during the Achaemenid Dynasty, Iran has expanded its territory so far beyond current borders. Later on, the extent of this territory changed by the fall and rise of the following dynasties and consequent wars. Also, Iran is located on one of the main and most famous world routes, the Silk Road. These factors led to cultural combinations that affected our national food. Nowadays, besides the fully Persian cuisine, you can also try foods that Iranian learned from other nations and changed them due to the different regions or tastes.
Another determining factor in Persian food is the old medical science regarding the nature of people and food ingredients. Our former scientists and physicians provided us an excellent and precious knowledge of using the right ingredients together. For example, we are advised to use cheese with walnuts, since the nature of cheese is cold, the warm nature of walnut can neutralize this nature.
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Cooked Rice: Basic Part of Many Iranian Dishes
Iranian have their way of cooking rice, different from far East countries; it is not as soft and pasty as theirs, and the grains of it must not be in broken or smashed form.
There are two main methods of cooking rice:
Boil it with salt and oil until the water evaporates. Then it continues to soften and well-cooked on mild heat. The final result is called “Katte”. Usually, you can find this method in northern local restaurants.
Half cook the rice with oil and a good amount of salt, then drain water (this stage is somehow like making pasta). The drained rice goes into the pot, and it cooks on mild heat.
Chelo Vs Polo
If this rice is plain with no added ingredients, it is “Chelo”. Otherwise, if it’s mixed with vegetables, herbs, meat, chicken, beans, it is “Polo”. You can see some Polo below.
Polo: The Feast Food
As we said, Polos contain some other ingredients. If it is with meat or chicken, it is considered as the feast foods. Iranian serve it for their formal celebrations and parties.
Baghali Polo ba Mahiche – Persian Dill & Lima Bean Rice
It consists of Polo with dill and fava beans. Lamb chunks cooked with onion and saffron are its devoted company. But sometimes chicken is replaced with lamb chunks.
Zereshk Polo ba Morgh – Persian Barberry Rice
a kind of Polo mixed with red barberry, green pistachio slices, and golden saffron that creates eye-catching colorful sightseeing. This artistic picture is completed with the well-cooked and roasted chicken.
Sabzi Polo Mahi – Herb Rice with Fish
the most common dish for the New Year’s Eve feasts. Sabzi Polo is the rice cooked with herbs. The side fish is first marinated in lime juice and brewed saffron then fried in hot oil. Also, depending on the region, the fish may be stuffed with aromatic herbs, barberry, and walnut before frying.
Kebabs: The Pleasure Of Living
Any kind of grilled meat, chicken or fish is called “Kabab”.
The meat must be marinated first. Sometimes, it takes overnight to be marinated. Then the pieces of meat are skewered and roasted on a coal fire.
Kebabs have been Soltans’ and Kings’ special food after a hunting game or in majestic banquets. Also, they are an easy-to-prepare meal for nomads during migration.
Kebab is not exclusively an Iranian food but originally belongs to the Caucasus area. Besides, you can find similar forms of Kebab in Middle East countries. Our most famous Kebab is “Kabab Koobideh”. It’s a mix of grated meat, onion, salt, brewed saffron. You may have Koobideh either with “Chelo” or bread.
Stews – Khoresh: Feel the Coziness Of An Iranian Home
They contain meat or chicken which boils together with vegetables, herbs, and/or frijoles. Stews are usually served with “Katte” or “Chelo”.
Some of the most favorite stews in the Persian food list are “Ghormeh Sabzi”, “Gheimeh”, “Fesenjan”, “Bademjan”.
Ghormeh Sabzi – Persian Herb Stew
We can claim it is the most popular stew among Iranians. Also, we can call it an entirely Iranian dish. It has no background in other neighbor countries’ recipes, nor dragged out of another culture.
The ingredients are green aromatic herbs, meat, kidney beans, dried lime.
Iranian fondness to this dish is so much that ten years ago they introduced Ghormeh Sabzi Pizza in an Italian food festival. Since then it found its way to the modern fast-food menus. Just to encourage to surely try this stew, there is this quote from The American chef, Louisa Shafia, that “A true gourmet must know gormeh. We have proof.”
Gheimeh – Persian Yellow Split Peas Stew
It is originally a Turkish word that means “minced meat”; as are the pieces of meat in it. It consists of mutton, tomatoes, split peas, onions and, dried lime. Fried potatoes or fried aubergine complete this combination.
Different cities in Iran have their version of Gheimeh, but the base ingredients are the same.
Fesenjan – Persian Walnut Pomegranate Stew
It is a flexible-in-flavor stew with an ancient history.
It consists of meatballs or chicken, ground walnut, pomegranate paste. Many believe it’s originally from the northern province, Gilan. But inscriptions found in Persepolis, the ancient city of Achaemenids in Southern Province, Shiraz gives evidence of the Imperial kitchen’s supply which among them were pomegranates, chicken meat, and walnuts – the main materials for Fesenjan.
As we said earlier, we serve Fesenjan in three variations of flavors: sour, sweet, or sour-sweet. Fesenjan is also eaten in the Azerbaijan Republic.
Bademjan – Persian Eggplant Stew
It consists of fried aubergine plus tomato and sour-grape juice. Meat or chicken is optional. It is a suitable dish for vegetarians.
Let’s give you a key, important hint; In Persian cuisine, a good stew is one that you can’t feel the taste of each ingredient separately, but you feel a combination of them altogether. For instance, when you eat Ghormeh Sabzi, you must not feel beans, aromatic herb and meat one by one, though you see all at once. You must feel the final mixed taste. Besides a delicious stew does have a good portion of oil over it; therefore, forget about being on a diet while you are on the trip; only this way you’ll enjoy a fatty Iranian stew.
Soupy Foods: The Most Traditional Persian Foods
Ābgusht, Dizi – Persian Lamb & Chickpea
Now we get to the emblem of our traditional cuisine.
Ābgusht is a binding of sheep/lamb meat, potato, tomato, dried lime, white and red beans, chickpeas, onion. All the ingredients are cooked together until they are well done, which takes about 6-7 hours on average. Traditionally, we cooked and served it in stoneware crocks; that’s why it is also called “Dizi Sangi”.
Ābgusht is a highly nutritious food. So it’s better having it for lunch. The next point is how to eat it: first, separate the solid materials and put aside to smash later. Then add pieces of bread to the remaining broth. It is “Trid”, the beginning of Aabgusht ceremony. Then you must smash the separated part and have a mouthful morsel. We call it “Gusht Koobideh”.
Abgusht has regional and historical variations. It had no potato or tomato until they were first imported in the nineteenth century. In some regions like Meybod in Yazd province, they still cook their traditional Ābgusht with no tomatoes. Also, it can vary in the kind of beans or vegetables used.
In the Caucasus region and middle Asia, there is a similar food called Piti.
Āsh – Persian Soup
is a soup-like cuisine but thicker than soup. There are so many variations of Āsh in Iran that we need a whole life to try all of them.
Its main ingredients are all kinds of beans and chickpeas. The other ingredients depend on the kind of Āsh. Some kinds of it consist of meat or chicken. Some have herbs. Another group has dried fruits like plums or wheat groats. But the two most famous and popular kinds of Āsh are “Āsh Reshteh” and “Āshe Sholeh Ghalamkar”. The first one contains kidney beans, white beans, chickpeas, lentils, herbs, and the noodle-like “reshteh”. The second kind is more suitable for feasts consists of mutton, aromatic herbs, beans, lentils, chickpeas, rice.
Āb-Doogh-Khiar – Cold Cucumber Yogurt Soup
There is a summer-specific food made with yogurt that every Iranian is in love with; “Āb-doogh-khiar”. It’s a combination of yogurt, water, chopped cucumber, basil, mint, powder of dried rosebud, raisin, crushed walnut and bread crumbs. It is refrigerated or cooled by pieces of ice for a couple of hours. On the hot days of summer, it is the best mixture to cool you down and fresh up.
Kalle-Pache – Head & Trotter
The final food we are going to introduce here is “Kalle-Pache” which literally means “head and trotter”; a dish of boiled head, feet and stomach of sheep. There are two attitudes towards Kalle-Pache; either it is loved and adored or hated to the utmost. Many people can’t stand the weird appearance and believe it’s horrible. But as soon as they dare to try the taste, mostly change their minds.
Like Ābgusht, you eat it in two parts: the broth and the solid part. The only difference is you need not smash the meat. Since it is fatty, you must have it with a sour seasoning like lime juice.
Keep in mind that you must have Kalle-Pache early in the morning since it’s so high in calories and heavy to digest.
What are Persian Side Dishes?
Iranians always have a kind of side dishes along with their main course. They include Torshi (pickled vegetables), Sabzi Khordan (green raw herbs), yogurt, Salads, raw onion.
Every food has its proper side. It depends on the one’s taste whether to eat their Koobideh or Gormeh Sabzi with Torshi, onion or yogurt. But in some cases, it is necessary to concern health tips; for example, you must not have yogurt along with fish. We usually accompany fish with garlic Torshi.
Derived from the word ‘torsh’ meaning ‘sour’, is pickled vegetables or even fruits with vinegar, aromatic herbs, and spices. We pickle everything you can imagine. Actually, pickles are winter dellis since there is less fresh green herbs or fruits. It’s kind of healthy preservation to help benefit the used materials for a longer period. Among Iranian Torshis, Mixed torshi, Aubergine torshi, Litte, are more common.
A group of certain green herbs mostly including basil, parsley, mint, chives, radish, Other kinds of green herbs may be added to the list, regionally.
It can be eaten plain or mixed with dried herbs powder, raisins, walnut crumbs. According to our traditional medicine, the nature of yogurt is cold. So it is advised to use it with warm-nature ingredients such as those mentioned.
On a Persian table you can find many various forms of international salads. But the traditional salad, “Shirazi”, consists of chopped cucumber, tomato and sometimes onion – it depends on your taste. The dressing is sour grape juice or lime juice as well as powder of dried mint. Of course, you can try it with any other dressing you prefer. The other common salad is chopped lettuce designed with sliced cucumber, tomato, green peas, cabbages.
How is this list useful?
The provided information on the Persian food will help you to prearrange an essential Persian food list in your itinerary – especially if you want to travel by a private tour. But what if you still need help with Persian dishes, there are many various Iran cultural tours that you may choose for visiting Iran. Therefore, you have this opportunity to visit a particular region or experience a special celebration in a certain period of time. Also, you can try Iran culinary tours, which mostly focus on the cuisine of a specified region, introduce you the dishes of a city, and even provide you Persian cooking classes and workshops.