Iran is one of the most unfairly maligned countries in the whole world and is an absolute dream for the relatively few backpacker and travellers who do visit it. It is home to the most ridiculously-insanely, friendly, polite and hospitable people in the whole world, it boasts an embarrassment of ancient wonders and offers an entire spectrum of stunning landscapes.
Oh, and the food is not half bad either! Whilst Iranian food is unlikely to ever rival Italian, Thai or Indian as being the world’s favorite, it does hold its own and will have you licking your lips and asking for second helpings for the duration of your stay.
Let’s take a look at Iranian Foods that you must try!
Let’s start with the standard classic. Whilst Iran probably didn’t invent the kebab, and certainly doesn’t do the best ones in the world, it is just too ubiquitous not to include on this list.
At some point during your stay in Iran, you will probably to forced to eat a Kebab at some point.
Even I was and I’m usually a vegetarian (more on that as we go) but one night in Tehran, after a 10 minute struggle with an insurmountable language barrier, i relented and knoded;
“Yes I’ll have the Kebab…”.
Starting a little meat eat binge which lasted pretty much the whole trip.
Iranian kebabs are basically slabs of meat, usually lamb or chicken, served roasted, un-garnished on a bed of plain rice. Add butter, lemon and saffron to inject some extra flavour.
Note that ground meat seasoned with onion, salt and pepper is known as koobideh. Thinly sliced lamb or beef is kebab-e-barg and chicken kebab is referred to as joojeh. If thats all too complex then simply keban followed by your best impression of your prefered animal.
They are however filling and usually pretty cheap making them great value.
Ash is very popular amongst backpackers to Iran because its cheap, simple and meat free. Basically it is spinach stew topped with sour cream or spices. You can also have it with noodles if you feel especially hungry.
As with most food in Iran, this often comes with loads of free bread. Mop up the juices and sauce to get your fill!
The trusty Falafel (pronounced Far-la-fel by morons) is a staple throughout the entire middle eastern world. From the mediterranean shores of Israel to the Arabian Gulf, falafel is the middle east’s favorite snack.
The Iranian Falafels are pretty unique. In many instances they are served in a torpedo shaped, subway type bread roll rather than a pita or flatbread. They also usually come with a complimentary salad box which you can fill with an array of delicious pickles.
Falafel in Iran is an absolute Godsend for 2 reasons, Firstly, they are easy to find, reliable vegetarian food and because of the salad bar, are amazing value.
Falafel is everywhere and it would be stupid of me to tell you exactly where to get it. However, the Falafel king on the edge of the stunning Yazd old town is a short walk from the Mosque so you would be rude not to drop by for lunch.
I lived of Falafel and plain rice for days when I first arrived in Iran until I finally caved in and had a kebab.
This was one of my favorites in Iran.
Koofteh Tabrizi is an Iranian classic dish. Basically they are just big juicy balls (which is what Koofteh or Kofte means) mixed with God knows herbs served in a sweet tomato sauce. I initially ordered these believing them to be vegetarian. They are definitely not vegetarian.
The one I had was served in a tiny cafe in Isfhan with delicious flavoured rice and endless offerings of bread.
As the name suggests, these originate from Tabriz in the North but can be found across the nation.
The biryani is native to Isfahan and is apparently little known outside of the region. Initially i was half expecting something like the Indian biryani (a rice based dish) but any similarities in the name is pure coincidence.
The biryani is in fact, basically a beef kebab type baked cutlet served in flat-bread. It may sound very simple but is very tasty.
To find the best Beryooni is Isfahan, simply stop people on the street and ask them. Iranians are very friendly and helpful so will take delight in offering their recomendations.
Loobia Sabz (Green bean stew)
This is another trusty vegetarian dish which is simple but tasty.
Iranian breakfast varies quite a bit depending on location and sensibilities.
Many locals will begin the day eat a sheep’s head and you will them being steamed in metal post along the street – apparently the cheek s the best part as are the eyes.
Happily though, your guesthouse will probably stick to milder fair. Expect bread, zarta, boiled eggs, cheese and loads of tea.
Note that Coffee can be hard to find in a morning as most coffee shops open around mid-morning to noon much the same as bars and pubs back in Europe!
Iran’s Pistachios are famous. They can be bought by the bag-full in many stores, bazaars and can be found by the barrel load on most streets. They make a very healthy snack and are well worth bringing back as gists.
Also be sure to fill up on sunflower seeds, walnuts and all manner of delicious, healthy nutty snacks.
There is plenty of fish available in Iran particularly around the Persian Gulf. If you visit Bandar Abbas, or one of the islands such as Queshi or Hormuz Island (please visit Hormuz Island!), then simply ask for the fish of the day. It will be freshly caught and simply baked in charcoal but will be delicious and plentiful.
Usually, it is served with rice and bread. Note that it is very unlikely you will be allowed to order doogh with fish!
Sadly, Iranians are taking to fast food just as gluttonously as the rest of the world is.
Whilst there is no McDonalds or Pizza Hut in the whole country (an unexpected benefit of the cruel financial sanctions the West imposes on the country) there are plenty of home-grown equivalent versions found in every city and town.
Note that very few Iranians have ever had “real” pizza or even a genuine burger. Therefore, there imitation versions may not impress you very much at all. Stick to the delicious and healthy Iranian food is my advice.
The real culinary highlight of my trip had to the endless helpings of Doogh I had with every meal.
Dugh is a milk based drink (yoghurt mixed with water) often flavoured with mint and or salt. There are several different brands as well as still and fizzy option. Many cafes and restaurants also make there own fresh doogh and the quality does vary – some can be a little on the strong side.
Oh, apparently cannot drink doogh with fish. Iranians have a strange notion that doogh is a “warm” and “fish” is cold and the two never should mix. Whilst I am still at a complete loss to understand this – however, make no mistake, Iranians will not ALLOW you to mix the two and my restaurant in Hormuz refused to sell my doogh after I ordered fish!
Note that doogh is a little bit like marmite, you will love it or hate it.
Whilst the good stuff/devils brew is firmly off the menu across Iran, the good news is that there is an abundance of malt and fruit flavoured beers available instead.
Of course, they are absolutely nothing like beer and really ought to be called Malt Fruit Beverage but that doesn’t sound quite as refreshing now does it? My favorite one is Pomegranate which grow all over Iran.
Iranians love tea and will drink it all day long. Whilst there is a growing coffee culture, this is still largely limited to the younger generations and tea remains the staple drink served plentifully all day long.
Iranian tea comes in a myriad of varieties of tea and is enjoyed in a number of different ways.
One of the best places to take a tea is the tea shop in the Bazaar in Shiraz. The setting is delightful, the stereo plays Persian classic music and the mint tea they serve up is the perfect refreshment after a morning’s haggling in the bazaars.