Food in Persian culture plays an important role; not only feasting is the main event in almost every gathering, party and celebration, there are many ceremonies which revolve around foods and delicacies.
Almost every region of Iran have their own traditional dish but the national dish of the country is Chelo Kabab (cooked rice with kebab that is prepared with minced meat). There is a similar dish in Turkey which is better known by the Europeans, however most Persians take pride in their Chelo Kabab and consider it much tastier than its Turkish counterpart. So if in Iran, trying the Chelo Kabab is an absolute MUST!
Another nationwide favorites and a definite MUST is Abgoosht. Abgoosht is a traditional Iranian stew prepared from fatty lamb’s meat, chickpeas, beans, potato and tomato paste. There are two components to this dish, first the broth which is eaten with small pieces of bread soaked in it. and then the solid ingredients which are mashed together and eaten afterwards. Abgusht is usually served with several side dishes of salads and pickles. And to wash it all down, a glass of Doogh (diluted yogurt with salt and some herbs)!
So we first mentioned two of the nation’s most beloved dishes however below we will introduce the most famous dishes in each region which hopefully would be useful for the food enthusiasts who are travelling to these regions. Although it must be mentioned that nowadays almost all of the regional dishes are available anywhere in the country, but it’s definitely a better experience to appreciate the cultural atmosphere that each dish is influenced by, while trying it! So here goes the list:
- Khorasan Razavi (the region around the city of Mashhad in the province of Khorasan)
Shishlik (grilled lamb chops) is the signature dish of Khorasan Razavi. The countryside around Mashhad is best known for its chilly weather during summers and has many gardens furnished with traditional benches to be used instead of dining tables. Surely nothing can beat the fresh meat, prepared on coal grills, served in green gardens with many different side dishes; that is if you are not vegetarian of course! The best place to have Shishlik is in Torqabeh and Shandiz County. You will find many restaurants and gardens serving this signature dish of the region.
- Khorasan Jonubi (southern Khorasan)
The best known dish in this region is Rhubarb stew (Khoreshte Rivas) and bulgur rice (Bolghorpolo). Stews are in general very popular in Iran and as you will read on, there are various stews in the Persian cuisine.
The sourness of rhubarb gives this stew a unique flavor that is hard to not like! This stew is usually prepared with fresh mint and parsley, rhubarb (duh!), lamb’s meat and onion. Served with rice (as most stews in Iran are), this mouthwatering dish is best to be prepared with fresh spring rhubarb.
Talking about stews, Kerman is the center of exotic Persian stews. Some of which are: Artichoke and zucchini stew, Beh (a wild fruit similar to apple but with a unique taste) and plums stew, apple stew, plums and shrimps stew, cabbage stew and …
Another stew which is a fixed item in almost every Iranian home is Gheimeh (a stew made from meat chunks and split peas). This food is also widely given out as votive food during Moharram (the month in which Imam Hussein, the third of the twelve Imams of Shia’s Islam, was martyred).
Hamedan is the city of exotic pickles and jams. You will find a variety of pickles and jams from watermelon peel to black radish and walnut. Khorshte Ghore Bademjan (unripe grapes and eggplant stew) is just one of the many dishes this region has to offer.
- Province of Fars
Kalampolo Shirazi (Cabbage rice with small meatballs), Ashe Anaar (pomegranate soup), Salad Shirazi (salad made with tiny slices of cucumber, tomato, onion and sometimes dried mint, garnished with lemon juice, olive oil and vinegar), Faloodeh Shirazi (thin noodles in a crushed ice and rosewater sherbet, served as dessert) and more! The people of this region don’t mess around with their food!
- Mazandaran (Northern part of Iran, alongside the Caspian sea)
The northern provinces of Iran are very well known for their food. It is almost impossible to find an Iranian who isn’t obsessed with a dish from this region. My personal favorite is Khoreshte Fesenjan (a stew made from grinded walnuts, chicken or duck and pomegranate paste). Different kinds of white meat prepared with sweet and sour sauces are the trademark of Mazandaran.
The province of Qazvin is best known for its Gheimeh Nesar dish. Gheimeh Nesar is sour, sweet and salty dish prepared with a mixture of red meat, rice, barberry, orange peel, almonds slices, pistachio slices and many different seasonings. Try one spoon of this dish and you will surprise your mouth with so many flavors that you couldn’t have imagined they go so well with each other!
There is one part of the food that makes almost every Iranian (including myself) go crazy. We are so obsessed with it that many different versions of it has been made and in almost every Iranian dish with rice, this part is a stable. And that is nothing but the very bottom layer of rice (or bread, potatoes or other substitutes) which turns brown and crispy when cooking the food, called Tahdig (literally meaning bottom of the pot). The crispier, the better! So it’s no wonder that there is a dish made with the sole purpose of delivering the best Tahdig ever! This dish is Tahchin.
Tahchin is mostly prepared with shredded chicken meat, yoghurt, rice, egg yolk and lots of saffron. However Semanan is famous for another variety of Tahchin which is prepared with red meat.
- Chaharmahal va Bakhtiari
The name of this province is very well-known by Iranian kebab lovers, as Bakhtiari kebab is to be found in almost every kebab restaurant in the country. This kebab is made from both chicken and lamb fillets cut into chunks and marinated in onion, saffron and butter.
As already mentioned, the food from northern provinces of Iran are cherished by the whole country. And Gilan stands out for the diverse and unbelievable flavored dishes.
Of course we are going to start the list with a new kind of kebab, this time called Kabab Torsh (sour kebab). This is prepared from lamb fillet marinated in sour pomegranate paste and seasoning.
Another famous dish of Gilan is called Shish Andaz, which is prepared from walnuts, eggplants, pomegranate paste (yeah I know! many northern foods use pomegranate or its paste!). As you might have noticed Shish Andaz is the first and one of the very limited number of vegan dishes introduced in this article!
Then there is Baghalaghatogh (not easy to pronounce, is it?), which could be labeled as the trademark of Gilan. Baghalaghatogh is made from a special kind of beans, garlic, eggs and dried dill. Baghalaghatogh (this is the last time I make you read it, I promise!) is served with either bread or rice.
Another beloved dish from Gilan, is Mirzaghasemi (grilled and crushed eggplants with tomato, eggs and garlic). This dish can be found in almost every Persian restaurant, even abroad Iran, as an appetizer.
And the fish! Oh the humanity! The freshly caught fish and its roe from the Caspian sea are a MUST when in Gilan. Even though there are many dishes that use fish in them, grilled or fried fresh fish is just simply the best!
Kermanshah is best known for its cooking oil which is made from animal fat. It has a strong odor and is just like the Star Wars movie! You either love it or hate it.
But the most common dishes in this region are a stew made from almonds slices, spare ribs and Koko Paghazeh. Koko Paghazeh which looks like a thin pie, is made with a kind of wild vegetables which is only available in the spring. In general every dish that is made with the mixture of eggs and other ingredients and then are fried in a pan are called Koko in Iran. You can say it is a modified Omelette.
Aash (a relatively thick soup), has many versions in Persian cuisine. One of those versions enjoyed mostly in Ardebil is Aashe Dough. Dough itself is a drink made from mixing water and yoghurt and is definitely to be found in every kebab restaurant. But Aashe Dough is prepared with different vegetables and yoghurt. A hot bowl of this Aash goes down very smoothly in the chilly weather of Ardebil.
The signature dish of Isfahan is Beryani (not to be mistaken with Biryani the Indian dish!). Beryani is made from cooked fatty meat, which is then grinded and fried in an special dish. Served with a ladle of the fatty gravy of the meat on a piece of bread, Beryani is definitely not a food to be eaten regularly if you are counting calories! (maybe on your cheat days though!)
Another province which is famous for its fishes is Khozestan. This warm province is also known for its spicy dishes. But the most famous one is Ghalieh Mahi (a whole fish which is filled with yummy goodness!).
Tabriz’s most famous contribution to Persian cuisine is Koofteh Tabrizi. Koofteh Tabrizi is a sort of meatball as big as a football, that has a whole chicken inside it. Sometimes there is even an egg placed inside the chicken to make this dish even more fascinating. The meatball is made from a mixture of minced meat, vegetables and seasonings and rice. The tricky part about preparing this dish is to ensure it holds its shape during the cooking process, which is proven to be a difficult task!
If you like your shrimp hot and spicy, Boushehr is the place to go. With many dishes based on freshly caught shrimps, you will see just how creative the people of Boushehr are with only one main ingredient.
Ok up to this point of the article, the dishes introduced were all made from ordinary ingredients. However there is another famous delicacy in Iran which is mostly consumed as breakfast and despite being very normal to Iranians, kind of freaks out the tourists! It is called Kaleh Pacheh (literally meaning head and leg). Kaleh Pacheh is the slowly cooked whole head and leg of sheep. Despite the weird and uncomfortably look of this dish, the taste is just unbelievably good! Of course not everyone likes it but the people who do, just wish they could have it every day. So why aren’t they? Because of the high amount of fat and cholesterol that it has.
When you go to a Kaleh Pazi (the diners that serve Kaleh Pacheh), you can either order a whole set or ask for specific parts such as the tongue, the brain or even the eyes!
Even though you will find Kaleh Pacheh in almost every neighborhood of every city of Iran, Kashan is credited with being the birthplace of this “breakfast of the kings”.
Have you already tried any of the dishes introduced?