The food culture in Iran is vast, vibrant, and goes far beyond standard Middle Eastern fare. Influenced by its unique climate and the various cultural groups that have invaded and occupied Iran, the food reflects diversity, sustenance, and flavour. Babylonians, Assyrians, Persians, Greeks, Romans and Turks are just a handful of the many groups that have influenced Iranian food and customs. Iranian food is often referred to as Persian because the country was called Persia up until 1934.
Nasir ol-Molk Mosque
The Great Bazaar
The cuisine of the country often revolves around berenj (rice), which is inexpensive and locally grown. Typical meals usually consist of plain rice topped with spiced meat or vegetables (chelo), and there are virtually endless dishes that are made rice in Iran. There is also a strong focus on local produce such as quinces, pears, grapes, dates, apricots, walnuts, pistachios, oranges and more, which flavour desserts and add body to savory dishes. Another mainstay in every household is mast, a rich yogurt usually homemade by simply warming milk, adding yogurt from the previous batch and letting sit for a few hours until the active cultures thicken the milk. The meats of choice are chicken and lamb, which are often prepared as grilled kebabs or hearty stews along with nuts and spices.
While in Iran, just like most places, the best food is not found in restaurants, but in family homes. When entering an Iranian home and removing your shoes it is customary to offer a gift or a future dinner invitation to show your appreciation. Diners sit cross-legged around a wide variety of dishes spread across a tablecloth placed on top of a floor rug. The dishes in a meal are divided between “hot” and “cold” with hot foods being things like meats, eggplant, or sweets, and cold food being cucumber, yogurt, or fish.
Iranian meal setup
This only scrapes the surface of the deep food culture in Iran, but hopefully it inspires one to seek out a local restaurant or ask an Iranian friend for a meal! Toronto has one of the largest Persian population outside Iran and with a little research you can be exploring the rich food culture Iran has to offer.