One more art intertwined with Persian culture, worth mentioning, is the art of cooking. Persian foods, accompanied by herbs and spices are product of the creativity, skill and patience of many generations of cooks.
Like Persian carpets Iranian foods are colorful and complex! Using only small amounts of red meat and emphasizing on large amounts of grains such as rice, fruits and vegetables, Iranian food is famed for its fresh taste and healthy attributes. Meals in Iran are prepared with a contrast of flavors such as sweet and sour or mild and spicy.
It generally is based on rice (berenj) and to achieve a delicious taste and a balanced diet, unique Persian spices such as saffron, diced limes, cinnamon, and parsley are mixed delicately. The Cuisine of Persia influenced cooking all over the world, from the beef dishes of India, to the sweet and sour that graced the tables of Medieval and Renaissance Monarchs. But modern Iranian food fits perfectly with today’s lighter eating style. Iranian food has a lot of similarity with the other cuisines of the Middle East, yet it is more sophisticated and imaginative. Like other countries, Iranians typically consume three meals each day, including snacks of nuts or fruit. The list of foods is diverse, with each province featuring dishes, culinary traditions and styles distinct to their regions. It includes a wide variety of foods ranging from chelo kabab (barg, koobideh, joojeh, shishleek, soltani, chenjeh), khoresht (stew that is served with Iranian rice: ghormeh sabzi, gheimeh, and others), aash (a thick soup) and a diverse variety of salads, pastries, and drinks specific to different parts of Iran.
At most restaurants, the Kebab is the king, mostly because it is fast to prepare, and eateries are generally run by men, whose main culinary skill, as for many of their Western counterparts, is barbecuing on the grill. One of the most celebrated dishes is Ghormeh sabzi, a subtle concoction of lamb, herbs, and lemon that takes great skill and hours to prepare. Another is Fessenjan, chicken in a pomegranate sauce with walnuts.
The list of Persian recipes, appetizers and desserts is extensive, however, the national dish is rice prepared in several special ways and served in generous helpings with almost every main dish, and very few of the main dishes would be considered complete without it. Iranian rice from the rainy plains of Mazandaran and Guilan is considered by many – not only Iranians – to be one of the world’s best, but much of the rice sold in the country today is imported.
To underline both the skill and imagination of Iranian cookery, a few examples of the main ingredients in Iranian specialties would include duck, pomegranates and walnuts; lamb, prunes and cinnamon; spinach, orange and garlic; and chicken and sliced peaches sautéed in onions and butter, seasoned with cinnamon and lemon juice. Lamb is Iran’s favorite meat, but beef and chicken can also be found. Fish is common as well, with swordfish being a famous specialty of the areas near the Caspian Sea. Seafood is very rarely eaten, and pork, like alcohol, is forbidden. There are certain accompaniments which are essential to every Iranian meal at lunch and dinner, regardless of the region. These include, first and foremost, a variety of flat breads, called naan (sangak, lavash, barbari), cheese (called panir, a Persian variant of feta), yoghurt, and lemon juice. Persian gherkins and pickles are also considered essential in most regions. Tea (chai) is served at breakfast. At other times, it is served based on the region, usually many times throughout the day.
Like other cultures, special foods are prepared for different occasions, i.e. weddings, funerals, birthdays, Persian New Year, religious, historical feasts, formal and state gatherings.
Iranians have looked at food at 3 different ways for many centuries; medicinal, philosophical and cultural. Iranian Physicians and philosophers considered food or beverages as the main factor to revive body. Consuming food is a way of weakening or strengthening human character. Consuming a lot of red meat and fats was thought to create evil thoughts and make us selfish. However, consuming a healthy diet including fruits, vegetables, fish, fowl, mixed petals and blossoms of roses create unusual powers and make us gentle and noble creatures.
The dishes that have made Persian cuisine famous worldwide are mostly homemade, because Iranian women generally do not work in restaurants. So if you are lucky enough to be invited to an Iranian home for dinner, you should without doubt accept. The meal may well be set on the floor, sometimes without silverware.
Unfortunately for the short term tourist, restaurateurs in Iran often seem unaware of the amazing variety of food their culture has to offer, and often do little beyond kebabs and rice.
Fruits and vegetables
Iran has terrific agriculture, producing many fruits and vegetables, especially what a lot of countries consider “exotic” are easier to come by. A bowl full of fruit is common on most Persian tables and dishes of vegetables and herbs are standard sides to most meals. Iran is one of the top date producers in the world; some of the most succulent dates come from Iran. Fruits are served almost at all kinds of ceremonies and occasions. Second to tea, seasonal fruits are another integral part of hospitality.
While the climate of the Middle East is conducive to the growing of fruits, the orchards and vineyards of Iran produce fruits of legendary flavor and size. These are not only enjoyed fresh and ripe as desserts but are also imaginatively combined with meats and form unusual accompaniments to main dishes. When fresh fruits are not available, a large variety of excellent dried fruits such as dates, figs, apricots and peaches are used instead. The list of fruits includes fresh dates and fresh figs, many citrus fruits, apricots, peaches, sweet and sour cherries, apples, plums, pears, pomegranates and many varieties of grapes and melons.
Drinks and dessert
Traditionally Iranians drink cold water with their meals but tea is the true national drink. Most common method is to hold a sugar cube between the teeth so that it dissolves as the tea is drunk. A visit to an Iranian teahouse is a great experience for any tourist. Coffee is also a popular beverage, generally taken black or as instant coffee. In the summer you can find fruit or flower syrups, taken with plenty of ice. The other traditional drink accompanying Iranian dishes is called Doogh. Doogh is a combination of yogurt, water (or soda) and dried mint. Other drinks are several types of especially prepared sherbets called Sharbat and khak sheer.
Generally in restaurants one can find nearly all kinds of soft drinks.
One of the distinctions of the Iranian cuisine is the subtlety of the seasonings. The traditional Iranian politeness even extends to the limiting of garlic in cookery so as not to offend others. Onions and garlic are used only with discretion, but cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, saffron, paprika, nutmeg, turmeric and dill are used with artistry: never overpowering, always gently enhancing the main ingredients.