As I had predicted, the best part about my trip to Iran was the food. Not only because of the fresh ingredients and copious amounts that I was served each meal, but because of the great variety of dishes that I got to try. I spent most of my time in various Afghan-Iranian households, and therefore got to enjoy a combination of traditional Afghan and Iranian dishes. In restaurants, however, we mostly stuck to traditional Iranian dishes (and ice cream) – but more about that later. In this post, I will focus only on the home cooked meals that I had in Iran, and in two upcoming posts, I will cover the restaurant food and sweets that I tried. Here’s my attempt at an ultimate guide to the food of Iran!
This was by far my most favorite home-cooked meal in Iran. It is an Afghan pasta dumpling (or ravioli), filled with scallions and topped with a lentil and tomato stew, and a heavily garlic flavored yogurt sauce. Each dumpling is like a little piece of heaven. And although it cannot compete with my love for mantu, Afghan meat-filled steamed dumplings, ashak definitely makes it to my top 5 favorite dishes (ever). The sauces are also absolutely delicious – I would totally eat them without the dumplings too.
This is a traditional Iranian rice dish, infused with dill, beans and turnips, and sometimes served with meats (in this case, chicken). It is one of the few dry dishes that I had in Iran (most dishes were some sort of stew, or were served with a sauce), and in some way resembles the Indian biryani. Simple and very tasty!
I absolutely horrified my host by asking for this dish, but I couldn’t help it. I love potatoes. And the only thing better than just potatoes: potatoes cooked in an Afghan stew. This stew is made from tomatoes, onions and (A LOT of) oil, and should be simmered for an hour on low heat for best result. It is usually eaten with bread, which is used both for dipping in the korma and for scooping up the potatoes.
One does not simply go to Iran without having ghormeh sabzi! This dish also makes it to my top 5 dishes ever, because there is nothing that I don’t love about it. It is a slow-cooked stew based on spinach, oil (LOTS of it), onions and beans (more or less depending on the host). It is usually cooked with chicken, and almost always served with plain, buttered rice. AMAZING!
This is another delicious and traditional Afghan dish. The concept of bolani is similar to ashak, but bolani takes it a step further. While ashak is served as small, boiled dumplings, bolani is made out of thin and crispy dough, and panfried in lots and lots of oil. Oh, and they’re about 10 times the size of ashak (but don’t worry, you’re still expected to eat as many). Bolani are stuffed with scallions mixed with mashed potatoes, sometimes with added cumin seeds. They are served as they are, and eaten by hand. Tip: surround yourself with napkins. You’ll need them.
Ah, Iranian bread. How I miss you. This bread is delicious with absolutely any dish, and is therefore also served with practically every meal. It is bought fresh from the bakeries in the morning, when it is eaten with a soft, salty cheese (panir), margarin, or with thick cream. And served with sweet tea of course! The bread is then kept and reheated for lunch and dinner, and is popularly eaten with meats and stews. It often replaces the spoon as the primary eating tool, and is ALWAYS served warm.
Beans and lentils
Beans and lentils are also commonly found in Iranian and Afghan food. They are usually eaten as parts of stews or sauces, but also in rice dishes and soups.
Tip: Remember that knives are only used when eating fruits in Iran. Otherwise, dishes are eaten with a fork and spoon (where the spoon serves as a rice-scooper and knife), with bread (if it is a stew without rice) or by hand (if it is bolani or another dry dish).
All photos taken by me on an iPhone.
Next in the Food in Iran series: Restaurant food!