One of the signs of a nation’s identity and cultural progress is the skills and cultural elements that the nation uses in choosing ingredients and cooking methods; this factor can differentiate a nation from others. This is true when it comes to Iran’s culinary system too. Iranians hold one of the oldest and most important schools of cooking. Their way of treating food has affected other countries as well and is in itself a tourist attraction.
A Brief Look at Iran’s Culinary History
Iran’s school of cooking is rooted in history; yet, there is little we know about the way they cooked before the advent of Islam. In this regard, the remaining drafts and evidence point to cooking at courts, palaces and among the rich. There are paintings on ancient findings that indicate this fact. The remaining texts from the Sasanid era also bear references to some common dishes of the time and their cooking methods.
Arabs were living in a harsh climate and geography; so their culinary patterns were simple. After the fall of Sasanid kings, those Arabs who had come to Iran followed the purpose of learning from Iran’s civilization and the lifestyle of the Sasanid. Arabs were present in the Abbasid court as well; that helped them learn from cooking methods of the royals and the urban and rural societies of Iran. It should be noted that Iran’s culinary system was also minutely affected by the culinary culture of Arabs.
From the twelfth century on, some invader Turks came to rule Iran. They learned a lot from Iran’s foods and lent their own to the Iranians. Using different kinds of noodles in Iranian dishes is an example of the latter.
The bulk of what we know about Iran’s cuisine belongs to the Safavid era and afterwards. Based on cooking books written by court cooks, cooking was prodigal and luxurious at the time. The recipes of different kinds of rice, stew, cutlet, meat ball and etc. can be found in these books.
The Qajar dynasty was prodigal too. It was in this era that using different kinds of meats, rice, stews, syrups, jams, sweets and fruit became common among people. One of the interesting developments of this era was the introduction of potato and tomato into Iran in the beginning of the 19th century. This new food changed some recipes. The main beverage of the era was coffee; it was usually used after the main course.
The Features of Iranian Cuisine
Four main features of Iranian cuisine are: using lots of rice, cooking the foods for a long time, nearly similar recipes and mild taste.
Using lots of rice: rice has been a cereal in high demand from a long time ago. Its companionship with a stew was a discovery of the Iranian cooks. Cooked rice is called “Polow” by the Iranian. There are two words for cooked rice: Chelow and Polow. Simple cooked rice is called Chelow and rice mixed with vegetables is known as Polow.
Cooking for a long time: Iranians cook their foods for a long time on moderate heat. It is a feature of many dishes. This is unique to Iranian taste and Iranians are used to it.
Nearly-similar recipes: the main dishes in Iran’s culinary system usually enjoy similar recipes. In fact, these dishes could be used as examples and other ones could be derived from them. This depends on the cook’s creativity in mixing new ingredients.
Mild taste: Iranian dishes are not extreme in taste or odor. All of them use spices, although not too much.
Iranians have three main meals: breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Breakfast: the traditional Iranian breakfast consists of Iranian cheese, butter, cream, top milk, different jams and honey along with traditional flat bread (Lavash, Barbari, Taftan, Sangak) and sweetened tea. Milk, walnut, scrambled or boiled egg and tomato omelet are also used in breakfast. Porridge (which is a kind of thick soup made up of wheat and mutton) and Kalaeh Pache (lamb’s head and feet or khash) are among the warm dishes sometimes used as breakfast during cold seasons.
Lunch and Dinner: in these meals, Iranians use Polow along with stews or baked meat, either boiled or grilled.
The Most Famous Iranian Dishes
Different kinds of Kebabs, especially the one used with rice which is called Chelow Kabab, are very common in Iran. Chicken Kebab is another dish made of chicken meat. Ghormeh Sabzi and Gheimeh are the most famous Iranian stews. They are served along with chellow. Fesenjan (made of pomegranate paste and ground walnuts) is a stew used in ceremonies. These are some of the most famous kinds of Pollow in Iran: Zereshk polo (Persian barberry rice), Baghali polo (Persian dill rice with fava beans), Sabzi pollo (rice with herbs), Morasa polo (Persian jewelled rice). These types of Polow normally accompany veal, mutton or chicken. Abgoosht is another popular dish of Iran which is made in different ways based on the region.
Shirazi Salad is a mixture of tomato, cucumber and cubed onion put in vinegar, lime juice or sour grape juice and some salt. Different kinds of yoghurt, mixed with spinach, eggplant and cucumber are also used for lunch or dinner; pickles have their own place in Iranian’s cuisine too. The traditional beverage in Iran is Doogh (a cold savory yogurt-based beverage that is mixed with salt).
Rasht, the Creative City of Food
Rasht is a city in the province of Gilan. It is adjacent to the sea and lots of vegetables grow nearby. That is why the city has a unique culinary culture. Some say 170 kinds of dishes are cooked in Rasht, some are made of vegetables only. Moreover, the city has a rich variety of meat dishes. Different foods are made using local animals, birds and wild animals living in the surroundings. There are lots of restaurants and local food selling centers. This shows the importance of food and its variety in Rasht among its people. UNESCO registered Rasht as the creative world city of food in 2015.