Food and Drink
The basic foodstuff in Iranian cuisine is rice, served either as a chelo or a polo. Chelo is the plain cooked rice which is served with meats or stews (khoresh), while polo is rice mixed with other ingredients such as fruits (cherries, dried fruit), meat, or vegetables. Meat, particularly chichen and lamb, is frequently served akewred (kebab): the chelo kebab is meat with plain rice. While luleh and kofteh kebab are made from minced meat. The stews (khoresh) are simmered for a long time and are always served with chelo. One of the most famous khoresh is fesenjan, usually made with duck or chicken, pomegranate juice and walnuts. Among the numerous other forms of khoresh are khoresh mast (with yoghurt), khoresh bademjan (with eggplant), khoreshbeh (with quinces) and khoresh rivas (with rhubarb). This combination of fruit and meat which gives the dishes a unique sweet and sour taste is characteristic of much Iranian cuisine and produces some extremely interesting and successful dishes.
Vegetables are used in salads, in khoresh or in polo, but are also very often made into dolmeh, when they are stuffed with rice, meat and various seasoning. In addition to the ubiquitous dolmeh barg (stuffed vine leaves),there are dolmeh bademjan (eggplant) dolmeh beh (quince) and dolme sib (apples).
Iranian cuisine is not very highly spiced but uses large quantities of herbs, such as mint, dill, parsley, coriander and chives. These herbs serve as seasoning for khorcsh and polo, such as for sabzi polo va mahi (rice with herbs and fish), but are also frequently eaten raw with bread and goat's cheese (sabzi khordan) as a starter. A bowl of yoghurt (mast), sometimes flavored with chopped raw garlic, torchi (small pickles), cucumber, spinach with yoghurt and various vegetable salads are also served with the meal.
Soups (ash) also come in a wide variety of flanours and are usually quite filling, Like the khoresh, they make use of vegetables, fruit and meat.One of the most common is ash-e jo, a barley soup, but it is worth trying more unusual ones such as ash-e anar, a pomegranate soup, ash-e torsh, a dried fruit soup, or ash-e mast, a yoghurt soup.
Apart from rice, the other staple food of Iranian cuisine is bread (nan). Vast quantities of bread are eaten every day and around lunchtime it is common to see men leaving bakeries with armfuls of long flat bread. There are several varieties of bread, of different shapes and sizes, including non-e lanash, very thin and often
served for breakfast, and nan-e sangak, a thicker variety eaten while it is stiff warm.
Desserts and pastries, which are extremely popular in Iran, are often flavored with rose water, saffron, almonds or honey. Some towns are famous for their sweets: Qom is known for its sohan, a Hat biscuit-like sweet flavored with saffron, and yazd for its pashmak, a strongly perfumed candy floss, Isfahan is the home of gaz, a sort of nougat flavored with rose water and pistachios based on a substance called gaz or gaz angebin, usually translated as manna tamarisk, forms a dried layers on the leaves which can easily be collected. It is beaten with eggs and sugar and then flavored. Ice- creams, particularly rose water (bastani gol- e sorkh) and saffron (bastani zafrane) ones, are excellent, and are of a slightly thicker consistency the European omes. They can generally be found in the chaikhaneh, or tea houses.
The most common drink in Iran is tea (chai), traditionally served in small glasses and very sweet (the suger cube is not placed in the glass, but held in the mouth between the teeth so that it dissolves slowly). With meals, one may drink a dugh, yoghurt or buttermilk diluted with water and slightly salty. Although an acquired taste, it is very thirst- quenching. In summer, try the traditional drinks such as afshoreh, sharbat and sekanjabin. Afshoreh are fruit or flower syrups (orange blossom,-rose or violet) served with ice. Sharbat is another form of syrup made from fruit and sugar heated together. Sekanjabin are infusions of mint, vinegar and sugar served chilled.
Unfortunately, many foreign visitors will have few opportunities to try the traditional dishes unless they are invited into an Iranian home, or able to go to some of the few restaurants in Tehran and Isfahan that have a menu really representative of the variety and originality of Iranian cuisine. The majority of restaurants, large and small, offer only a limited number of dishes, which recur with remarkable consistency from one place to the next. A soup, a salad, three or four different kebab served with or without rice , and perhaps a khoresh or a polo, make up the usual restaurant menu. Most people get tired of this rice and grilled meat very quickly, and vegetarians should be warned that they may find themselves restricted to a diet of salad and plain rice. Drinks in restaurants are limited to the ubiquitous Coca-Cola (local brew) and to Islamic beer (usually sparkling, and which varies considerably in taste from one town to another). Bottled mineral water is available in the larger cities It is impossible to buy alcohol openly in Iran, even in the large tourist hotels.
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