What’s cooking Iran?

Our guidebook says that centuries ago the Persian diet was heavy on fresh produce, fish and chicken, with red meats and oils used sparingly. Times have changed. Red meat is back with a vengeance. Mostly lamb, sometimes veal, and all too often a processed sausage of indeterminate animal origin.

Despite our best efforts to eat in homes, our tasting of Iranian cuisine has been somewhat limited by the fact that people go out to eat rarely, and when they do it’s either for fast food (hopefully delicious falafel, but more likely dubious ‘burgers’) or kebab. Traditional Iranian restaurants will serve all kinds of kebabs which arrive as a meaty centrepiece on a massive plate. Grilled tomato and raw onion are never far away. There might be salad but more likely parsley. If there’s rice it’ll come with a packet of butter to melt amongst it. (Incidentally, much of the butter comes from New Zealand. We understand that an astonishing quarter of the butter that Fonterra produces makes its way to Iran.)

More elaborate dishes we’ve sampled have included chicken covered in a pomegranate and walnut sauce, and a kind of aroncini that was cooked wrapped around a plum. We’ve already talked about dizi too – a lamb stew that’s been deconstructed so you drink its broth and then eat the remaining meat and veg, which have been mashed.

Why have spices when you can have parsley? Because they're tastier, that's why.
Why have spices when you can have parsley? Because they’re tastier, that’s why.

A couple of times we have stumbled upon buffets being offered in hotel restaurants which add some variety. We had a camel stew (tastes mostly like goat) and there have been some credible attempts at western dishes. The all you can eat and drink buffet format seems to make more sense here when there’s no alcohol to be add. But something in my DNA makes me over-consume anyway. It’s no hangover, but there is such a thing as too much Sprite.

If you’re eating breakfast you’ll be eating flat bread with jam and cream cheese. If you’re eating as a vegetarian you’ll be eating a whole lot of eggplant (which one waiter endearingly called egg planets). Whenever and whatever you eat there’s not likely to be a whole lot of herbs and spices.

There’s nothing especially objectionable about Iranian food, but it doesn’t make our list of excellent cuisines. In fact, it’s hard to believe what we’ve heard from German travellers when they report that the food here tastes just like their ‘Persian restaurants’ at home. What Persian restaurants?

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