Dear Food Getaway: Iran

I wouldn’t call my visit to Iran a ‘getaway,’ but it was certainly a profound culinary experience that brought me a little closer to my culture and my upbringing. 

Growing up, food belonged in two categories: Home food and everything else. Home food was stuff we ate at home during breakfasts, dinners and family gatherings; the stuff that differentiated me from others; the stuff that I loved but didn’t know how to appreciate. The breakfasts were decadent breads like sangak with savory spreads like French goat cheese and walnuts, butter and honey, and tea. The gatherings were full feasts of saffron rice, rich and meaty stews and kabobs. Instead of taking coffee breaks, we took tea breaks. Often, mom would indulge us by making our favorites for dinner too, like ghormeh sabzi. I say ‘indulge’ because cooking Persian food is incredibly time-consuming, so it’s been years since I’ve had a home-cooked meal like that (of course, mom still indulges me when I visit).

Imagine my excitement to visit a country where I could have home food for every meal! Not only that, everyone else knew about it, restaurants served it and it wasn’t a specialty. This—usually unique—piece of me is the norm in this place. It was like I’d gone into my food past and relived it. So here’s a glimpse into a few of the favorite, food-fueled moments from my trip. Pardon the low quality of some of the photos, it’s hard to stand still when you’re about to eat this stuff!

My love for ghormeh sabzi spans oceans. My grandmother knew that’s what I needed for dinner my first night in Iran, complete with rice and tadig, and koo-koo (an herby quiche without cheese).

My first full dinner in Iran, courtesy of grandma. Photo/Alma Bahman

My first full dinner in Iran, courtesy of grandma. Photo/Alma Bahman


Buying food goes into two categories as well. Getting ingredients for home food in America usually means going to a special section in the store (ethnic or natural food section, or the bulk or baking section for nuts) or the sometimes rare ethnic food store. Plus, it can get expensive. But the grocery stores in Iran were a pleasant, small version of most ethnic food stores I’ve visited: they carry the basics. But like Europe, there aren’t many supermarkets in Iran—which I love! Shopping means stopping by several stores, like the one below. These shops in particular specialize in dried fruits and nuts, staple snacks and supplements to most Persian meals. Buy in bulk, because you’ll find that you’ve devoured everything before getting home.

Need nuts? Dried fruits? I think they have some here. Photo/Alma Bahman

Need nuts? Dried fruits? I think they have some here. Photo/Alma Bahman

Sometimes, those shops also had herbs and spices, also available in bulk. But one day, while exploring the bazaar in Tajrish Square, I saw this magnificent pile of spices, layered like the crusts of the earth. I couldn’t tell you what each of those is, but I have a few guesses!

As seen at the Tajrish Bazaar in Tehran: All the spices ever. Photo/Alma Bahman

As seen at the Tajrish Bazaar in Tehran: All the spices ever. Photo/Alma Bahman

The most important thing to eat in any country is dessert. The only thing I’ve lamented about Persian desserts is the lack of chocolate. As a child, chocolate is all I ever wanted so the rosewater ice cream and pastries didn’t interest me much. Such bold and complex flavors clearly escaped my undeveloped palate. But now, a little older and a little wiser, I tried what the kids call bastani sonati (“traditional ice cream”), saffron flavored ice cream with pistachios lovingly wedged between impossibly light wafers, ice cream sandwich style.

First of all, it’s more like gelato than ice cream: frozen to impossibly cold temperatures yet delightfully creamy that pulls like taffy. The younger Persians might prefer the newfangled flavors, but call me old school, I want traditional!

The best ice cream in the world, saffron with pistachios. Photo/Alma Bahman

The best ice cream in the world, saffron with pistachios. Photo/Alma Bahman

I could go on and on and on about the delightful time I had eating in Iran but instead, I’ll leave you with the following delightful feast. If you’d like to read more about Persian cooking, take a gander at some of my favorite Persian food blogs: Lucid Food, My Persian Kitchen and Bottom of the Pot.

Killer spread for the guests. Photo/Alma Bahman

Killer spread for the guests. Photo/Alma Bahman

Alma is a journalist by trade, living and working in Chicago while staying true to her tree-hugging spirit, L.A. spirit. Favorite pastimes include watching great television, listening to fantastic podcasts and daydreaming about writing a novel. Favorite foods run the gamut from sweet to salty to savory to eggs Benedict. And chocolate. Especially chocolate.