Bread: bread is fairly common, but it is a flat bread called nan
Rice: numerous styles exist, including basmati rice; often
the rice are flavored with a spice like saffron and are served with most meals
Regional Variations, Specialties, & Unique Dishes
Dolma: fruits, meats, and/or vegetables with rice stuffed
in grape leaves, but sometimes also served in peppers or tomatoes
Kebab: roasted lamb or chicken served with rice and vegetables
in pita bread
Kofta: meatballs using Indian and Persian spices often
served with rice and grilled vegetables
Rice Tah-chin: saffron rice topped with chicken
When eating in the Muslim country of Iran there are a few etiquette
rules you must know and follow (although some, like not eating pork or drinking
alcohol won't be an issue as they are not available in Iran). If you get invited
to dine with the local people in Iran the first thing you must know is to dress
conservatively. As Muslims, it is considered rude and offensive to show too much
skin; this includes any part of the legs and the arms from the elbows, or better
yet the wrists, up. For women, their hair should also be covered, which brings us
to rule number two.
Often times men dine only with men and women only with women so don't bring
a guest of the opposite sex to any meal unless you are specifically invited to do
so. In many restaurants there is a "Men Only" section and a "Family
Section," in which women and men can dine together (there is no "Women's
Only" section). In the home many people disregard this rule and will allow
people of the opposite sex to dine together with little issue; just follow your
If you dress appropriately and bring, or don't bring, the right guests you've
already cleared two of the largest obstacles. Try to arrive on time for a meal and
if eating in a local's home remove your shoes at the door if others have done
so. Greet the elders first, but be sure to greet every person individually and shake
their hands (although some conservative Muslims don't believe men and women
should touch so wait for locals to extend their hand first if they are of the opposite
sex). Let your host seat you and when sitting be sure to keep your feet flat on
the floor or pointed behind you as pointing the soles of your feet at another can
Once the food is served follow your host's lead he or she may invite everyone
to begin eating at the same time or may request that either you or the elders be
served first. Try a bit of everything offered as turning down food is rude.
Eat as the locals eat; in most settings this means eating in the continental style
(knife in the right hand, fork in the left), although sometimes a knife is not present,
in which case most locals will hold the spoon in their right hand and eat primarily
from the spoon. No matter which utensil you hold in which hand, be sure to only
bring food to your mouth with the utensil in your right hand. On some occasions
and with some foods you may eat with your hand, but only touch your food with your
right hand. Be sure to only take a small amount of food at first if served family
style as you will certainly be offered a second and third helping. Turn down the
first offer of a second helping, but on their insistence accept the offer. As you
finish your food, leave a bit on your plate to show there was more than enough and
place your fork and knife together in the 5:00 position.
If dining in a nice restaurant be sure to check the bill for a service charge. Most
restaurants catered to tourists include a service charge that will replace the tip,
but if no service charge is included and you're in a restaurant catered to tourists,
leave a tip of about 10%. In other restaurants no tip is expected.
Celebrations & Events
The Persians love their food and after you taste it you most
likely will as well. For nearly every festival or event in Iran, it is accompanied
by a celebration of food; this includes birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, guests,
and anything else one can think of. At any of these festivals you will be sure to
have plenty of food offered and most meals finish with dessert as well.
The Iranian New Year takes place during the Spring Equinox
and during this time foods are plentiful. Although there are no particular dishes
that are universal served on this occasion, the event is sure to guarantee plenty
of traditional Persian foods, including meats, rice, and desserts.
There are two major Muslim holidays in Iran associated with
food, including Eid al Fitr, an event that takes place after Ramadan, a
religious holiday that requires fasting for 30 days. To celebrate the end of this
fast, Eid al Fitr offers numerous foods, which differ from family to family
and region to region, but generally consist of various meats as a base with multiple
grains and vegetables.
The second major religious celebration associated with food is Eid al Adha,
an event only celebrated after a pilgrim returns from haj, the mandatory
journey for every able Muslim to go to Mecca. Again, this festival contains a large
number of rice and meat dishes, including many of those served during Eid al Fitr.
For some people Iran may seem isolated, but in reality the
country is very in touch with the rest of the world and the availability of international
drinks is easily accessible. In Iran you can find coffee, tea, milk, juices, and
soft drinks, including many well-known international brands. Tea is one of the more
popular drinks and if you want something more unique and local, Iran has options:
doogh is a yogurt-based drink with mint and various flavors of sherbets
are also common.
As a primarily Muslim country, Iran has no alcohol available
and it should not be consumed or transported to the country. Drinking alcohol comes
with a punishment of whipping.
The tap water is generally not safe to drink in Iran, but in
most large cities it is considered safe to drink. The most cautious course of action
is to entirely avoid the tap water and items that could be made from or with the
water, such as ice, fruits, and salads. If you do decide to drink the local tap
water, first check with your local hotel or guesthouse to learn the cleanliness
of the water in that area. If the water is safe, remember that many people may have
trouble adjusting to the local tap water as it will most certainly be different
from what your system is used to if you are not from the region.