In every region, every country you go to – you will find some special foods – that you love so much. Unfortunately, in most cases, it is hard, if not impossible, to catch sight of them abroad. It is the same case with Iranian local foods and drinks. Here are five Iranian foods I love, and I am sure I will miss them when I leave this country.
Does it sound a bit weird? A big plastic bottle of fully carbonated, salty, yogurt, and herbs-based beverage? I love it, and I could find it only in Iran! Dough is a cherished traditional yogurt-based Iranian drink that accompanies meals. Iranians also use it as an ingredient in many dishes, such as soup or various sauces. While in some European countries, it is possible to find sour milk beverages – typically just acid in taste as kefir or buttermilk – Iranian dough offers an entire symphony of taste and aroma.
They are lightly salted, then come as plain dough with mint, thyme, or several green herbs flavor. In every small shop or big supermarket, you will find an area with 1.5-liter bottles of this white drink; usually, there are several brands and varieties of taste. For example, there is classic dough (no gas – some 80% brands) and a carbonated one. Just be careful when opening the carbonated one; you will have several seconds of a champagne-like fountain, so do it carefully-otherwise your (and your neighbors’) clothes will suffer!
It is a soup – but a special one! You will usually know about approaching a kale-pache shop from far away because of the unmistakable smell it emits. Considered as a kind of Persian Red Bull and winter panacea, it is also a love-it/hate-it food, somehow like British Marmite. Kale Pache literally means Heads and Legs (of sheep, and sometimes goats). It is, in fact, the essence of these ingredients that boil for several hours on a small fire in a huge pot (hence the smell you can notice from a distance). It is believed that such powerful, caloric and tasty Persian food will make you healthy and strong in many aspects. I personally love it – but many Iranians, and seemingly the majority of local girls, do not like it, be it for the smell or the taste of its ingredients. This food is absolutely to try!
Fermented Black Garlic
As a kind of pickle, a local specialty of Northern Iran, I never saw it outside the Caspian Sea areas. These regions were often under Russian influence, so I think this might be why the locals love to pickle near everything – as it is a custom in Russia, too. So, when I first walked across the food bazaar in Babolsar (a seaside city in Mazandaran province), seeing large quantities of black garlic and other vegetables pickled in barrels astonished me (as well as lots of smoked fish, not to find elsewhere in Iran). The local variety of garlic supposedly has anti-inflammatory effects and benefits against several illnesses. Fermented Black Garlic is among local Iranian foods offering an incredible taste, and altogether, I love it with local fish-based food.
Fresh pomegranate juice
Well, fresh pomegranate juice is not limited to Iran. It is ubiquitous in all Iranian cities – street sellers with chromed metal pressers offering you a glass of the deliciously fresh (and very cheap, by the way) pomegranate juice. Also, if you want, you can buy a small or even bigger bottle from street vendors and shops. It has an incredible taste and is full of vitamins. It is interesting to know that every year during autumn when pomegranates are harvested, a festival known as the Pomegranate Festival is held in the northern region of Iran.
Saffron sugar sticks (rock candy)
Saffron is a rare and wonderful spice loved by Iranians. They have been using this product for millennia in the Persian kitchen. Saffron is not a cheap luxury and was even more precious than gold in some periods! In local bazaars of Iran, you will find different kinds of it in proudly exposed glass vases. But I discovered that there is a more wallet-friendly and favored use of this noble material. Looking like miniature zurkhaneh sticks (if you have no idea of this ancient local sport – think about very fat baseball bats).
The rock sugar is mixed with a bit of saffron, giving it a beautiful dark yellow color, with a sweet taste and supposedly healthy qualities. Iranians serve it with tea, and it has become a tradition of the sort. Saffron rock sugar sticks could be a great gift or your souvenir from Iran. I love to use them when offering tea to most precious friends, astonished by such a sophisticated way of sweetening a hot drink.