An Explicit Guide to Souvenir Shopping in Iran

I have no claims of being a shoppoholic. I don’t have any admiration for the term. While I do love fashion in general and put a lot of effort and work into making my own clothes every once in a while, I am very aware of not being enslaved by the industry. When it comes to shopping on a trip, I’m a big NO. Unlike many Iranians, I’d hardly want to spend any time in big shopping centers searching for brand products that might be cheaper from back home, but I almost never go back home empty handed either. From museums I collect bookmarks or postcards that hardly cost a thing, and I thought I’d make a big collage out of them once I have as many. I don’t normally leave a city without purchasing at least a small piece of souvenir to remind me of the memory. I’m very much into plates. I thought I could probably decorate a wall full of them later in my house and so I’ve been collecting them from different countries on the go (ideas of a Graphic designer with an interest in interior design :P).

But Iran is a bit different. While there’s recently a lot of Chinese replicas and statues of Persepolis figures found in shops, it’s still nothing close to most places around the world. Here souvenirs are actual handicrafts. Pieces unique to this part of world and made with love and care. No plates, bags or T-shirts with landmarks. However the variety seen in most bazaar leaves travellers astonished and confused at the same time. So I thought I’d jot down an explicit post with all my souvenir recommendations for Iran. I’m dividing them in cities and type (handcrafts or food) and arranging them from cheap to expensive to cover the needs of all types of travellers. Please keep in mind that all of these products can be found in big cities like Tehran and Esfahan, but usually buying a product from its city of origin tends to come out cheaper and in better quality. So let’s get right into it:

Esfahan

Esfahan is a souvenir shopper’s dream. The bazaar going all the way around Naqsh-e Jahan square is packed with shops selling all sorts of handicrafts, food, pastries and spices. Even if you don’t have any plans to purchase something, window-shopping here is a joy. What I exclusively love about here is the fact that you get to see the behind process of all the beauties in some shops.

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Engraving of metal pieces.

So what’s best to be bought from Esfahan?
Handicrafts:

#1 Qhalam Kari table clothes

These table clothes are to die for. They are handprinted with intricate designs, come in all types of shapes and sizes and are a great way to give your dining table a Persian twist. Compliments are guaranteed and there’s something for everyone’s budget.

The Qhalam kari art doesn’t only come on table clothes, you’d find them on beddings, bags, cushions and a lot more.

How much does it cost? 10-40€ and above.

Where’s the best place to buy? You’ll find a lot of shops selling them around Naqsh-e Jahan square but I’d personally go into the grand bazaar of Esfahan for more variety in size and design.

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#2 Minakari

Minakari is the art of hand painting delicate floral patterns on utensils, vases or basically anything. The dominating blue colour is a beautiful Persian blue that is bound to catch anyone’s eyes in the room.

How much does it cost? 10€ and above

Where’s the best place to buy? Bazaar of Esfahan

#3 Khatam Kari

Khatam kari is a Persian version of marquetry, the art of decorating wooden surfaces with small and delicate pieces of wood, bone and metal. It’s applied to almost anything. From mirrors, jewellery boxes, pens and furniture. Hours of work goes into a small piece, so if you see something to be too cheap, you might want to doubt it. I’ve heard that there are fake versions sold in the bazaar where instead of actual wood, patterned stickers are pasted on wood and sold for Khatam kari! You might want to be a bit careful with this one.

How much does it cost? 10€ and above

Where’s the best place to buy? Bazaar of Esfahan

#4 Metal works

Whether it’s silver, aluminium or copper, we Iranians take it to a whole new level. If you’re looking for something a bit more special and don’t mind spending the extra cash, metal works of Esfahan are a great thing to splurge on. The diversity is infinite and the design is unlike any other in the world.

How much does it cost? 15€ and above

Where’s the best place to buy? Bazaar of Esfahan

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#5 Miniature paintings

Esfahan is home to some of the best miniature artists and you can see inspirations from them on wall paintings in Chehel Sotun palace. Miniature is done on all sorts of surfaces and even on ivory. I’m sure some of you will have second thoughts on paying for ivory like myself, so make sure you ask about the material used in the artwork.

How much does it cost? Depends very much on the size and the artist but they can start from 20€ for a small piece and above.

Where’s the best place to buy? Fallahi Art gallery near Naqsh-e Jahan square is the best place to buy original items of great quality with a certificate.

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Something like this would over 50€.

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Food:

#1 Gaz

Out of all the Iranian sweets, I’ve found foreigners to love Gaz the most. It makes for the perfect souvenir and is a combination of egg whites, sugar, rose water, pistachios and almonds and goes perfectly well with a cup of brewed tea.

How much does it cost? 5€ a pack and above. The price depends on the brand and the percentage of pistachios.

Where’s the best place to buy? They are sold all over Esfahan, but I know to get the really good ones you should go to specific local shops. Unfortunately I don’t remember the place in Esfahan, but I’m sure asking a local would sort that out.

#2 Pistachios

Compared to everywhere else, pistachios are very affordable in Iran. Pistachios come in different sizes, fresh, dried and salted. The fresh ones are very seasonal, so if you visit Iran during autumn or by the end of summer, make sure you get your hands on a handful of these. For most foreigners it’s the first time they even see fresh pistachios.

How much does it cost? 8€ a pack and above. The price depends on the brand and the percentage of pistachios.

Where’s the best place to buy? The best Pistachios come from Rafsanjan and Qazvin. So if you’re visiting these cities by any chance, you can get your pistachios from there.

Yazd

Handicrafts:

#1 Termeh

If you’re looking for another set of table clothes that look a bit more expensive and can spend a bit more cash, go for Termeh. It is primarily made in Yazd and applied to almost anything that could contain fabric. You could even buy meters of Termeh at the bezaar to take home and come up with your own designs. I personally think the runners would add a perfect embellishment to your dining table.

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#2 Copper

Copper might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I love myself some copper and the best places to buy them are in the copper bazaar of Yazd and Kerman.

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#3 Ceramic tiles

Upon your journey around Iran, you’ll encounter a lot of tile work dazzling mosques, bazaars, madresahs and random structures. If you’re tight on the budget, grabbing a few of these with your favourite patterns could be a great wall decoration for your home.

How much does it cost? 3€ and above.

Where’s the best place to buy? You’ll find them in most cities but Yazd tends to have a lot of places selling them. Make sure you peak into some of the houses in the old district to find some gems.

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Food:

#1 Yazdi Sweets

Yazd is a heaven for those with a sweet tooth. Yazdi cakes and sweets are everywhere to be found and it would be a pity to leave the city without giving them a try.

#2 Baqlava & Ghottab

While baqlava is not originally from Iran (I believe it’s mainly an Arab invention), we do have our own kind. Ours tends to be less sweet than those found in Turkey or Arab countries.

#2 Pashmak

Surprise! Surprise! We have our own version of cotton candy as well. 🙂 One that is sweeter containing of sesame and sugar and is mostly accompanied with the bitterness of Persian tea.

How much does it cost? It totally depends on the size and the product but they start from 4€ and above.

Where’s the best place to buy?  Haj Khalifeh Rahbar is the best brand known for Yazdi sweets and all other goodies in Yazd. One of their main shops is just around the corner of the famous Amir Chakhmaq sq in Yazd.

Shiraz

Handicrafts:

#1 Carpets

Yes! A lot of people come to Iran to spend hundreds of euros on elegant Persian carpets. I personally love the carpet section of Vakil bazaar in Shiraz, but the best carpets in general are from Qom, Kashan, Esfahan, Tabriz and Shiraz. They all have their own unique way of weaving and patterns.

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Food:

#1 Spices

If you’re into food, then you should be trying our daily Persian Food Tours for the best experience. During our shopping period, we introduce guests to spices, ingredients and other food from this part of the world. I normally give a few recommendation of spices for people to buy, so I thought I should mention them here as well. Turmeric is a very Iranian spice that is used a lot in Persian cooking, mainly for chicken. I personally love dried lime whether in a whole or in a powder form. They are used in Iran for a variety of stews but mainly Gheimeh. Kashk or whey is also something to consider buying if you’ve loved the taste of it on Kashk-e Bademjan (eggplant dish) or Ash (Persian noodle soup).

How much does it cost? super cheap!

Where’s the best place to buy? The spice bazaar of almost anywhere. I personally prefer the one in Vakil bazaar of Shiraz or Tajrish or Grand bazaar of Tehran.

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#2 Herbs

Before the tradition of coffee was replaced by tea thanks to the British, we Iranians were all about herbal infusions. Recently we’ve been rediscovering our routes and infusions are filling the menus of restaurants and coffee shops. It’s safe to say, they’ve become the new trend! We go nuts while mixing different ingredients to make herbal infusions. Lavender, camomile, rose petals and bitter orange blossoms from Shiraz are some of our favourites. You’d only have to steam them with water and you’re good to go. Not to mention each of them comes with its own medical benefits.

Mashhad

Handicrafts:

#1 Turquoise jewellery

If you’re visiting Mashhad, you’d probably make it to Neishabour to visit the tomb of some significant Iranian poets. While you’re there, make it to the bazaar and check out the turquoise jewellery. Turquoise is used quite a lot in Iranian jewellery or handicrafts because of the numerous mines found in the country.

Food:

#1 Saffron

You should never leave Iran without Saffron. You won’t find it better or cheaper anywhere else. Most of Iran’s saffron comes from Khorasan province, therefore it’s a typical souvenir of Mashhad. The best brands are Saharkhiz, Bahraman and Ghaenat.

How much does it cost? prices start at 3€ for one gram and go above.

Where’s the best place to buy? Anywhere in Mashhad or Tajrish bazaar in Tehran.

#2 Barberries

If you’d like to give your rice a sprinkle of barberries and give it a slight sour taste, then barberries should be on your shopping list. They are a prominent ingredient of Persian cuisine and can be bought fresh or dried.

How much does it cost? A kilo costs around 9€ depending on where you buy it and the quality.

Where’s the best place to buy? Anywhere in Mashhad, Tajrish bazaar or Grand bazaar in Tehran.

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Qom

Food:

#1 Sohan

Sohan is another Iran sweet made out of wheat sprout, flour, egg yolks, rose water, sugar, butter, saffron, cardamon topped with pistachios and the best ones are found in Qom or Esfahan.

North of Iran

Food:

#1 Lavashak

Lavashaks were our dream snacks as kids and to be honest, they still are. I’m one lucky gal who gets her yearly dose of homemade lavashak from her aunt which are dried under the son. As for the rest of you, you can buy them almost anywhere in Iran. But since northerners seem to be into everything sour, they tend to make the best ones. Lavashaks are fruit rolls made from all sorts of fruits that can taste from sour to sweet.

How much does it cost? Very cheap.

Where’s the best place to buy? Any market in the north of Iran, or really anywhere else.

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#2 Torshi (Pickles)

If you’re a pickle lover like me, Iran will answer to all your cravings. We make pickles out of almost anything possible.

Make sure you ask them to be put in a jar and carefully wrapped if you’re planning to take some home.

How much does it cost? A small jar will be around 3-4€.

Where’s the best place to buy? Tajrish Bazaar of Tehran

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#3 Zeytun Parvardeh (Olives marinated in pomegranate sauce and walnuts)

They are just as tasty as they sound. I promise!

How much does it cost? A small jar will be around 3-4€.

Where’s the best place to buy? Food markets in the north of Iran or Tajrish Bazaar of Tehran

#4 Jam

The variety of jam in Iran fascinates a lot of travellers. So why not take a bit back home?! Some of our very unique ones are the carrot jam, sour cherry jam, quince jam, rose jam, bitter orange blossom jam and a whole lot of other kinds.

#5 Caviar

Definitely not for the budget traveller as a small container could easily cost you over a 100€ and I have no idea where you can get it. But I know if you’re coming through an agency, they’ll provide you with them if requested. 😉

Khuzestan Province

Food:

#1 Dates

Dates in Iran usually come from the south and the best ones are from Behbahan. They are sold dry or fresh and come in different qualities.

How much does it cost? 2-3€ a kilo.

Where’s the best place to buy? Food markets of Ahvaz or really anywhere in Khuzestan, Grand bazaar and Tajrish bazaar of Tehran.

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Tehran:
#1 Scarves

In my Girl’s guide to dressing up for Iran, I explicitly explain why I think buying scarves from Iran is a good idea.

How much does it cost? 5€ and above

Where’s the best place to buy? I personally think Tehran is the best place to find unique and elegant scarves. Forget about bazaars if you’re looking for something chic. You’d have to look into boutiques for the best ones and for that it’s best to go to Haft-e Tir square or check out the many shopping malls of Tehran or any other city.

#2 Nuts

Nuts are relatively cheap in Iran compared to other parts of the world. Buying packs of mixed nuts that come with cashews, pistachios, almonds, raisins and walnuts are highly recommended.

How much does it cost? Depends on so many things but I suppose 8€ and above for a kilo.

Where’s the best place to buy? Grand bazaar or Tajrish bazaar in Tehran or other bazaars in big cities.

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#3 Everything that you didn’t buy in other cities.

Since Tehran is usually the last stop for many people, it’s not a bad idea to buy most of your souvenirs here instead of carrying them around the country. You’d find good quality products of almost anything in the capital but at a higher price. I personally think leaving food for Tehran is the best plan.

Best places to buy souvenirs in Tehran:

– Vila Street in Karimkhan st near the St. Sarkis cathedral: Here you’ll find handicrafts of great quality but expect them to be more expensive than their city of origin.

– Safavid market in front of Mellat park in Vali-e asr street: High quality handicrafts and probably one of the most expensive places to buy them.

– Jome bazaar (Friday market): Read all about it here.

– Laleh bazaar in Laleh park close to the Contemporary Arts Museum: Cheaper version of handicrafts but with lower quality.

– Grand Bazaar of Tehran: It’s huge and has almost anything except from fresh products. Not a great place to go searching for handicrafts but perfect for buying nuts, saffron, spices and dried ingredients.

– Tajrish Bazaar: The only place you’ll find fresh food and all the other foodie products.

 

I think I basically poured out all my knowledge of souvenirs in Iran into this single post. I’ll try to update with more information as I travel along. I hope you’ve found it useful and helpful and feel free to leave any questions or personal recommendations that could help anyone else. 🙂

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  • Dana Shahandeh-Stacy

    Thanks for this definitive guide – it’s right on target 😉

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