Persian food and Iranian cuisine, in general, is slowly getting the world recognition it deserves. Travelers visiting Iran are always looking for the best traditional Persian food in every city, something that’s unfortunately not easy to find if you haven’t done your research. This guide is the result of my years of travel around Iran. My experience of guiding people on culinary excursions around the country and starting my company; Persian food tours. It gives you insight into Persian food culture, introduces the best Persian dishes, drinks, sweets, Persian street food and also includes the best places to eat Iranian food in every city.
The eating-out culture in Iran is still at its early stages. Most people still prefer to eat at home. For one thing, the quality is way better and most importantly it ends up a lot cheaper. Restaurant menus in Iran are very limited and the quality is poor in many cases. What you will always find, however, is a variety of kebabs! Always!
Since most Iranians prefer their mum’s recipe of the perfect Ghormeh Sabzi, they would generally only dare to order kebab when eating out. Persian kebabs are also harder to make at home so it’s a win-win situation for everyone. These days things are involving little by little. Decent Iranian restaurants offering traditional Persian food that’s not kebab are found here and there. Attention to detail and food presentation is finally making it to the table. But still, if you want to leave Iran with an idea of Persian food and flavourful experiences, you have got to know what to eat in Iran and where to eat it.
Persian food culture
Persian food is very much influenced by Caucasian, Russian, Turkish, Indian and Arabic cuisine. It’s a rich combination of fresh herbs, mild spices and an abundance of saffron. The taste of Iranian food is very much balanced. Unlike common perception, there’s no overuse of spices. It’s generally a combination of sweet and sour. But this also has very much to do with where you eat your Persian food in Iran.
For example, a popular Persian dish like Fesenjoon can be cooked, mild, sweet and sour depending on where you get it from. In the northern region of Iran such as Gilan, many dishes are flavored with sour pomegranate molasses. In central Iran however, most dishes tend to be sweet. And on the Persian Gulf coastline, you’ll witness a great influence of Indian spices.
How to eat Persian food in Iran?
- Have a list of Persian food you want to try with their names in Farsi. This way you won’t get confused with all the weird names on the menu.
- I know you want to try Kebabs anyway but make sure you always keep an eye for anything strange on the menu and order that one instead. Kebabs will be there wherever you go but I’m tellin’ you, that certain dish might not be found ever again!
- Don’t order too much! Persian food usually comes in big portions. Sometimes one portion is big enough to feed two people, especially if it involves rice.
- Do your research! Don’t just walk into any restaurant. The luxurious looking restaurants don’t necessarily serve the most delectable Persian food. Sometimes it’s in the tiny backstreet eateries where you’ll find the most flavourful Iranian platter.
Where to eat the best Persian food in Iran
In this list, you’ll find the most popular Iranian dishes that are specific to certain cities. We’ve suggested a restaurant for each so you know where to find the best of it. Keep in mind, that most of these dishes can be found in big cities but we suggest eating each Persian dish in its hometown to get the best flavors.
Khoresht Mast (yogurt stew)
Unlike other Iranian stews, this traditional dish from Esfahan is not served with rice or served as a main dish. It’s actually eaten either as a dessert or a side dish! But it can get you full very quickly.
- MAIN INGREDIENTS: Yogurt, lamb or chicken, Saffron, Sugar & Orange zest
- WHERE TO EAT: Shahrzad Restaurant
Probably the most Esfahani food you’ll get to try. Served in a round piece of Taftoon bread and washed down with Doogh. It’s a love or hate thing for most people since it’s full of fat. I use to detest it, but now I don’t mind.
- MAIN INGREDIENTS: Minced mutton or lamb grilled over a fire
- WHERE TO EAT: Shahrzad Restaurant, Azam Beryani
Gooshfil & Doogh
This honey dripping sweet which is strangely eaten with a salty glass of Doogh is a perfect snack after an afternoon stroll in Esfahan.
Kalam Polo (Cabbage Rice)
When in Shiraz, do not miss the well-known cabbage rice with meatballs. It’s a delicacy unique to Shiraz and won’t be found elsewhere.
- WHERE TO EAT: Parhami traditional house
One of the most home-cooked dishes in Iran is this delightful stew with tomatoes, split peas, potatoes, meat, onion, and dried lime. If you’re visiting Iran during Ashura, you’ll get lots of it for free and they always say the Ashura version is the most delicious of them all. No kidding!
One of the tastiest desserts you’ll eat in Iran is definitely Faloodeh. It has many kinds but the Shirazi versions is everyone’s favourite.
- MAIN INGREDIENTS: Vermicelli noodles, semi-frozen sugar syrup, rosewater served with lime juice and normally accompanied with traditional saffron ice cream.
- WHERE TO EAT: The best Faloodeh shops in Shiraz are lined behind the big fortress in the city called Arg-e Karimkhan.
This green soup comes with lots of lentils and is surprisingly seasoned with vinegar. Hence why it might not always make it to your list of top Persian food. I happen to love it and I don’t see why you shouldn’t give it a try.
- WHERE TO EAT: Moshir-ol Mamalek Hotel restaurant
Exactly like the classic Gheymeh but instead of split peas and potatoes, it comes with chickpeas.
- WHERE TO EAT: Talar-e Yazd Restaurant
Shirin Polo (Sweet rice)
This glorious Persian sweet rice with candied citrus zest, sweet carrots, almonds, pistachios, and raisins. It’s mild sweetness and colorful looks make it the perfect dish for special occasions.
- WHERE TO EAT: Talar-e Yazd Restaurant
After Faloodeh Shirazi, the Yazdi version is my favourite.
- WHERE TO EAT: Shir Hossein ice cream shop in Imam Khomeini street
Yazd is well known for its sweets of all kind. There’s even a famous muffin we call Shirini Yazdi (literally Yazdi sweet in Persian). It’s a great destination to buy your sweets for when you’re back home. You will later thank me with every bite. Just make sure it’s accompanied by a nice cup of black tea to balance the sweetness. 😉
- WHERE TO EAT: Haj Khalifeh Rahbar near Amir Chakhmaq square
Want to read more on traveling to Yazd? Check out our complete guide to Yazd.
Not so many travellers make it to Rasht. But if you’re a big foodie, then fitting Rasht into your itinerary is crucial. The food in Rasht is out of this world. Everything comes with a bit of sourness and an extra dose of pomegranate molasses. Rasht or Gilan province, in general, is home to many vegetarian dishes and we all know how much of challenge it can be to find vegetarian food in Iran!
Anarbij is a sour stew with meatballs, vegetables, lots of walnuts and of course pomegranate molasses. I tried it for the first time during my last trip to Rasht and it’s honestly one of the tastiest Iranian food I’ve tried.
It’s not my cup of tea since I’m not a big fan of eggs but I know many people who adore this plate. Vavishka is a mixture of ground beef, tomatoes, onion, garlic with an egg topping.
- WHERE TO EAT: Vanisha Restaurant
Fava beans, egg, and dill are the main ingredients of this northern Persian food. It’s seasoned with turmeric, salt and garlic and it’s a very popular homemade dish in Gilan province. It’s a great option if you’re a vegetarian.
An absolute favorite of mine. You can either have it as a starter or even a main course served with bread. Mirza Ghasemi is another vegetarian dish containing eggplants, tomatoes and lots of garlic. I especially like it when the eggplants are smoked instead of fried.
- WHERE TO EAT: You can’t really go wrong with Mirza Ghasemi, so anywhere would do.
Kabab Torsh (Sour Kebab)
I know you’re already sick of Kebabs but the sour kebab is the most scrumptious piece of meat you’ll ever try. Who could resist Kebab that comes with pomegranate molasses and walnuts?!! Not me!
Koofteh is a super rice meatball with vegetables and a variety of fillings and is made in different ways according to its city of origin. But the best version of Koofteh is the one from Tabriz hence why they named it after the city.
Dolmeh Barg (Stuffed grape leaves)
Although popular in the Middle East, here in Iran the Tabrizis are famous for their stuffed grape leaves. In Dolmeh, a mixture of rice, ground beef, herbs, and split peas are stuffed within a grape leaf. It’s pretty much the same ingredients at Koofteh Tabrizi except the grape leaf wrapping gives it a unique sour taste.
- WHERE TO EAT: Haj Ali restaurant
The former Iranian capital is very much neglected by tourists but that doesn’t mean it’s got anything less when it comes to food. In fact, Qazvin has long been known for its delightful Persian sweets and the city has a couple of unique dishes to offer as well.
Gheimeh Nesar (Persian Jewelled rice with lamb)
You know us Persian, we love our jeweled rice and when it’s a special occasion, we are not intimidated to garnish our rice with more than just saffron rice. Barberries, almonds, coarsely chopped pistachios or basically anything that would add extra colour to the plain rice can be easily added.
There are a few recipes for Persian jeweled rice but in Qazvin they like to have it accompanied with lamb meat and call it Gheymeh Nesar.
- WHERE TO EAT: Eghbali Restaurant
The special edition of Kebab from Kermanshah that is made from a sheep’s rib.
Khoresht-e Khalal (Almond Stew)
A super delicious stew from Kermanshah with meat, coarsely chopped almonds, pistachios, barberries, rosewater and tomato paste.
South of Iran (Persian Gulf Region)
The Persian Gulf region is one of my favourite places for food. The food here tends to be spicier as it’s slightly influenced by Indian cuisine. There’s a lot of seafood involved as well.
This impeccable fish stew is my favourite Iranian seafood hands down! I’ve tried it in many places and they all seemed to be of decent quality. It’s served in Kish , Qeshm island, Khuzestan province and everywhere in Hormozgan province.
- WHERE TO EAT: Gelak Cafe in Hormoz island ، Gabgou restaurant in Tehran.
Another vegetarian dip made from eggplants, walnuts and garnished with Kashk (whey). You can’t really go wrong with it but if the eggplants are smoked then it would taste way better.
This walnut and pomegranate molasses stew with meatballs is another stew made for special guests and occasions. The huge amount of walnut makes it an expensive dish for everyday cooking but if you’re invited to a special dinner, you might get lucky to try this out.
- WHERE TO EAT: Yas restaurant
One of the most traditional Iranian dishes which is found in every Iranian household. The best Ghormeh Sabzi is only found within an Iranian house.
Albaloo Polo (Sour Cherry rice)
My favorite Persian food in the world. I die for this sour cherry dish which is either served with chicken or meatballs.
- WHERE TO EAT: Mestoran restaurant
A thick soup made from and shredded meat which is served for breakfast and it’s very heavy.
- WHERE TO EAT: Seyyed Mehdi
Ash is Iran’s national herb soup which comes in hundreds of recipes. There’s so many of it that we arrange Ash festivals every year. Ash-e Reshteh or Ash-e Sholeh Ghalamkar are the most famous versions served in Tehran.
Tahchin (Persian rice and chicken cake!)
This divine dish is made from layered saffron rice with chicken breasts bound together with yoghurt and egg yolk mixture.
Last but not least is Dizi – one of the oldest Persian recipes to date. It’s available in most cities in central Iran and it definitely makes it to my top 5 Persian food you must eat in Iran.
- WHERE TO EAT: Azari traditional tea house (My top choice), Tilit (They serve a variety of great Dizis)
Other restaurants in Tehran you might want to try
- Vegetarian Food: Ananda Restaurant, Zamin restaurant
- Kurdish Food: Kaziwa Restaurant
- Gilani Food: Gilar Restaurant, Gilaneh Restaurant
Now that you’ve got the whole list of what to eat in Iran, you might be able to try a few and take the memory back home but if you’d like to learn how to cook Persian food in a hands-on experience and take back an actual recipe which you will be able to recreate once you’re back home, I’d highly suggest booking a food tour with Persian Food Tours. We offer world-class culinary walks and cooking classes in Iranian cities and have been listed by the Lonely Planet as one of Tehran’s 7 highlights. Read what our former clients are saying about us here.