A Glimpse Into The Lesser Known Side of Iran

Dear whoever is interested in my scribblings!

Today I want to tell you about the long overdue visit to my country of birth, Iran. After nearly 8 years (that’s almost a decade!!), I finally booked a ticket to go back to Tehran to revisit my home, friends and all the things and places, which were turning more and more into a shady memory of a city I spent half of my life in, than what they really are.

It amazed me, how much, even I, who grew up there, had let years of media propaganda and word of mouth from the Iranians who come over and only tell negative stories about the darker side of things in Iran, make me forget the more beautiful stuff. You know…that place in middle earth you always hear about in the news?! Near Afghanistan, Iraq and all those scary war countries, where terrorists, gunmen and camels lurk about? That is NOT the place I’m going to talk about today…Today I want to tell you about the beautiful gems, which I can only now recognise and appreciate when revisiting, because of the length of time I have been away. I really do hope I can get you to see and enjoy my journey and experience, through the half tourist/half native lens of this humble traveller!

I thought I’d start with the topic most dear to me, regardless of the country or place in question: ‘FOOD’

I could write a separate blog (Hell, even a book) about my love for Persian food. The phrase ‘live to eat not eat to live’ screams from every corner of this town. People in Tehran may be poor, stressed, angry or restless from the October heat and harsh economic conditions, but their love of eating brings them together, at breakfast, lunch, dinner and every hour in between!

The mixture of traditional/modern and western/Middle Eastern cuisines, is such a beautiful sight when you walk down the streets of Tehran. You can walk past a Pizza place, which is next door to a Kabab house, which is next door to a modern patisserie, which is next door to a ‘Sangaki’ (A type of Iranian bakery).  You get what I mean!

(See how Sangak is made in this video I filmed with my dad at a Sangaki in Tehran)

Street Food

Street food in Tehran can vary from area to area! For example, there are shops dedicated solely to selling barbecued liver and heart called Jegaraki. Don’t make that face, they are absolutely delicious! I am a big fan of liver in general, but I don’t know anywhere that has got it quite as right like these folks with their perfectly barbecued livers!

Another popular street food is ‘Haleem’ which is a delicious, hot porridge cooked with lamb, with a hint of wintry spices such as nutmeg and cinnamon! If I were to explain the pleasure of eating Haleem, I would say it’s the food equivalent of a nice fluffy blanket one wraps around oneself on a snowy winter afternoon! But you MUST eat it hot! Once cold, it loses its edge and the pungent flavours!

A selfie with my dad at Tajrish, drinking a pomegranate and barberry juice! Pomegranate Stations are very popular stalls around Tehran, where you can get anything pomegranate related! Juice, sorbet, ice-cream, puree..you name it! Sometimes they are called 'Blood Transfusion Stations' because of the extreme health benefits pomegranate has for blood circulation!
A selfie with my dad at Tajrish, drinking a pomegranate and barberry juice! Pomegranate Stations are very popular stalls around Tehran, where you can get anything pomegranate related! Juice, sorbet, ice-cream, puree..you name it! Sometimes they are called ‘Blood Transfusion Stations’ because of the extreme health benefits pomegranate has for blood circulation!

Snacks, drinks and nibbles! These are the three kings of street food as far as eating out is concerned! There are endless cafes, juice stations and street snacks in Tehran! What are street snacks you ask? Well…pretty much anything extremely sour, extremely sweet or extremely sticky! From fruit bars to sour tamarind to pickled plums! There is also an abundance of nuts! Fresh, dried, smoked, salted or raw!

This is one of the most wonderful sights I have seen! I absolutely love mixed nuts, and seeing this guy mixing kilos and kilos of nuts in the middle of the bazar, for his shop, was almost orgasmic!
This is one of the most wonderful sights I have seen! I absolutely love mixed nuts, and seeing this guy mixing kilos and kilos of nuts in the middle of the bazar, for his shop, was almost orgasmic!

Health and safety usually go out of the window in such places, but there is such a joy in browsing through different bowls of goodies, even though you can see how EXTREMELY homemade they are (and not in a good way!) … It’s gritty, raw and simply wonderful!! I think having spent the first half of my life in Iran, I  have developed a stronger immune system to bacteria in food in general than your average European person who has grown up in the safe arms of ‘health and safety’ regulations their entire lives! I don’t know if this is a good or bad thing, but I am ok with it, seeing that I can’t remember the last time I was ill or suffered food poisoning!

A selection of dried fruit!
A selection of dried fruit!
Plums, Prunes, tamarinds and fruit bars! Street snacks kings!
Plums, Prunes, tamarind and fruit bars! The kings of street snacks!
Absolute delight to look at this wonderful collection of chutneys, pickles and jams!
An absolute delight to look at this wonderful collection of chutneys, pickles and jams!

Now, let’s talk business! As I’m sure even the most geographically, culturally challenged of people knows, Iranian cuisine is all about Kababs!! Shish, lamb fillet, chicken breast and wings! You name it! During this trip, I went to Tehran’s kabab Central, ‘Darakeh’, where you can find some of the best kabab houses! Situated in the hilly skirts of the mountains, every restaurant has a traditional setup, with wooden boards to sit on, without shoes, and wool cushions to lean on. There is a river that goes across most restaurants, which sounds beautiful and makes for an ideal spot to spend one’s summer evening. Shisha, tea and Ajil (mixed nuts) are also served (optional!) after every meal, or you can skip the kabab all together and just go for nibbles and a smoke! All in all, it is SUCH a calming, soothing experience, made even better with great company!

A finger licking tray of shish kabab, lamb fillets. chicken thighs and grilled tomatoes at 'SPU' restaurant, in Darakeh, Tehran.
A finger licking tray of shish kabab, lamb fillets. chicken thighs and grilled tomatoes at ‘SPU’ restaurant, in Darakeh, Tehran.
A lovely get together with old friends and dad at SPU restaurant, in Iran.
A lovely get together with old friends and dad at SPU restaurant, in Iran.
Biting into an unbelievably amazing piece of shish kabab!
Biting into an unbelievably amazing piece of shish kabab!
A traditional coal operated Persian Samovar. It made wonderful tea to accompany the shisha!
A traditional coal operated Persian Samovar. It made wonderful tea to accompany the shisha!

‘Pazeerayee’

When you go to someone’s house in Iran, regardless of whether you have known them for 2 days or 20 years, three things are guaranteed: freshly brewed tea, a fruit bowl and nuts! Now you might think this is nothing out of the ordinary, and you know a hundred other people who do the same over here! What makes this reception so different is that each household treats this welcome as an art form! Each family tries to top the other in the way they present these things! This treatment of the guests and the creativity that comes second nature to every Iranian household is called ‘Pazeerayee’, which directly translates to ‘Hosting’.  I also discovered that when you visit people for lunch or dinner, you have pudding twice! First, you are offered pre-dinner snacks to line your stomach, this could vary from home to home. Nuts, dried fruit, baklava, Koloocheh (Iranian sweet from the north-west region), fruit (goes without saying) and possibly some form of cake, biscuit or ice cream!

Pre Meal Samples:

Arranging a fruit bowl is an art form in Iran. An unattractively presented fruit is rare and represents the host's lack of creativity and household skills!
Arranging a fruit bowl is an art form in Iran. Unattractively presented fruit is rare and represents the host’s lack of creativity and household skills!
Tea, nuts and Fruit...no party is complete without them!
Tea, nuts and Fruit…no party is complete without them!
A different variation of Fruit Presentation
A different variation of Fruit Presentation
Bowl of Nuts and Qorabiye (A sweet made of almonds and pistachios. similar to Russian macaroons, from Tabriz, the North West Region of Iran)
Bowl of Nuts and Qorabiyeh (a sweet made of almonds and pistachios, similar to Russian macaroons, from Tabriz in the Northwest Region of Iran)
A selection of sweets and tea that is usually served before the main course! (First dessert!) The cake here is for my friend's birthday, otherwise, that is a bit unusual, even by Iranian standards!
A selection of sweets and tea that is usually served before the main course! (First dessert!) The cake here is for my friend’s birthday, otherwise, that is a bit unusual, even by Iranian standards!

Then you have your main course, which more often than not won’t be one type of food! It is a culturally accepted fact that a wider variety of food on the table shows the skill of the host. (Because making one type of food means you aren’t talented? I don’t know!!) but it is what it is, and I am not complaining!

Rice, Caesar salad, Sabzi, Date chutney, bread rolls, Kashk-e Bademjan (Mashed aubergines, kashk, walnuts and fried onions), Aubergine and Chicken Stew, Yogurt and shallot dip!  A typical Iranian feast!
Rice, Caesar salad, Sabzi, Date chutney, bread rolls, Kashk-e Bademjan (Mashed aubergines, kashk, walnuts and fried onions), Aubergine and Chicken Stew, Yogurt and shallot dip! A typical Iranian feast!
Qormeh Sabzi (Beef, beand and herbs stew), rice, leek and potato soup, and curry!
Qormeh Sabzi (Beef, beans and herbs stew), rice, leek and potato soup, and curry!
Nan-Made Celery and beef stew! It may not sound like much, but it's wonderful!
Nan-Made Celery and beef stew! It may not sound like much, but it’s wonderful!

Dinner is rarely served on individual plates in Iran. The host serves everything on big serving plates and places them in the center of the table and guests help themselves to what they want! There are usually smaller dishes, such as chutney, salad, soup and bread served at the same time. ‘Sabzi’ is another unusual accompaniment at the dinner table, which serves almost as salad, but consists of a mixture of fresh herbs, some of which are hard to find outside Iran. Some familiar herbs usually served in a plate of Sabzi are radishes, dill, basil and baby spring onions! I’m not even sure where or why this tradition exists, but just like a true native, I never questioned it! (Maybe time to google some more!)

Then it’s time for the second dessert, which is usually the cake or sweets the guests have brought the host! In a nutshell, you NEVER, for even a second, stop eating at an Iranian lunch or dinner party!

Kharbozeh (Most similar equivalent over here is honey dew melon) and grapes are usually consumed after dinner, because they believe to aid digestion along with...you guessed it...tea...There is also a plate of freshly picked pistachios here, which is an all round daily snack!
Kharbozeh (Most similar equivalent over here is honey dew melon) and grapes are usually consumed after dinner, because they are believed to aid digestion along with…you guessed it…tea…There is also a plate of freshly picked pistachios here, which is an all round daily snack!
This, in my humble opinion, is the most delicious cake in the whole wide world! But I am biased, seeing as it is from the bakery 'Bibi', one of the most famous patisseries in Tehran, and as well as it being absolutely, scrumptiously delicious, it has the most important ingredient of all 'Nostalgia'. This is the cake I would order for my birthday from my first birthday all the way to my good bye party when I left England! And it still remains my all time favourite!
This, in my humble opinion, is the most delicious cake in the whole wide world! But I am biased, seeing as it is from ‘Bibi’ Patisserie, one of the most famous patisseries in Tehran, and as well as it being absolutely, scrumptiously delicious, it has the most important ingredient of all ‘Nostalgia’. This is the cake I would order for my birthday from my first birthday all the way to my goodbye party when I left for England! And it still remains my all time favourite!
This is a slice of cake from a more recent and modern cake boutique in Tehran, Sweet Bliss. It was a delight to look at and tasted wonderful and light!
This is a slice of cake from a more recent and modern cake boutique in Tehran, Sweet Bliss. It was a delight to look at and tasted wonderful and light!

Bazar Tajrish

One of my absolute favourite places in Tehran! Not so far from my house, Tajrish has one of the biggest and most renowned markets in Tehran. It is spice, food, clothes and appliance galore! If you look long enough, you might even find somewhere that sells unicorns and magic carpets! I have tried to take a few pictures of some of the things that took my fancy, I hope it gives you a feel of the place! The smell of different spices in the air, the hustle and energy of the place is so contagious that it makes you want to enjoy and appreciate every minute of your life!

The Entrance to the Bazar
The entrance to the Bazar
Dried Rose Petals, simply beautiful!
Dried Rose Petals, simply beautiful!
Mixed Spice, beautifully presented!
Mixed Spice, beautifully presented!
Picking Fruit and Veg
Picking Fruit and Veg

Borj-e Milad

Borj-e Milad, or Milad Tower, is one of the more recent attractions in Tehran, which I always wanted to visit, and finally found the time to do so during this trip! It is the sixth largest tower in the world, and has a revolving restaurant at the top, which I went to for breakfast. (Very few things in this world motivate me to get up at 6am to get ready for breakfast, and I must say this was an absolutely worthwhile reason!) The views are incredible, the mosaic work inside the restaurant is a depiction of events from Ferdowsi‘s ‘Shahnameh’, and it is so tastefully done! The breakfast is so varied and complete! Any food mentioned so far in the blog was available, plus many, many more! Staff were friendly and the atmosphere overall was extremely pleasant! The waterworks inside the tower and outside at the entrance are breathtaking! If you ever decide to visit Iran, I definitely recommend paying this place a visit, if you are a fan of more modern Middle Eastern attractions!

The Majestic Milad Tower!
The Majestic Milad Tower!
View from the Tower!
View from the Tower!
The Revolving Restaurant in the Milad Tower!
The Revolving Restaurant in Milad Tower!

Fasham

Despite my extremely short stay, I managed to get out of Tehran for a night and visit the lovely village of Fasham. We spent the night at my friend’s beautiful and cosy country cottage, and made kababs! The evenings in the mountains are quiet, the air is fresh and doesn’t have the harshness of Tehran’s pollution or heat! In the morning, we drove a bit further into the mountains in order to get to the peak, for a few memorable photos, and of course to eat liver at a lovely Jegaraki in the nice mountain air! If you are a big skier, Shemshak ski resort, near Fasham, is one of the most popular choices in the winter in Tehran! (I personally hate skiing, so I’m only going by the words of others!)

Day at Fasham
Breathtaking views at Shemshak, near Fasham, in the Alborz Mountain Range.
Cosy country cottage in Fasham!
Cosy country cottage in Fasham!
Shemshak, Darbandsar...A popular ski resort in the winter
Shemshak, Darbandsar…A popular ski resort in the winter

Last but not least…

On my last day, I invited my close friends over for a lovely BBQ. With all my newly bought goodies from Tajrish, I marinated chicken breasts and legs in onion, pomegranate puree and ground walnuts, and left them to soak for a whole day. When we finally skewered them, they were divine! (If I may say so myself!) So, yes, I had to go there and squeeze in a little recipe too!

MY OWN KABAB HOUSE!
MY OWN KABAB HOUSE!

There is SO much I could tell you about Iran that a simple blog won’t do it justice. I could write chapters on the beautiful places, on the sometimes annoying and sometimes mind boggling customs, the absolutely insane driving, or the extremely talented underground art networks in all areas such as music, painting and acting! But it’s not nice to babble on (Hah). However, I am definitely not letting there be a gap of 8 years until my next visit. In fact, after having talked to a few friends back in Tehran, I might possibly be going back in the colder months to do a trip to the desert, which is supposed to be an unforgettable experience! So watch this space….

Meanwhile, here is a selfie with my nan, I love her to bits! ❤

Nan <3
Nan ❤

7 comments

    • Aaah did he? That’s nice of him! And very nice of you to read my story! Thank you very much! I’m so glad you like the sound of Iran, and sorry about the hunger pangs haha! Maybe I should put a Disclaimer of sorts at the beginning “risk of hunger” , so I don’t feel responsible!!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Your writing is very approachable, so I’m looking forward to reading more.

        WARNING: The material you are about to read is about good food. If you salivate for more than four hours and find yourself deafened by excessive stomach rumbling, see your physician…or better yet, your nearest kabob place or bakery.

        All the best…Randy

        Liked by 1 person

  1. That was a lovely read. The food looks amazing. The colours are a great sight.
    I hear so much and so many good things about Iran from a FB friend I would genuinely love to visit this beautiful country.
    One thing I’m always told – is the friendliness and hospitality towards tourists. It’s meant to be the friendliest welcome.
    Thank you.
    Nigel.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much for the lovely feedback Nigel! It is indeed a beautiful country, sadly overshadowed by negativity and portrayed unjustly through media! (Not all the time, but enough to dampen the image!)

      I mean by no means is Iran flawless and danger-free, but I strongly believe this to be true for most countries and places! There are areas in London I wouldn’t dream of walking through alone past 6pm! So one’s idea of a ‘dangerous place’ is all relative to a certain extent!

      I really do hope you visit one day and enjoy the experience! 🙂 x

      Like

  2. I won’t repeat myself here, left you a comment on Jottify for this, but I will say it was a real joy to read this amazing glimpse of the other side of your world! And I really hope you do get to go back there again very soon, and get to take lots of pictures to show us a bit more of what most of us will never get to see. So colourful too! 🙂

    Like

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