The Persians had long been refining their skills, fattening chickens on hemp seed, holding cooking contests and writing cookbooks for aristocrats to educate themselves on gourmet matters. Pre-Islamic Persia’s Zoroastrian religion had fostered a cuisine of balance that selected ingredients based on their intrinsic characteristics of heat and cold. The food of modern-day Iran, though now distinct from its early roots, continues to demonstrate balance and complexity.
The jewel of Iranian food – rice prepared with ingredients such as saffron and barberries – did not appear until the 16th century. Polow (rice) dishes with a golden crust, known as tahdig, display highly elaborate methods of preparing rice.
Contrasting sweetness with sourness is a common characteristic probably best illustrated by fesenjan, a stew that’s traditionally made with duck, and flavoured with pomegranates and thickened with walnuts.
Fresh herbs are omnipresent at the Iranian sofreh, a dining cloth that is laid over a rug or table where the food is served all at once: soups like ash-e reshteh, nan bread, pickles and sides like mast-o khiar take their place alongside chelo (saffron rice), kebabs and khoresht (stews), of which the herb-rich ghormeh sabzi is most renowned.
Fruit is later served with tea, while sweet treats such as pashmak and faloodeh (ice-cold noodles with rosewater and a lemon sugar syrup) are more popularly served as street food or at restaurants.