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Foods Commonly Used in Iran


The classic Middle Eastern staples of lamb, wheat bread, eggplant, and yogurt are also the staples of Iran. But Iranian cuisine sets itself apart by the cultivation and use of rice for almost every meal. “A loaf of bread, a jug of wine” may have satisfied Omar Khayyam, but the fact that the Iranians themselves pay highest tribute to their poet Firdausi, who wrote the Shah-nama – an epic poem to the ruler said to have invented cooking – clearly marks their valued appreciation of gastronomy.

Thus the Iranian diet, along with a base of expertly cooked long-grain white rice, includes seasonal fruits and vegetables, meats and fish, all subtly touched with fragrant spices and herbs and accompanied with liberal servings of some form of yogurt as well as flat wheaten bread. Very little seafood is used and pork is forbidden since Iran is a Muslim land. It should be emphasized that Iranian foods are mildly seasoned, often using saffron or turmeric and the aromatic cinnamon, clove, and cardamom, while orange flower water and rosewater perfume many confections. Sweet hot tea in tiny cups is the anytime beverage, while succulent sweetness keynotes not only the tea but also snacks and treats and even some of the fruit sauces that are part of meat dishes.

As in most Middle Eastern countries, there is great disparity between the diet of the wealthy classes and that of low-income groups both in rural and urban areas. The fine intricacies of the Iranian cuisine and the selection of many dishes for a meal are the privilege of the upper classes alone. Zoroastrian duality is still very much a part of food selection into “hot” and “cold” and eaten in accordance often with body temperaments, such as illness, fatigue, stress, and so on.

For others, cereals supplemented with dairy products, and small amounts of fruits and vegetables in season washed down with huge quantities of sweet tea, form the basic diet. Meats are used rarely. In the wheat-producing areas, rice, the staple of most Iranians, is considered a luxury for the poor, while in the rice-producing areas, the poor enjoy wheat bread as if it were cake.

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