10th July 2018
Besides wondering at the archaeology, the historical and religious sites, and a varied geography of seasides, paddy fields, deserts and snowcapped mountains. Come to Iran to experience its culture and hospitality, the celebrated food cooked at home, in restaurants, on picnics, and the sights, smells and sounds of the bazaar.
Our multinational and very well travelled group started the tour this spring in Shiraz, famed for poets, gardens, and the grape variety that has taken its name. Our first meal was in a restaurant where locals go for kabob. This is significant: in Iran, we generally only go out to eat things not usually made at home, like kaleh pache (literally, a 'head to toe' breakfast of mutton), kabobs, or a cassoulet of sorts called obgoosht.
On the first evening, most of our guests, being new to the cuisine wanted me to order, but a few had been researching and wanted to try a few dishes. It was a great introduction. Most tried doogh, for the first time. This is a salty, sour yoghurt drink which we have with most dishes we eat in restaurants.
As befits a garden city, we ate a home-cooked meal in a Shirazi family's garden, of two of the cities best-known dishes - Kalam Polow (cabbage and rice) and salad Shirazi (finely diced salad). There I gave a cookery demonstration of how we make Iranian chellow (rice) and a kookoo (frittata), for our picnic the next day.
We Iranians love a picnic. Rather than just sandwiches, these tend to be a more elaborate affair. We had our picnic in the shade of the trees in the grounds of Persepolis nearby.
From Shiraz, we headed north, but not before paying our respects at the tomb of Cyrus the Great. We had a delicious sour chicken lunch at a traditional restaurant with a resident swift family in the dining room!
Credit: Simi's Kitchen
Esfahan was next. We arrived at supper time, and, like many travellers before us, we supped on Oshe reshte (fragrant bean soup or pottage) under quince trees in the tranquil gardens of a caravansary now the Abbasi Hotel, before relaxing to the sound of fountains in the cool evening, sipping fruit and herb tisanes and ice cream. Visiting ice cream parlours was a regular evening feature of this trip!
We enjoyed many of Esfahan's aesthetic and culinary delights. Having bought souvenirs of gaz (noughat with pistachios), herbs, spices, and saffron from the bazaar, the next day we headed up to Kashan, where we stayed in a grand old house converted into a hotel.
In the morning, we set out to see how rose water is distilled in the beautiful gardens of Fin. We continued north to Tehran, stopping at a motorway service station for a surprisingly good meal followed by a great coffee in a hipster coffee shop.
We arrived in Tehran after evening rain which had cleared the air pollution and provided a backdrop of the snow-capped Alborz mountains. That evening the group had supper in a basement restaurant with live music and gheliyoun (hooka pipes).
The next day we set out to wander the Golestan palace buildings and gardens before a brief visit to Tehran Grand Bazaar. From there we headed uptown for lunch of obgoostht before going to the colourful fruit and vegetable hall in the Tajrish Bazaar. I left the group there and went on to prepare our cookery lesson.
Food is an integral part of any trip and brings back memories with its aroma and flavour. If you love to discover a country's geography, history and culture through your stomach, then keep an eye out for our 2019 tours. Noushe jan (bon apetit).
To end, I think we'd all agree with US based Kit and Luke Argill's summary of our trip “Bottom line, our Iran trip with Wild Frontiers was one of the most gratifying cultural experiences of our lives”.