Iranian Cuisine: A Culinary Journey Through Persian Flavors

Let’s face it, most of us tourist types think of all the new exotic food we are going to be trying when get the travel bug and picture ourselves on destination vacations. True, we love learning about the historical heritage, taking in the glorious nature, and exploring different cultural practices, but many of us secretly look forward to delighting in all the different flavors and dishes different countries will have to offer. That’s why I always tell my touristy friends:” yeah, I don’t care whether you admit it or not, I know deep down you are a culinary tourist.”

So, as foodie tourists at heart, I’m positive you will love to have a taste of Iranian cuisine, a culinary journey through Persian flavors would make for an exciting roller coaster ride for your bored palates. Now buckle up, as we’ll be taking you through what’s awaiting you in Iranian cuisine, bringing out the glutton in you by listing some of the Iranian flavors, and the deliciousness they bring to the sweet or savory dishes they are used in. So, let’s have you licking your lips, and bring out the culinary tourist in you while we are at it, shall we?


Saffron, native to present day Iran, the world’s most expensive spice at 15k a kilogram, and unique in taste, color, and smell, is notorious for a golden yellow and appetizing glow it gives food, an intoxicating smell that gets you hooked, and a one-of-a-kind taste it adds to any dish, whether it’s the top, middle, or base flavor.

You definitely won’t want to miss out on tasting some of the dishes made with saffron, so make sure you ask for the following dishes when trying out Iranian cuisine, or your culinary journey through Persian cuisine will simply have been a dud.

Iranian Saffron

Zereshk Polo

‘Zereshk’ is Persian for dried barberry and ‘polo’ for cooked rice, making ‘zereshkpolo’ barberry rice, which has saffron in three of its elements: in the bottom crust of the rice, in the stir-fried barberry mixed with the rice in the platter, and in the boiled chicken it is served with.

Love-bombing you from top, middle and bottom, Zereshkpolo is one of the prominent dishes that showcases how much of a delicacy saffron is, and is highly likely to make the list of your favorite exotic foods.

Zereshk Polo
Typical Iranian “Zereshk Polo” made with Saffron

Jooje Kebob Saferooni

Chicken barbecue is a household food on pretty much a universal scale, right? Nothing special so far, but wait to get a taste of it marinated in a saffron-laced sauce, and you’ll look at chicken barbecue, or ‘Jooje Kebob’ as they are called in Iranian cuisine, with a whole new respect.

So, I’d put ‘Jooje Kebob Saferooni ‘on my list of food needed to be tested while taking my culinary journey in Persian cuisine.

Joojeh Kabab
Joojeh Kabab, marinated with Saffron

Shole Zard, Masghati, Halva

You treat your taste buds to an unforgettable savory dish like the two above, and you realize you have only raised your expectations of the desert to come after, familiar story, isn’t?

That’s when you ask your guide/chef/waiter to fetch you three different Iranian pudding containing the magical combo of saffron and rose water: some ‘Shole Zard’ (literally yellow as flames), which is basically a rice pudding tasting like saffron and rose water.

“Masghati”, which is a starch pudding dominantly flavored by the same mixture, and Halva which is a flour-based version of the golden pudding series. Odds are they’ll have you asking for a recipe and splurging on some saffron.

Sholeh Zard
Sholeh Zard, a tasty Iranian dessert made of Saffron


Cardamom which is called ‘Hel’ by the locals, surprisingly rich is protein, vitamin B and C; and having a sharp, warm, and earthily pungent flavor, is known to be among the particularly fragrant condiments, that gives a unique flavor to some Persian dishes it’s used in, making it quite sought after by the culinary tourists, which we all are, overtly or covertly. So, let’s see what part of Iranian cuisine can introduce us to this heart-stealer:

Cardamom, which is called “Hel” between locals


Let’s start with the sweet delicacies this time around, Ghottab is a pleasantly moist pastry, with the cardamom taste mildly dominating over the taste of walnut and almond.

It’s a local delicacy of Yazd, so you can find it in abundance when visiting the largest mud brick city of the world, but you may find it in some confectionaries near tourist attraction of other cities too.

I’d ask my tour guide to locate them for me, as they tend to know where the goodie are in every given county, town, or city they take you to.

Ghottab is a pleasantly moist pastry, with the cardamom taste mildly dominating over the taste of walnut and almond


Baghlava, a syrupy looking, nutty-textured, and cardamom-tasting sweet treat, famous and popular among tourists and locals, is a must-try representative of Iranian cuisine and a proud token of Persian flavors.

Baghlava Pastry
a delicious and tasty pastry famously from Tabriz and Yazd cities

Polo Makhlut Ba Hel

So, one of the big parts of Iranian cuisine is a concept called ‘Polo Makhlut’ which is an eye-pleasingly colorful rice dish, as the rice is cooked mixed with one of a wide variety of sauces, made with different ingredients and seasonings. It’s kind of like a ballroom dance of flavors and colors in the platter of a rice dish.

Literally meaning mixed rice, one of the flavorful Iranian Polo Makhluts is called ‘Hel Polo’, which is a yellowish spicy chicken rice dish steaming with a pleasingly sharp smell and taste of cardamom. Make sure you have your  host, your guide, or the Iranian food-loving friend who is showing you around the country and cook you a pot, keeping your experience with Iranian cuisine from going half-…decent.

Polo Makhlut Ba Hel
Polo Makhlut


See, there is this sour-salty drink native to Iran called ‘dough’, which is a watery yoghurt served with mint and garlic powder. Now, they dry that out through some special steps, and the flavor changes into a unique one that should be on any foodie’s bucket list. There are three dishes made with Kashk, all my personal favorites, you cannot possibly neglect to ask for, when experiencing Iranian cuisine and indulging in Persian flavors.

Kashk, a key ingredient in Iranian Cuisine

Kashke Bademjan

An eggplant dish, laced with garlic, onion, mint, and Kashk, ‘Kahske Badmejan’ has disappointed very few, and charmed many with how tasty an exotic dish it is, whether they were locals and middle-eastern or western tourists. So, let yourselves be in the charmed camp by this proud spokesperson of Iranian cuisine, and treat yourself to some of the famed ‘Kashke Bademjan’

Kashk-E Bademjan
A very tasty and energetic soup full of nutrients made with Kashk

Aashe Reshte

A literal hot pot of herbs, legumes and grains, ‘Aash’ is a broth made with peas, beans, fragrant herbs, and noodles, served with fried onion, garlic, mint powder, and the ultimate clinching flavor: Kashk. ‘Aash’, quite the exciting symphony of tastes and smells, is a ubiquitous part of Iranian family get-togethers, having Kashk as a big part of why all the nieces, nephews, and grandchildren huddle around grammy, or auntie to get served Aash, at the regular family events.

Ash Reshteh
“Ash Reshteh” which is very famous between local Iranian people made with Kashk

Kaal Joosh

An economical throw-together comfort dish, Kal Joosh is as delicious as it is easily made. Ground-up walnut, boiled with some onion, garlic and Kashk, with breadcrumbs mixed in to make a delectably chunky texture, sounds too simple to constitute a proper meal, but God is it what you’d crave for at least once a month, if not more often.

Iranian Cuisine, Cruising Along a Sea of Persian Flavors

Saffron, cardamom, and Kashk, the unmissable Iranian flavors making dishes like Zereshkpolo, Ghottab, and Kashke Bademjan as great tasting as they are, are only three of what you need to try when travelling in Iran. There is a much longer list containing delicacies like Robe Anar, Dallar, and cumin.

Ask for a complete list, and try to find yourself a zealous Iranian foodie, to help you try as many as possible, so you can have the full adventure with Iranian cuisine, and the ultimate journey through Persian flavors.

5/5 - (15 votes)

Sahar Farzaam

I’m a professional freelance writer of diverse content types and subject matters, ranging from blogs on tourist attractions, to how-tos on digital marketing gimmicks and techniques. My portfolio contains a variety of product/service descriptions for B2Cs and software developers; listicles for medicine, real estate, and car manufacturing industries; and reviews on books, plays, and dance festivals. I write easily and prolifically, and you’ll find subtle traces of wit, whimsy, and word play, woven into my pieces.

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