Land of rice and tea
By Susan M. Nurre
You will never have to worry about going hungry when you visit Iran. In fact, you may instead have to worry about your clothes fitting when you return home.
Part of the Iranian hospitality comes in the form of food - lots of it and often.
For starters, when you visit someone's home, or they visit yours, the constant request is "chaay?" (rhymes with pie) which is an offer of hot tea.
If your tea is too hot, (which it almost always was for my American mouth) you can pour some of it in your saucer to cool. Some people then drink the tea from the saucer while others will pour it back into the cup.
Then comes the fruit: Cherries (bunched in fours wrapped together with foil around the stems), peaches, and apples served with small cucumbers called khiar. Often, a plate of cookies is also offered.
I used to to turn down the offered food but that didn't seem to go over well. By watching other guests, I learned the trick. Take a cookie and some fruit, set it on a plate and then don't eat it! This way you have at least pleased the hostess by accepting their offer.
Lemonades and sour cherry drinks were a real treat. While I have not been able to duplicate the hand-squeezed lemonade my mother-in-law made me in Iran, we have been able to find the sour cherry drink used in sharbat at a local international food store in Dallas. You add water and lots of ice to a few tea spoons of the drink mix which makes a sweet, cold drink perfect for beating the Texas heat.
Another heat-beater is faludeh, which is blended fruit such as watermelon, cantaloupe, or honeydew with a touch of sugar. Badri, my sister-in-law, was famous for bringing us glasses of faludeh after we spent an afternoon of souvenir shopping or sightseeing.
Ice cream in Iran is made with rosewater which gives it a sweetness not found in American ice cream. When ice cream is served with a starchy dessert (very sweet!) also called faludeh, the combination is called makhlut (means mixed).
Rice pudding is made in HUGE pots and distributed to friends and neighbours on religious holidays. This pudding is yellow from saffron and is usually decorated with sprinkled cinnamon and sliced pistachios.
A main staple of the Iranian diet, rice was served to us for lunch and dinner. At a few meals we had plain rice as well as rice with vegetables. Persian rice is different from American rice since it is boiled and then steamed. The fried rice in the bottom of the pot, considered a delicacy, quickly disappears from the plate. Not being much of a rice eater at home, I have to admit I did get tired of having it at almost every meal. My Iranian husband, though, raised on rice from childhood, loved it... and even ate more rice on the day we returned.
Dinner is served
As for eating style, we ate on the floor with the food spread out on a sofreh (plastic spread). Each lunch and dinner consisted of rice and salad as well as a main dish and a basket of greens. The main dish was usually chicken, lamb, eggplant, or beef. We also ate Persian versions of spaghetti, pizza, and lasagna.
Unlike the American custom of having the salad before the meal, salad is often eaten last as part of the digestive process. This is also why many Iranian families end their meal with a helping of "greens" usually from their own garden.
When we left Iran, we were flooded with gifts of pistachios (a favorite of my family!) and gaz (white nougat candy with pistachio nuts) as well as noghl (small yogurt covered crunchy candy) and sohan (like peanut brittle except with pistachio nuts).
We saw very few overweight people while we visited Iran - which was surprising based on how important a part food plays in the Iranian culture. Maybe we Americans could learn from their credo - eat well and walk a lot.
Susan Nurre is a native of Texas. She visited Iran with her husband this summer.
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