Iran’s charm begins with its stunning environment – snow-capped mountains, rolling deserts, ancient cities and crowded bazaars all add to an unforgettable tapestry of a culture less experienced. However the heart of this charm truly lies in the palate – within the odorous spices, succulent meats and mouth-watering stews created through thousands of years of perfected techniques. Saffron, cheeses, crispy rice and succulent meats all contribute to full flavoured meals capable of taking anyone to another place. It’ll happen to you too. Once you dine on tah chin, fesenjan or any of the other dishes on this Real Food Adventure, it’ll only take a hint of saffron to throw your thoughts back into the depths of that bazaar – that unforgettable moment where the taste of Persia first hit your tongue.
Why we love this trip?
Discover why Iranian cuisine is so globally influential while tasting crispy rice dishes like tah chin, breads such as soft sangak or fragrant spices such as cinnamon or cardamom.
Cook cultural culinary favourites in welcoming Iranian family homes – from the sumptuous spiced meat and rice of biryani to sharp and fruity fesenjan stews.
Sample regional delicacies at some of the finest sweet stores in Iran during a visit to Yazd, snacking on crunchy almond qottab or chewy soft baqlava as you go.
Day 1: Tehran
Salam! Welcome to Tehran, Iran.
Welcome to Iran. You will be met on arrival at Tehran International airport and transferred to your hotel.
This marvellous city sits at the bottom of the Alborz Mountains – their snowy peaks serving as a photogenic backdrop for the colourful buildings below. Tehran is commonly known as one of the country’s most liberal metropolitan areas and this may become obvious through an adventure into the depths of their hospitality scene. Lamb, chickpeas, tahdig (crispy rice pies) and potatoes are all big staples in Iranian cuisine – just don’t forget they’re best washed down with a cup of dugh (minty yoghurt drink).
Your adventure begins with a welcome meeting today at 6 pm at the Rastan Restaurant, which is just a quick walk from your hotel. Once you arrive, get to know the other travellers over a juicy Iranian kebab served with a side of local bread or rice – the kebab’s rich aroma should have you smelling it well before it reaches the table. Once you’ve filled up, wash it all down with a cup of tea and crawl into bed before tomorrow’s adventures.
It’d be easy to call Iran a land of kebabs, but the country’s gastronomy is a little more complicated than that. Read on below in the ‘special information’ box to learn a bit about a staple of Iranian cuisine.
There are no meals included on this day.
As our trip begins on a Thursday we highly recommend passengers exchange money at the Airport as all other currency exchange houses in the city will be closed until Saturday.
There’s multiple ways to prepare and taste one of the many incarnations of country’s national dish, Chelow kabab. Consisting of steamed rice and saffron with succulent grilled and marinated meat, Chelow is served in the following ways:
Kabab Koobideh: This is the signature incarnation Iran’s kebab and possibly the most famous of them all. It’s the perfect fusion between chopped onion and ground lamb, chicken or beef, resulting in a juicy strip of delicious meat. Koobideh refers to the preparation technique for the kabab, typically placed on a flat black stone before being smashed by a mallet.
Joojeh Kabab: Joojeh Kabab is much the same as Koobideh, except the meat is specifically chicken. The chicken is marinated in different sauces, then grilled or barbecued to perfection.
Kabab Chenjeh: Chenjeh is ‘pure’ meat.
Day 2: Tehran
Get prepared for the first step of your Iranian Real Food Adventure on a trip through the market. Here, gather the ingredients in preparation to cook up today’s lunch, tahchin. Translating to ‘arranged at the bottom’, this traditional Persian dish consists of crisp saffron-infused rice layered with onions, chicken, rice, yoghurt, eggs, oil, salt and pepper. It’s often made for special occasions; the layer of rice at the bottom (known as tahdig) becomes crispy and crunchy as it bakes against the pan and it’s often said to be the best part of the meal. A cooking class at a local house gives the group a chance to learn how to cook this Persian favourite – right before tucking in to their delicious dishes. Afterwards, take to the streets of Tehran on a guided orientation walk. The Golestan Palace marks one of the stops on this excursion, and the dazzling colours of the walls and stained glass windows are definitely worth a photo or two. There’s also a stop at the bustling Tehran Bazaar before returning to the hotel for a free evening.
- Tehran – City walking tour
- Tehran – Tah-Chin Morgh, Cooking Class
Day 3: Esfahan
Known as a top destination for travellers to Iran, Esfahan has a lot to offer for those looking to explore Persian culture. The gardens, Islamic buildings and the UNESCO heritage-listed Naqsh-e Jahan Square are just a few of the highlights the city has to offer – it’s hard to miss something that isn’t full of colour or boasting some gobsmacking architecture. Start off the journey through one of the country’s largest metropolises on a guided walk past the Naqsh-e Jahan Square and its resident mosque before heading onward to the Sheik Lotfollah Mosque and the palace of Ali Qapu.
Once the evening kicks in, prepare to cook up a delicious homemade Persian biryani. The delicate layering of rice interspersed with spices and meat relies on a Persian steaming method known as ‘dam pohkt’, meaning ‘steam-cooked’. While it can be served up with a variety of meats and spices, tonight’s dish consists of shoulder lamb, onions, Iranian sangak bread, cooking oil, salt, black pepper and turmeric. Fill up, hit the hay and prepare for more adventures through Isfahan once the sun rises tomorrow.
Travel distance today is approximately 450km.
- Tehran – Iman Mosque entrance and guided tour
- Esfahan – Ali Qapu Palace
- Esfahan – Sheik Lotfallah Mosque
- Esfahan – Biryani Cooking Class (Dinner)
Day 4: Esfahan
Thanks to a variety of diverse factors such as climate, regional soil and altitude differences throughout the region, the Esfahan Province is widely regarded as one of the most important agricultural sites in Iran. This means there’s plenty of fresh produce growing in the area outside the city, just waiting to be harvested. Take a visit to a nearby farm during the day and get a feel how the local farmers work these lands. Afterwards, travel back into town for a visit to the famous bazaar of Esfahan, located in the old part of the city. Fresh fruit, rugs, trinkets, memoirs and entire shops dedicated to saffron are hallmarks of the typical Persian bazaar – just make sure to stick close to the group as these busy halls can easily sweep up lost people.
- Esfahan – Gaz Tasting and Bazaar Visit
Day 5: Yazd
With mazes of streets, winding lanes and archways upon archways, Yazd is much of a city as it is a labyrinth – keep a map handy and try not to get lost! Begin your adventure through the ‘City of Windcatchers’ on an orientation walk. Visit the Masid-e Jameh, a stunning example of an Azari mosque that boasts the tallest minarets in the country, check out the symmetrical alcoves of the Amir Chakhmaq Complex, then head on to the Water Museum to experience some impressive architecture before arriving at the old mud brick city.
Tonight’s dinner consists of a Yazd favourite – a delicious, traditional Iranian stew called gheimeh yazdi. Pop into a local house before digging in. Your hosts will lay out a tablecloth on the carpeted floor, the way most Iranians still dine.
When cooking the dish, start off by preparing turmeric, onions, peas and lamb or beef. From that point, the onions are cooked until soft, then the meat is sautéed in the same pan. Peas are boiled in a separate pot until their skin is removed, then added to the meat before the turmeric is fried in with the lot. Add a dash of water, then once the meal is almost ready to eat, throw in some salt, spices and tomato sauce to finish up the stew. Some cook the meal with dried limes and a pinch of cinnamon, but in spite of these different techniques, every Persian loves gheimeh thanks to its heart-warming flavours and authentic home-cooked nature.
Travel distance today is approximately 320km.
- Yazd – City walking tour including Jameh Mosque
- Yazd – Gheimeh Yazdi, Cooking Class (Dinner)
Day 6: Yazd
Take to the streets of Yazd for a wander through the finest sweet stalls in Iran. Many generations of confectioners have operated in this area for centuries, selling treats unlike anywhere else in the world. There’s haji badam, small round balls made with chickpea flour, eggs, sugar, almonds, cardamoms and nutmeg; nan berenji, a round cookie made with rice flour, cardamom and rosewater and sprinkled with poppy seeds and souhan, a grainy version of brittle made with pistachios instead of peanut. There’s also the flour-based baqlava, made with almonds, pistachios, cardamom and rosewater. The best seller of all is qottab, an almond-shaped and infused cookie with a crispy shell rolled in powdered sugar.
After loading up on sweet treats, visit a local workshop that makes sugar cubes before heading on to a traditional bakery for a bite of gata or koloocheh. The afternoon is free for exploration through the streets of Yazd.
- Yazd – Food Focused City Orientation Tour
- Yazd – Traditional Sweet Shop & Bakery Tour
Day 7: Shiraz
Today’s adventures begin in Shiraz with an orientation walk through the town, visiting locations such as the Karimkhan Citadel and the Pars Museum. A stop at the Vakil Bazaar offers a taste and an insight into the making of traditional Iranian ice-cream and faloudeh, a delicious cold desert consisting of noodles and frozen rose water syrup with lime juice added to serve.
While the city may have once played namesake to Shiraz wine – not a drop of the stuff has come from the area since the Islamic Revolution of 1979. Yet the region is still full of master beverage producers with some of the local non-alcoholic drinks boasting an unmatched flavour through the use of unexpected ingredients. Different plants such as rose, mint, musk willow, walnut and more are distilled to create drinks with both medical and gastronomic uses – learn more about this at an included visit to a large workshop where some of these beverages are kept and produced.
- Shiraz – City walking tour
- Shiraz – Traditional Beverage Demonstration
Day 8: Shiraz
Drive 60 km northeast of Shiraz into the countryside of the Fars Province on a hunt for the ancient city of Persepolis. The former capital of the Achaemenid Empire, this UNESCO World Heritage-listed site holds some of the earliest examples of the Achaemenid style of architecture – hallmarked by intricate carvings, flat surfaced structures, intricate carvings of humans and lots of stone. A few more kilometres north of Persepolis lies the necropolis of Naqsh-e Rustam, the next stop on the journey. Though parts of this ‘city of the dead’ is said to have suffered major damage over the last millennium, the impressive stone carvings on the side of the necropolis’ massive cliff face are still a spectacular site to this day.
After exploring these ancient cities, head to a cheese making process in the afternoon. Persians are big lovers of cheese, so expect some excellent flavours which you might get to sample if you’re lucky. A traditional panir cheese recipe creates a very delicate, mild tasting cheese with hints of mint and lime. Lighvan cheese is a little more sour – it’s covered with holes and usually ends up served at breakfast or dinner with a piece of fresh bread. An Iranian favourite is Persian feta, which involves taking a block of Greek style feta, drying it out, brining it for a day before serving it up dry with sunflower oil, lime zest and garlic – it’s a flavour you can’t beat.
- Shiraz – Persepolis guided tour
- Naqsh-e Rustam necropolis
Day 9: Tehran
After a free morning in Shiraz, prepare for a flight back to Tehran (approximately 1.5 hours) for the last leg of the trip. The final meal today will most likely be the most memorable; fesenjan, a rich tangy chicken stew with walnuts and pomegranate sauce. This dish is typically served as a holiday favourite during Shab-e Yalda, a winter solstice tradition that predates Islam by thousands of years. To prepare it, begin by lightly sauteing the chicken in olive oil until lightly golden. A sauce is then created from ground-up toasted walnuts, pomegranate molasses and other spices (usually cinnamon and saffron), then simmered until the sauce turns a rich walnut colour. The end result – a truly spectacular, one of a kind sauce that’s sweet, tart and rich in flavour. Undertake this food experience in a typical Iranian house with a local family, sharing laughs, smells and tastes on the final night of your journey.
Day 10: Tehran
Today marks the end of your Real Food Adventure, there are no activities planned for the final day and you are free to depart at any time. Please note you must check out of the hotel by 12pm.
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