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date: 15 November 2018

Patterns of Food Consumption in Early Modern Iran

Abstract and Keywords

This article examines patterns of food consumption in early modern Iran from a historical perspective and in a global context. The discussion focuses on the period of the Safavid and the Qajar dynasties, or the early sixteenth to early twentieth centuries. The article first considers Iran’s cultural linkage to the world between the seventh-century Arab invasion and the advent of modern communications in relatively recent times. It then looks at the origins and movement of food in Iran before analyzing the diet of Iranians, especially fresh fruit and vegetables. It also explores regional variations in food consumption patterns in Iran and concludes with an overview of the changes that have occurred in food consumption patterns in the country since the 1960s.

Keywords: food consumption, Iran, Safavid dynasty, Qajar dynasty, communications, food, diet


Scholarship on the material aspects of life used to privilege production but in the last few decades researchers have become preoccupied with consumption and its modern incarnation, consumerism.1 Within this orientation the focus is, however, uneven. Whereas consumption patterns for food, clothes, furniture, and the like are heavily researched for the modern West and, of late and to a lesser extent, for East Asia and South America, they remain vastly underdeveloped for regions such as Africa, which until recently was seen only from a “production-dominated Marxian view,” as a “producer,” a supplier of (raw) materials for items that were finished and/or consumed elsewhere.2

Current scholarship on consumption in non-Western parts of the world is also enthralled with globalization or, in the premodern and the early modern period, “early globalization” and its putative characteristics, connectedness, migration, and exchange. Typically, the starting point of the investigation is c. 1500, not because scholars are any longer driven by a desire to highlight western European agency behind the sixteenth-century widening of horizons, but because before that date little or no information usually exists for the material aspects of life, including consumption habits among people other than kings and their courts—the information about this aspect of life, after all, is generally found in the same texts penned by the European travelers, diplomats, and merchants who were disproportionally instrumental in knitting the world together.

Early modern Iran shares the underdeveloped state of research on consumption with many parts of the non-Western world. Most of the (little) work done on Iran before the twentieth century involves production for export—silk and opium, most prominently—rather than consumption.3 Food—its origins and ways of preparing and consuming it—has received some attention albeit far less than Persian cuisine, recognized as one of the world’s most sophisticated, deserves.4 This fact is odd given that such an old, culturally significant society is located squarely between major cultural blocks, namely between Europe and South Asia; between West Asia, the Ottoman Empire, and Central Asia; and between the Mediterranean world and the Indian Ocean.5

Several factors account for this relative lack of interest. One is an inherent conservatism in food habits coupled with the idea, widespread in Iran itself, that Persian food is not only unique, but also wholly orthogenetic in origin. The relative lack of available sources for especially the material aspects of Iranian life and society until the modern era does not help either. For long periods of time we know little about consumption patterns other than those pertaining to the high elite, monarchs, and their entourage of courtiers and administrative officials. Persian-language sources, rarely concerned with the materiality of life, provide little information on consumption. Several historical cookbooks, or rather food manuals, exist but, valuable and informative as they are, these reflect the static and formulaic taste of the elite.6 Most information about the food consumed by ordinary people comes from Western sources, particularly travel accounts. Some of these offer important, at times even unique, information about food and consumption, as this essay demonstrates; yet, this information remains the product of outside observation rather than lived experience.

With these impediments in mind, in what follows I assess patterns of consumption in Iran from a historical perspective in a global context. Examples range from antiquity to the present, but the focus is on the early modern era, and, more particularly, the period of the Safavid and the Qajar dynasties (early sixteenth to early twentieth centuries). The conclusion briefly reviews the changes that have occurred in food consumption patterns since the 1960s.


Iran’s cultural linkage to the world between the seventh-century Arab invasion and the recent advent of modern communications is of a peculiar nature. Maritime trade is a common conduit of early modern exchange, yet in the case of Iran strikingly little interaction occurred via oceanic channels until recent times. This is perhaps because the Persian Gulf, Iran’s maritime outlet to the world, was, until the twentieth century, connected only tenuously to the (political) centers of the Iranian plateau. These were all located inland, usually far into the interior, and, while frequently shifting, were invariably dominated by land-based empires of mostly Turkic, inner Asian descent. Thus, the Persian Gulf hardly functioned as a vector for cultural influence from the Arabian Peninsula or the Indian subcontinent, beyond the littoral comprising the port cities and their immediate hinterland. Iran was part of the “early globalization” dynamic, to be sure, but its effects were unevenly distributed. Other than as an early modern exporter of silk and bullion and an importer of massive amounts of Asian spices and Indian textiles, the country in Safavid times (sixteenth and seventeenth centuries) is not known for its extensive commodity exchange with the outside world.7 Iran did trade in foodstuffs with other countries, albeit hardly with Europe, but in small quantities, mainly to the Arab lands across the Persian Gulf and to India. Most of the commodities imported were luxury goods—wares with a high value to weight and volume ratio, which were destined not for the common people but the elites. The Dutch and English East India Companies imported enormous amounts of sugar and spices ranging from cloves, cinnamon, and nutmeg, from India and the East Indies, but until modern times such condiments were used mostly in the kitchens of the wealthy. Sugar especially was expensive and for that reason was frequently offered as part of official gifts to the shah, court officials, and other grandees.8

Land-based movement shows greater dynamism, yet here too the flow and exchange were intermittent and uneven. They were largely unidirectional; goods tended to move from east to west. The Islamic period pierced borders, giving rise to lively movement and exchange between the Iranian plateau and the Mediterranean. The seventh-century Arab invasion and subsequent occupation and settlement temporarily “linked” the Iranian plateau as far as Transoxania to the western Islamic lands, enabling the east–west transmission and diffusion of crops and farming techniques so ably described and analyzed by Andrew Watson.9 This movement took sorghum as well as eggplant (aubergine) from India to the western Islamic lands via Iran and led to the westward diffusion from Asia as far as China of various types of citrus fruit, such as sour oranges, citron, lemons, and perhaps sweet oranges, most of which probably had their origin in the subcontinent as well. In the Islamic period significant cultural influence on Iran continued to come mostly from the northeast, Central Asia, and, to a lesser extent, from the Caucasus, the region between the Black and Caspian Seas encompassing the modern countries of Armenia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan. What for lack of a better term we call the “medieval” period (the seven centuries between the Arab invasion and settlement and the Mongol and Timurid assaults on the Islamic Middle East) represents the most active and fruitful episode in the east-west movement. The Mongol and Timurid periods, above all, were decisive for developments in art and architecture, statecraft, political culture, and military technology. The Christian Caucasus, a major source of so-called royal slaves—men who were groomed to become soldiers and administrators and women who were employed by the elite as concubines—played an important role in introducing Christian sensibilities and, with the influx of Armenians, commercial skills and practices into Safavid Iran. The east-west momentum remained in place until modern times, albeit intermittently. Cultural influence continued to be predominantly directed outward in the early modern period—toward the Mediterranean, the Ottoman lands, the Indian subcontinent, and, more particularly, the Mughal state, to which various aspects of Persianate culture radiated.

Food: Origins and Movement

This predominantly northeast and north-to southeast and south orientation is visible in the origins of Iranian food as well. The staples of the country’s cuisine— bread, yoghurt, fresh and dried cheese, thick soups, the combination of meat and fruit in cooking, and the typical condiments of walnuts, lemons, and pickled vegetables—betray either a nomadic Central Asian or Caucasian influence. The Central Asian warriors who conquered the Iranian plateau in successive waves beginning with the eleventh-century Seljuqs can only have reinforced a preexisting love of fruit among Iranians. They must also have been instrumental in spreading the custom of grilling meat, especially mutton and sheep, resulting in the kebab (See Figure 1). Eggplant, which originated in Africa, first shows up in history in Southeast Asia, and it was possibly brought to Iran in the same period from India via the Turks of Central Asia.10 Rashid al-Din, who first entered Mongol service as a head cook in the household of the khan, may have been instrumental in the transmission of Chinese ingredients into Iranian cuisine.11 It seems that the Mongol conquest and settlement in Iran gave rise to a symbiotic Irano-Turkish culture that favored, in terms of food, the Turkish element, to the point where “dishes of Turkish origins were favored in the very heart of Iran, and perhaps the culinary vocabulary of Persian was taken from Turkish.” Judging by the work of the fifteenth-century Shirazi poet Bushaq, dishes made with flour, dough, and soups based on noodles were already prominent in the Iranian diet at that time.12 The Spanish envoy Ruy Gonzales de Clavijo, visiting the court of Timur Lang in the early fifteenth century, called ash, the thick soup that is still a staple in Iran, the daily food of the Tatars.13 Some of the noodle- and dough-based dishes common at the time would later disappear from the country’s food repertoire.

Bert Fragner is the most prominent Iran scholar to argue for a dramatic shift in Iranian cuisine following the Mongol period, when rice was first imported from East Asia to become, rather than a staple as in China and India, an elaborately prepared prestige food.14 More recent research suggests that rice entered Iran much earlier, even before the Muslim era, possibly in the Hellenistic period.15 Yet it remains likely that, with the coming of the Mongols, the varieties grew in diversity and the preparation became more elaborate, in a process that culminated under the Safavid dynasty (r. 1501–1722).16 Conversely, Iranians never took to such quintessentially Mediterranean ingredients as olives, olive oil, and garlic—except in the Caspian provinces. Even the potato and the tomato, which, originating in the New World, in time conquered the cuisines of northern Europe and the Mediterranean, respectively, never made it beyond a subordinate role in Iranian rice dishes. A fried tomato is typically put on the top of the Iranian rice dish called chelow, and sliced potatoes are used to prepare a much-valued crust called tahdik, “the bottom of the pan” underneath the rice. The very name for tomato in Persian, gowj-e farangi, “Frankish plum,” suggests how marginal it has remained to Persian cooking.17

To scholars weaned on the notion of connectedness, dynamic exchange, and interaction, domestic consumption in Iran presents something of a dilemma well into the twentieth century. All indications are that, even internally, most of the country was not well integrated. Until the nineteenth century and in some ways long thereafter, Iran was a land of regions, of oases (urban centers with their immediate surroundings). These tended to be largely self-sufficient in their consumption patterns. This was mostly a function of topography (difficult terrain, formidable mountain ranges, and vast deserts) and poor communications in the face of huge distances. As a result, until the twentieth century Iran did not have a “national” economy; rather, the country was marked by a series of regional economies, clustering around oases, that is, cities and their hinterland. Each of these was largely autarkic, both in the production and in the consumption of life’s necessities. Even at the turn of the twentieth century the country’s various cities and hinterlands constituted their own economies, while many rural parts still operated at the subsistence level, using barter or, at best, locally struck copper coin to exchange goods and services.

This does not mean that goods (or ideas) did not move and were not exchanged over large distances in earlier times. Rather, the types of consumables traveling distances were specific, and imports did not typically include food beyond sugar and spices originating in South and Southeast Asia, most of which were consumed by members of the court and the well-to-do classes. Nor does it mean that consumption patterns were stagnant, frozen in time. A few examples should suffice to demonstrate this point. The first observation, from the mid-seventeenth century, is that made by the French Huguenot traveler Jean Chardin that the Safavid court intended to order male and female clothing in the European style. The women of the court, Chardin insists, having seen European portraits, developed a desire to dress in similar ways.18

The second example is from the early nineteenth century, the time when the newly acceded Qajar dynasty (r. 1796–1925) was in the process of establishing its authority, and involves tea. At least since the Mongol period green tea had been known in the vast region of Khorasan, in the northeastern part of the country, which was exposed to Central Asian and Chinese influence. Black tea, by contrast, came to Iran much later, via the Persian Gulf, shipped from India by the European East India Companies in very small quantities. Throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries black tea remained expensive, which is why it was often part of diplomatic gifts to the shah and consumed but sparingly. Only in the early nineteenth century did tea become a popular drink, a development in which neither the English nor the Dutch played a role. The principal external mediating agent was Russia and its expanding political and economic influence. Instrumental in the indigenization of the drink was the Qajar court, where the new, Russian way of preparing tea in the samovar was first introduced. Having become popular in court circles, tea spread around the country to become Iran’s most popular beverage in modern times.19

The third example is from the late nineteenth century and, like the first, involves clothing worn by harem women. It concerns the introduction of a kind of tutu-like dress, which included “stiffened-out trousers that did not quite reach the knees, and coarse white stockings or socks.” Responsible for the introduction of this apparel was apparently Iran’s ruler, Naser al-Din Shah (r. 1848–96) after a visit to Europe. Fascinated by the outfit of Parisian ballet girls, he is said to have ordered his wives to adopt this attire. The clothing subsequently became popular among royal harem women and then spread around the country.20

All three examples concern court culture and represent a form of “trickle down” introduction, distribution, adoption, and indigenization. Not all change followed this model. From the early nineteenth century European-made consumer goods made substantial inroads into Iran, a function of treaties that secured preferential tax and toll rates imposed on the country first by the Russians in 1828 and then the British in 1841. The influx of foreign goods was less a function of the small amount of direct foreign investment or involvement than of the activities of local entrepreneurs, among them the so-called big merchants (tojjar) a disproportionate number of whom were Armenians and Greeks. This led to an increase of some domestic production. Most notably, the late nineteenth century saw a great surge in carpet weaving for the European and American markets, in part as an alternative to the export of Iranian silk, which in 1867 was wiped out by disease.21 The cultivation of opium, tobacco, and cotton increased considerably in various parts of the country.22 The shift from wheat cultivation to the cultivation of poppies had disastrous consequences, for it contributed to the terrible famine of 1870, severely undermined local production, and led to the inundation of the market by mostly Russian and British consumer goods.

The increase in domestic cash crop and handicraft production was no match for the surge in imports. Henry Pottinger, a British military officer charged with the exploration of Afghanistan in the 1810s, offers a snapshot of Iran’s imbrication with the outside world at this time:

The Kirmanees chiefly send their shawls, numuds, and matchlocks to Khorasan, Kabool, Bulkh, Bokhara, and the northern provinces; and, in return, receive asafetida, gums, rhubarb, madder, and other drugs; Bokhara skins, furs, silk, steel, copper, and tea: the latter three articles are for home consumption: they export the remainder to India, Sinde, Arabia, and the Red Sea, also Pistachio nuts, rose leaves, and buds, for making conserve, gums, cotton, carpets, and bullion; and import, from the former country, tin, lead, iron, copper, steel, pepper, and all other spices; chintz (both European and Indian), indigo, muslin, tea, satin, Keemkhab or gold-flowered silks, Zureebaf or gold-cloth, cocoa nuts, china, and glass-ware, broad cloth, &c. &c. From Sinde they have white cloth and coloured Loongees for turbands; and, from Arabia and the Red Sea, coffee, gold-dust, ivory, musk, frankincense, slaves, &c. &c.23

Little more than a decade later, the English traveler and spy James Fraser insisted that Iran was a “poor country, and it is but a small part of its population that can afford to indulge in superfluities.” Still, he argued, “its increasing acquaintance with Europe and European commodities, has created a desire [among the upper classes] to possess the conveniences and luxuries which are brought from thence, so that the consumption of them is extensive, and constantly increasing.”24 European textiles were among the first to gain market share—at the expense of the myriad Indian fabrics that had inundated the Iranian market for centuries. Fraser noted that English and especially French and German manufactures had to some extent replaced Indian prints. Fine French silks were in demand, too.25 By the 1840s the “imports of European fabrics had become an avalanche.”26

Subsequent decades saw an acceleration and intensification of this process. By mid-century English goods had become so pervasive that it was, in the words of the French artist Flandin, hard to find a piece of cloth not imprinted with a crown or a leopard.27 Matters only worsened with time. Isabella Bird exclaimed in the late 1880 that “A stroll through the Tihran bazars shows the observer something of the extent and rapidity with which Europe is ruining the artistic taste of Asia. Masses of rubbish, atrocious in colouring and hideous in form, the principle of shoddy carried into all articles along with the quintessence of vulgarity which is pretence, goods of nominal utility which will not stand a week’s wear, the refuse of European markets—in art Philistinism, in most else “Brummagem,” without a quality of beauty or solidity to recommend them—are training the tastes and changing the habits of the people.28 “One squarish bazar,” she continued, “much resorted to for glass and hardware and what the Americans call “assorted notions,” is crammed with Austrian glass, kerosene lamps of all sizes in hundreds, chandeliers, etc. The amount of glass exhibited there for sale is extraordinary, and not less remarkable is the glut of cheap hardware and worthless bijouterie. It is the Lowther Arcade put down in Tihran.”29

Nor was Tehran the only place affected. In the early 1860s the bazaars of even a small town such as Sultanabad (present-day Arak) in west-central Iran were filled with foreign goods—metalware from Russia and cotton cloth from England—sold mostly by Greek firms.30 The Englishman Edward Stack, visiting Kerman in 1881 commented on the beautiful rugs for which the region had long been known in noting: “The Iranians prefer Manchester rugs, hideous things bearing the portraits of a camel or a lion, Bay of Naples, Leaning Tower of Pisa, and the like.”31 By the turn of the twentieth century shoddily made European products outdid domestic wares, and Tehran clothed itself “from the West,” while Austria supplied “every kind of inferior crockery and cutlery.”32 Even in far-away Sistan, in the borderlands with Afghanistan, foreign goods had penetrated at the turn of the twentieth century. In small towns in this desolate province the “shops were stocked with English and Russian goods, of Indian and English importation, with many articles of German manufacture.”33

These observations suggest that, with the exception of tea, food was not among these foreign intrusions. The Iranian economy grew during the nineteenth century, bringing more consumer goods within reach of at least the upper echelons of the urban population, but the circulation of many items, including food items, remained fraught with problems. Many obstacles continued to exist, from unsafe roads and the hoarding of coin to the fact that for part of the year payments made to producers in a system of commercialized agriculture withdrew much cash money from circulation. In addition, many parts of Iran remained tied to subsistence agriculture, and in remote parts of the country, such as Baluchistan, barter remained common well into the twentieth century.34

Appearance versus Reality

Iran in the period before oil was inherently a land of scarce resources. In the eighteenth century, following the fall of its capital, Isfahan, to a band of Afghan warriors, and the concomitant demise of the Safavids, warlordism and tribal warfare came to prevail, ravaging the land. The country seems to have fallen into real destitution. Widespread poverty combined with lawlessness halted the movement of goods and reduced many people to the level of subsistence. The early to mid-nineteenth century brought little improvement; even if we strip away the somewhat myopic “Orientalist” depictions of many Western observers, the record of a land of ruins and economic deprivation stands.35

Yet not everything was what it seemed. We should not dismiss Iran for the whole of the early modern era as barren and impoverished outside the urban areas and the oases surrounding these places, or extrapolate from the country’s miserable state following the fall of Isfahan in 1722. In the late Safavid period, Chardin, the most perspicacious foreign observer, remarked that Iranian peasants seemed to him better off than their French counterparts.36 Two centuries later the English traveler Edward Binning, not otherwise known for his positive opinion about Iran and its people, echoed Chardin in opining that “the dwellings and habits of the Persian peasants … are certainly superior to any I have seen in other parts of the East; and I believe would even bear comparison with those of a large proportion of the peasantry of Europe.”37 In 1896 a similar observation was made by the British official Thomas E. Gordon, who, revisiting the country after a three-year absence, claimed: “On the whole it may be said that the peasantry and the labouring classes in Persia are fairly well off, and I think their condition can bear a favourable comparison with that of the same classes in other countries.”38

These assessments accord with the observation of other European observers that Iran’s most prosperous villages were not located astride the main caravan routes. The true wealth of the country, they claimed, was to some extent hidden in remote valleys, sheltered from the rapacious government. Iran’s richest settlements lay at some remove from the main caravan routes and the regular despoilment by passing dignitaries, including the shah with his retinue, to which these were exposed.39 Binning in the 1850s averred that the Iranian government was so impecunious that it did not have the means to pay its own administrators.40 As late as 1900 the French consul in Tehran observed that the news that Mozaffar al-Din Shah was planning to travel from Tehran to Tabriz on his way to Europe sent many villagers en route into the mountains with their possessions for fear of being fleeced.41 Away from these routes life was quite different. Commenting on the discrepancy between appearance and reality, Binning observed: “The march of Persian troops is a much greater evil than an invasion by the enemy. I am convinced that a traveller passing through this country, will form a very erroneous idea of its population, cultivation and resources, if he judges merely by what he sees from the main road.42 In general, he believed, living in Iran was “very cheap and the necessities of life are to be had at a trifle.”43

The decrepit and impoverished appearance of much of urban Iran in the early nineteenth century is deceptive for other reasons as well, as it derives from a rather stark separation between the public and the private spheres. Even today, the outward, dun-colored drabness of traditional cities and villages does not prepare one for the beauty, refinement, and comfort hidden behind the undifferentiated walls surrounding homes and gardens. James Morier, who visited Iran in 1820 as a member of a British diplomatic mission, drew attention to this phenomenon: the “interior of houses is much better than the exterior would indicate, with the private parts hidden behind an unending succession of walls unenlivened by windows.”44 The same observer also pointed to a reason for this universally observed privacy by echoing a trope with regard to non-Western and, in particular, Islamic societies: the rich avoided drawing attention to themselves by way of ostentatious display lest they attract the attention of rapacious governors or the central government.45

Iran, moreover, has always exuded a certain sense of style and sophistication, a way of dressing up ordinary life with elements of color and beauty, symbolized by its people’s love of gardens and flowers, which was already noted by seventeenth-century observers. Roses in particular were (and are) beloved in Iran. Offering flowers in crystal vases to the shah was a custom in the Safavid period. Each of the four of five principal white eunuchs attached to the royal court had a little garden in front of his chambers. The source of this information, the Frenchman Jean-Baptiste Tavernier, visiting in the mid-seventeenth century, claimed that each time he left the palace having sold diamonds to the shah, the court eunuchs would ask him to bring some flowers from France.46 Food, too, it will be seen, was part of this universe in which esthetics played more than just an ancillary role to function and form.

Patterns of Food Consumption

Patterns of Food Consumption in Early Modern IranClick to view larger

Figure 1 Anon.; late Qajar period; kebabforush (kebab seller). Leiden University Library, Collection A. P. H. Hotz.

Foreign observers in early modern times agreed that the diet of Iranians was simple and nutritious, frugal as well as varied and healthy.47 Chardin insisted that, like Asians in general, Iranians ate far less than Europeans, and he called the latter wolves and carnivorous animals by comparison.48 One European observer at the turn of the twentieth century insisted that Persian food was “quite clean—cleaner, if it comes to that, than the general run of the best European cooking.” He called the meat “ever fresh and good,” the chickens “only killed and bled a few minutes before they are cooked,” the eggs “always newly laid,” and the vegetables “ever so clean and tasty.”49 Iranians ate only two meals a day.50

“Fresh” and “frugal” symbolize the meaning of food in traditional Iranian society as not only nutritious, but also bound to the soil and the wider social environment. Food until the mid-twentieth century was an element of a universe in balance, part of a worldview in which consumption, like physical health and hygiene, was entwined with the forces of nature and the dynamics of the cosmos. Food in this traditional society was part of a cosmos envisioned as equilibrium. In line with the principles of ancient Greek humoral pathology and Galenic medicine, Persian cuisine accorded each food item a hot or cold quality in a dichotomy that joined the forces of good and evil.51 This classification was both fixed and flexible, most rigidly applied when sickness intervened, requiring certain foods and liquids, but ultimately determined according to regional and climatological standards.52

Patterns of Food Consumption in Early Modern IranClick to view larger

Figure 2 Anon.; late Qajar period; ashpazkhaneh (kitchen). Leiden University Library, Collection A. P. H. Hotz.

Cereals, rice, vegetables, and legumes as well as fruit, nuts, and dairy products were the main ingredients of the early modern Iranian diet. Few but the rich ate meat regularly.53 If meat was on the menu, it usually was made into a soup containing vegetables as well.54 In other words, as in many parts of the West and South Asia, Iranian cuisine in early modern times was largely vegetarian. It was also a cuisine in which freshness reigned: Iranians, Chardin insisted, prepared nothing beforehand but bought everything they needed on the day itself. Nor was it common to eat leftovers.55 Richer people in the early modern period would prepare meals in their own kitchens. Since firewood on the largely treeless plateau was in short supply and thus very expensive, the poor often did not cook at home but preferred to gather at the cook shops that could be found in the bazaars of larger cities. These rudimentary restaurants are recorded for the Safavid as well as the Qajar period. They consisted of open-air sites where cooks would grill kebabs and the readiness of food was announced by ringing bells, and where one could always get a pilau, a roasted sheep, cucumbers, and salad (See Figure 2).56

All observers agreed that when it came to fresh fruit and vegetables, Iran was second to none. Foreign travelers invariably gushed about the country’s mouth-watering, succulent fruit.57 Everywhere they encountered an abundance of fruit, grapes, apricots, melons, pomegranates, apples, and cucumbers, which have always been considered a fruit in Iran and were (and are) eaten sprinkled with salt.58 In 1831 Stoqueler described Isfahan as a largely ruined city, a far cry from its former glory as the Safavid metropole, but he nevertheless noted that its bazaar was “still abundantly supplied with the richest fruits and vegetables.”59 Even parched Makran in the far southeast, on the Arabian Sea, knew an “abundance of vegetables, turnips, carrots, peas, onions, etc.,” according to J. M. Kinneir, who visited the region in the early nineteenth century. He added that the natives were particularly fond of the “stems and leaves of the asafoetida tree, which they roast or boil and eat with butter or ghee.”60 About Armenia on the opposite side of the country, then still part of Iran, the same author said: “Almost every kind of grain is cultivated with success, and the gardens, with which the towns and villages are surrounded, yield abundance of the most delicious fruits, such as grapes, olives, oranges, peaches, apricots, nectarines, mulberries, plumbs, apples, pears, walnuts and lemons.”61

The vineyards and orchards surrounding almost all towns and villages indeed produced an abundance of fruit and vegetables. Of Azerbaijan, British consul K. E. Abbott in the mid-nineteenth century observed that “This kind of cultivation is yearly extending itself and the quantity of fruit produced in the vineyards, orchards and fields is sufficient to provide the poorest of the population with a delicious adjunct to his meal such as is unknown in most parts of Europe, and some of the fruits are preserved through the greater part of the winter.”62

Fresh fruit has long been grown and locally consumed in great abundance throughout Iran. A profusion of grapes, peaches, apricots, apples, pearls, cherries, almonds, nuts figs, limes, and oranges originating from the orchards surrounding urban centers were always on sale in the bazaars.63 Apricots and melons were singled out as being especially excellent, indeed unsurpassed in quality and taste.64 Binning gives a long list of fruits grown in Isfahan, from grapes to various kinds of oranges to apples to melons, the “finest in Persia and probably the best in the world.”65 Women in Kerman visiting the bathhouse for their weekly bath were thus described as bringing “lunch with them which is usually a light repast of lettuces and vinegar, fruit and scangebee [sekanjebin, a sweet and slightly sour drink made with honey and vinegar].”66 Even a barren port town like Bandar `Abbas on the Persian Gulf coast, a place “ill-fated that wants almost everything that contributes to the support of human life, except fish and mutton,” was amply supplied with fresh fruit. In the seventeenth century fruit was brought to Bandar `Abbas from the island of Qeshm, located some 25 km across from it in the Persian Gulf. “The grapes, melons and mangoes that supply the market of Gombroon, come from the high mountains [north of the town], or from the valleys on the north side of it.”67

Patterns of Food Consumption in Early Modern IranClick to view larger

Figure 3 Anon; late Qajar period, probably ashforush (soup seller). Leiden University Library, Collection A. P. H. Hotz.

Fraser, commenting on the availability and price level of foodstuffs in Amol, in the Caspian region, noted in 1821:

Meat was sold at about a rupee per Tabreez maun, of seven pounds and a quarter English. Fowls were three or four for a rupee: of rice, the staple food, ten or twelve mauns were sold for the same money. Mass or curdled milk, both fresh and sour, with cheese badly pressed, were cheap enough. Chillaw and mass, that is plain boiled rice and sour curds, is the common food of the people, some of whom season it with a little salt fish. But a slight examination is sufficient to satisfy any observer, that the traffic carried on is merely that which is required for supplying the inhabitants, and close vicinity. There are none of the symptoms of external commerce, none of the bustle of trade, no merchant-like figures moving busily about, as at Balfroosh, and none of the marks of prosperity so obvious at that place.68

Beyond the produce eaten raw such as cucumber, onions, and fresh herbs, the range of vegetables used in cooking was and is limited, consisting primarily of legumes, beans, and carrots. Ash, or stew, was another staple that, like bread and cheese, cut across class lines (See Figure 3). Eggplant is still used in great abundance in the various stews that form the heart of Iranian cuisine. Beets (labu) were common, as was corn. In the north the Turkmen cultivated corn in great abundance in the nineteenth century, and, whenever scarcity existed in Khorasan, corn would make up for the deficiency.69 Today, corn is mostly consumed as corn on the cob (balal) roasted over charcoal by street vendors.

In the seventeenth century Europeans—missionaries, it seems—are said to have introduced parsley, artichokes, asparagus, and cauliflower, but the “admirable success attributed to this introduction did not have lasting effect, for none of these are consumed in any quantity in modern Iran.”70 Potatoes are another example of a food that never really caught on even though they were introduced more than two centuries ago. A famous story has it that potatoes were first brought to Iran in 1810 by John Malcolm, the well-known envoy from the English East India Company, and they were initially called alu-e malkom, Malcolm’s plums.71 In reality, the potatoes may have been introduced much earlier, in the late Safavid period. The famine of 1860–61 led many who had not used potatoes before to adopt them.72 In the late nineteenth century their cultivation is said to have increased, but they always remained marginal to the Iranian diet other than as “salad garnished with an abundance of vinegar,” or in the originally Russian salade olivier, which became a staple in twentieth-century Iranian cuisine.73

Rice, in contrast, was and is taken very seriously in Iran. In fact, it is no exaggeration to say that modern Iranians have a love affair with it. Yet rice did not appear in Persian cooking until late in the eighth century. Although some historians think rice was grown in Persia as early as the fourth century, no word for rice is found in the Zoroastrian holy book, the Avesta. The Persian word for rice, berenj, comes from the Sanskrit, which suggests that it arrived via the Indian subcontinent. Iranians also exclusively use high-quality rice of the basmati variety, akin to the Indian variant. The word “pilau,” or “pilaf,” comes from the Persian word polo (or polow), which signifies rice cooked with various ingredients. Khoresh (literally “sauce”), typically made of vegetables, was one of most common rice dishes.

In the course of the Safavid period, the variety of pilau dishes may have increased to an astonishing large number, mixed with all kinds of fruit, cherries and currants, and almonds and raisins, in many different colors.74 Chardin, writing in the seventeenth century, counted more than twenty, prepared with mutton, goat, or chicken.75 The elite would often serve five or six types, with raisins, gooseberries, pomegranate kernels, pistachios, almonds, saffron, herbs, or peas.76 Rice was one of the few food items imported from the East Indies in the seventeenth century.77

Patterns of Food Consumption in Early Modern IranClick to view larger

Figure 4 Anon.; late Qajar period; nanva (baker). Leiden University Library, Collection A. P. H. Hotz.

Drouville in the early nineteenth century called pilau the “national dish” of Iran, adding that it was difficult to prepare a perfect one.78 Preparing rice in Iran is, indeed, an elaborate, time-consuming affair that involves a great deal of soaking, boiling, and steaming. Yet until quite recently, rice was a prestige food that remained mostly reserved for the well-to-do. In the nineteenth century it was said the people of Kashan had to have rice on the eve of Ramadan, during the Persian New Year, and on the first night of Esfand.79 In the early twentieth century, “the common people [ate] very little rice but the rich [ate] a great deal of it.”80 Even today, special rice dishes, most notably shirin polo (literally sweet rice) made colorful with added berries, and fesenjan, a khoresh of poultry, usually duck, with ground walnuts and pomegranate syrup (rob` anar) count as celebratory food and are served on holidays or for guests.

Bread was the final food consumed by all, other than in the Caspian provinces, where rice was the premier food, and in places where cereals did not readily grow, such as the Persian Gulf coast.81 In the poetry of the great thirteenth-century Persian Sufi poet, Jalal al-Din Rumi, bread is imbued with sacred meaning. Bread, a divine gift, descends from heaven and the various stages of baking represent or symbolize the phases of the Sufi’s ascent to heaven.82 To this date, bread has remained Iran’s quintessential and indispensable food. It is eaten for breakfast, with a little honey and/or cheese, and as a side dish with hot meals, together with spring onions, radishes, and various fresh herbs. Aside from being nutritious, bread in former times also served as a substitute for spoons as well as napkins, people using it to ladle out food and on which to wipe their greasy hands.

Two ways of baking bread existed. One is the technique of baking in ashes or embers; the other that of baking in an oven, or tanur. The former method is traditionally associated with (north) eastern Iran, whereas the second is linked to western Iran. It was long thought that the two methods reflected different stages of development, with the bread baked in ashes being the more “primitive.”83 While the first method is certainly the oldest, it is far more likely that it belongs to the pastoral nomadic tradition and its mobile ways, which excludes the oven, whereas the second technique is linked to a sedentary way of life. Indeed, the Iranians may have learned the technique of using an oven to bake bread from the agrarian-based Semites of the Near East in ancient times (See Figure 4).84

In the mid-nineteenth century, bread came in three varieties: sangak, unleavened wheat-flour bread in the shape of baked on pebbles; lavash, dough rolled to the thinness of a pizza crust and then baked against the inner wall of a hot oven, tanur; and dehati, rustic “peasant” bread baked on a hot stone.85 The bread that is known as barbari, “barbaric,” perhaps most popular today, made its way to Iran only in the late nineteenth century. This tasty flatbread was brought to Iran by the Hazaras of Afghanistan, a people adhering to the Shi`i branch of Islam who were considered “barbarian,” “uncivilized,” when they migrated from their homeland to escape religious oppression in the 1890s. They brought their baking skills as well as their bread with them when they settled in northeastern Iran, especially in and around Mashhad. Although in time barbari bread spread to the entire country, it is generally acknowledged even today that the best variety comes from Mashhad, where it is manufactured by third- or fourth-generation Hazaras.86 The very poor sustained themselves with nan-e jow, barley bread.87

Panir, white-brined cheese similar to feta, was and continues to be an indispensable element of the Iranian table—as it is across a wide swath of Eurasia, from Bangladesh to Bulgaria. Panir, usually made from sheep’s milk, was and is classless; rich and poor eat it. The Austrian physician Jacob Polak tells us that Naser al-Din Shah (r. 1848–96) would often just have bread and cheese, and the courtiers hanging out in the royal gardens waiting for an audience in the morning could be seen breakfasting on bread and cheese, as Iranians still do.88

Persian cooking, finally, has long shown a predilection for the sour and the tangy that is rare elsewhere. This emerges in a taste for unripe green plums (gowja-ye sabz), eaten raw with salt, sour cherries (albalu), and tiny unripe almonds soaked in brine.89 Sour condiments known as torshi, from the Persian word torsh (sour), are another staple of Persian cooking. A side dish of torshi vegetables—cauliflower, eggplant, celery, beets, carrots, and beans mixed with herbs—pickled in salt and vinegar accompanies almost every main dish. Already in the mid-nineteenth century Polak insisted that Iranians were used to torshi from early youth and consumed it in enormous quantities, raw as well as cooked.90

Regional Variation

Individual regions of Iran varied in their consumption patterns according to the productivity of the land and the wealth or poverty this generated. Fruits and vegetables were not common in the mountains of Bakhtiyari country, in southwestern Iran, where little fruit was to be had and other than wild asparagus no vegetables grew, or in arid Baluchistan, where dates, growing in the ubiquitous date palm groves, were the staple.91 In these and other rural areas diets were basic. In the 1830s the inhabitants of tribal Bakhtiyari country only occasionally had a chance to consume rice and flour, purchased through barter or “with the money of the luckless victim of the brigand’s daring.” Ordinary food consisted of mas, dry curds, goats’ flesh, goats’ milk, and acorns.92 Baron de Bode, indeed, claimed that acorn paste formed the main food of the wandering tribes of the Bakhtiyari Mountains.93 Bird, traveling through Bakhtiyari country in 1890, too, noted that:

their food is chiefly acorn flour made into bread, curds, and wild celery. This bread is made from the fruit of the Quercus ballota, which is often nearly three inches long. The acorns are not gathered, but picked up when they fall. The women bruise them between stones to expel the bitter juices. They are afterwards reduced to flour, which is well washed to remove the remaining bitterness, and dried in the sun. It is either made into thin cakes and baked, or is mixed into a paste with buttermilk and water and eaten raw. The baked cakes are not very unpalatable, but the paste is nauseous. Acorn flour is never used from choice.94

In another hardscrabble part of the country, Baluchistan, diets were poor as well. At the turn of the twentieth century the Baluchis were said to be fond of meat when they could get hold of it, “which was not often,” so that they generally had to be “satisfied with dry bread.”95

More fundamental was—and still is—the distinction between the lush littoral of the Caspian Sea and the plateau. The Caspian region, located beyond the formidable Elburs Mountains, constituted an entirely different ecozone from the rest of the country. Abundant rainfall and high humidity gave rise to a markedly different society with its own clothing, way of building, food, and social relations. The people of Gilan were the only ones to eat beef, and since rice was and still is abundantly cultivated in Gilan and Mazandaran, the inhabitants of these regions far into the twentieth century consumed rice not just for dinner but for lunch and breakfast as well. Bread, by contrast, was virtually unknown. Indeed, the people of the Caspian littoral despised it. Holmes, who visited Sari in Mazandaran in 1844, noted: “The bread here is consumed by the Toorks, Koords, and other strangers, who compose the majority of the population of Saree; as the native peasant, accustomed to a rice diet, is unable to digest bread,” and, said my informant, “dies, if he eats it for two days together.”96 In the mid-nineteenth century it was said that a dispute in these parts might end with the curse “get lost, go eat bread and suffocate.”97

Conversely, the people from the plateau abhorred beef, which was seen as “low class,” and a cause of typhoid. The only ones who ate beef were Armenians and poor people in cold parts of the country in the winter.98 Polak insists that nineteenth-century Iranians failed to understand how anyone could prefer beef if lamb, sheep, and chicken meat were available, and how they pitied Europeans for being limited to beef.99 They similarly did not care for olives and olive oil, nor did they eat salty fish.100 Garlic, too, was used only in the Caspian region; the people in Mazandaran used it in great quantity, deeming it “essential for correcting the moist air of the country,” but it was abhorred elsewhere101

Rare in other parts of Iran before the advent of refrigeration, fish was and still is an integral part of the diet of the people of Gilan and Mazandaran. Sturgeon and its precious product, caviar, was, however, not among the fish consumed, mainly because the absence of scales makes it a proscribed food in Islam. The habit of eating small and even tiny river and sea fish, including the heads, gave the population of these regions a pejorative reputation as kallehmahikhur, or fish-head eaters.102

Naturally fish figured prominently in the local diet on the Persian Gulf coast. The poor, in fact, ate little other than fish and dates.103 Shrimp (meygu) was a staple. Shunned by pious Muslims as makruh (blameworthy) for its lack of scales, it was very popular along the coast, especially during drinking gatherings, consumed to increase the taste of wine.104 The spiciness of Persian Gulf coast food, otherwise absent from the Iranian cuisine, betrays the influence of Indian cuisine.


Iranian food patterns endured long after other forms of consumption had become affected and altered by imported goods and ideas, as has happened elsewhere. Even in the West, eating habits were remarkably conservative until the post-1960s years of prosperity and the travel-induced globalizing wave that followed. Food, moreover, continues to be fiercely defended as an emblem of the “unique” nation. Ethnic cuisines tend to linger for generations among immigrant communities, who hold on to their ways of preparing and eating food as signifiers of identity even as its composition is influenced and altered by the ways of the receiving country. This latter tendency may be labeled the “invention of tradition,” but it does point to a real phenomenon: that for most of history people had access to little more than locally grown food and, once exposed to new kinds and varieties, tended to be reluctant at best to experiment with these.105

In the Iranian case, the first signs of fundamental change occurred in the 1920s in the form of the appearance of restaurants serving Western dishes catering to the rich and the cosmopolitan. In the 1950s, as transportation improved and Iran became a more integrated country, the consumption of beef and especially veal spread from the Caspian provinces to the rest of the country. Meat consumption in general went up with rising incomes. The next decade, in particular, saw rapid changes in culinary patterns following the expansion of travel, ties to the West, and the growing presence of, especially, American expatriates in the country. In the cities, delicatessen food, until then influenced by Russian tastes, came to be dominated by hamburgers, pizza, and the sandwich filled with processed meat, such as mortadella.106 The Islamic Republic has not fundamentally interrupted or even slowed this development. It has certainly “indigenized” it. In Iran’s main cities American-style fast food is now served in outlets with knock-off names such as Mash Donald, Kabooki Fried Chicken, and Pizza Hat.107 Even caviar, until recently largely shunned by Iranians for its apparent lack of scales, was made religiously permissible (halal) by way of a fatwa issued by the Ayatollah Khomeini himself.108 Neither economic boycotts nor religious proscriptions, it seems, are able to halt developments in consumer trends in a society where new globalizing tastes in food continue to compete with home-grown traditions and ingrained habits.


(1) For an insightful analysis of this transition, see Jean-Christophe Agnew, “Consumer Culture in Historical Perspective,” in Consumption and the World of Goods, edited by John Brewer and Roy Porter, 19–39 (London: Routledge, 1993).

(2) Pedro Machado, Ocean of Trade: South Asian Merchants, Africa and the Indian Ocean c. 1750–1850 (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2014), 6.

(3) For silk, see Rudolph P. Matthee, The Politics of Trade in Safavid Iran: Silk for Silver, 1600–1730 (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1999). For opium, see Ram B. Regavim, “The Most Sovereign of Masters: The History of Opium in Modern Iran, 1850–1955,” PhD dissertation, University of Pennsylvania, 2012.

(4) For an overview, see Rudolph Matthee, “Matbakh, in Persia,” Encyclopedia of Islam, 2d ed., suppl., vols. 9–10 (2010), 608–612. The Ottoman Empire, by contrast, has received its fair share of attention with respect to food. See, for instance, the contributions in Amy Singer, ed., Starting with Food: Culinary Approaches to Ottoman History (Princeton, N.J.: Marius Weiner, 2011); and Özge Samancı, “Food Studies in Ottoman-Turkish Historiography,” in Writings in Food History: A Global Perspective, edited by Kyri W. Claflin and Peter Schollers, 107–120 (London: Berg, 2012).

(5) Nile Green, “Rethinking the ‘Middle East’ after the Oceanic Turn,” Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East 34 (2014): 556–564.

(6) See, for instance, Iraj Afshar, ed., Ashpazi dar `asr-e Safavi (1360, Tehran: Sorush, 1981); M. R. Ghanoonparvar, “Culinary Arts in the Safavid Period,” in Iran and Iranian Studies: Essays in Honor of Iraj Afshar, edited by Kambiz Eslami, 191–197 (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1998); and Jame` al-sanaye` (Ashpazi-nama az `asr-e Qajar), edited by Iraj Afshar) (1389, Tehran: Miras-e Maktub, 2010).

(8) Pietro della Valle, Viaggi di Pietro della Valle, vol. 2 (Brighton, U.K.: Gancia, 1843), 35–36; Jean Chardin, Journal du voyage du Chevalier Chardin en Perse et aux Indes et autres lieux de l’Orient, vol. 4, edited by L. Langles (Paris: Le Normant, 1811), 44; Carlos Alonso, OSA, La embajada a Persia de D. García y Figueroa, 1612–1624 (Badajoz, Spain: Departamento Publicaciones de Deputación provincial de Badajoz, 1993), 64.

(9) Andrew M. Watson, Agricultural Innovation in the Early Islamic World: The Diffusion of Crops and Farming Techniques, 700–1100 (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1983), 12, 44–48, 70.

(10) Priscilla Mary Ișin, “Fish of the Field: Aubergines in the Ottoman Period,” Food & History 11 (2013): 19–20.

(11) Thomas Allsen, “Two Cultural Brokers of Medieval Eurasia: Bolad Aqa and Marco Polo,” in Nomadic Diplomacy: Destruction and Religion from the Pacific to the Adriatic, edited by M. Gevers and Wayne Schlepp, 73–74 (Toronto: Joint Center for Asian and Pacific Studies, 1994).

(12) Ayla Algar, “Bushaq of Shiraz: Poet, Parasite, and Gastronome,” Petits propos culinaires 31 (1989): 13.

(13) Ruy González de Clavijo, Embassy to Tamerlane, 1403–1406, translated by G. le Strange (London: Routledge & Sons, 1928), 191–192. The term ash may be of Turkish or Indo-European origins. See W. Eilers, “Āš,” Encyclopaedia Iranica, vol. 2 (1987), 692.

(14) Bert Fragner, “From the Caucasus to the Roof of the World: A Culinary Adventure,” in A Taste of Thyme: Culinary Cultures of the Middle East, edited by Sami Zubaida and Richard Tapper, 54–56 (London: Tauris Parke, 2000).

(15) S. A. M. Adshead, Material Culture in Europe and China, 1400–1800 (Basingstoke, U.K.: Macmillan, 1997), 46.

(16) Bert Fragner, “Zur Erforschung der kulinarischer Kultur Irans,” Die Welt des Islams n. s., 23–24 (1984): 340–341; and Thomas T. Allsen, Culture and Conquest in Mongol Eurasia (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 136–138.

(17) Fragner, “From the Caucasus to the Roof.” The term Mediterranean and the “healthy” nature of its cuisine are in some ways modern constructions. See Sami Zubaida, “National, Communal and Global Dimensions in Middle Eastern Food Cultures,” in A Taste of Thyme, 33–48 (especially 43).

(19) Rudolph Matthee, “From Coffee to Tea: Changing Patterns of Consumption in Qajar Iran,” Journal of World History 7(2) (1999): 299–330; and Rudolph Matthee, The Pursuit of Pleasure; Drugs and Stimulants in Iranian History, 1500–1900 (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2005), 237–266.

(20) Ella C. Sykes, Through Persia on a Side-Saddle (London: A. D. Innes, 1898), 17–18; Avarsky M. Alikhanov, V’ gostiakh u shakha. Ocherki Persii (Tiflis, Russia: Tip. IA. I. Libermana, 1898), 138–139; and Georges Ducrocq, in Regards français sur le coup d’État de 1921 en Perse. Journaux personnels de George Ducrocq et Hélène Hoppenot, edited by Yann Richard, 34 (Leiden: Brill, 2014). For an elaborate attempt to contextualize this story of cultural transmission and cast doubt on its veracity, see R. Jackson Armstrong-Ingram, “The Shah, the Skirt, and the Ballet: A Menage à Trois, or Just Ill-Founded Gossip?” Qajar Studies 4 (2004): 91–108.

(21) Antony Wynn, Three Camels to Smyrna: Times of War and Peace in Turkey, Persia, India, Afghanistan & Nepal, 1907–1986; The Story of the Oriental Carpet Manufacturers Company (London: Hali, 2008), 53–54; and Leonard M. Helfgott, Ties That Bind: A Social History of the Iranian Carpet (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1994), chaps. 4 and 5.

(22) Gad G. Gilbar, “The Opening Up of Qājār Iran: Some Economic and Social Aspects,” Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 49 (1986): 76–77.

(23) Henry Pottinger, Travels in Beloochestan and Sinde (London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, and Brown, 1816), 226.

(24) James B. Fraser, Travels and Adventures in the Persian Provinces of the Southern Banks of the Caspian Sea (London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, and Brown, 1826), 366.

(25) Ibid., 366–368; and Edward Stirling, The Journals of Edward Stirling in Persia and Afghanistan, 1828–1829 (Naples: Istituto universitario orientale, 1991), 129–130.

(26) Willem Floor, Textile Imports into Qajar Iran: Russia versus Great Britain; The Battle for Market Domination (Costa Mesa, Calif.: Mazda, 2009), 18–19.

(27) Eugène Flandin, Voyage en Perse, vol. 1. (Paris: Gide & Jules Baudry, 1851), 268.

(28) Isabella Bird (Bishop), Journeys in Persia and Kurdistan, vol. 1 (London: J. Murray, 1891), 391.

(29) Bird, Journeys, vol. 1, 391–392. The Lowther Arcade refers to a well-known nineteenth-century shopping arcade on The Strand in London.

(30) Heinrich Brugsch, Reise der K. Preussischen Gesandtschaft nach Persien 1860 und 1861, vol. 2 (Leipzig: J. C. Hinrichs, 1862), 12.

(31) Edward Stack, Six Months in Persia, vol. 1 (New York: Putnam, 1882), 211.

(33) Arnold H. Savage Landor, Across Coveted Lands, vol. 1 (New York: C. Scribner’s Sons, 1903), 147.

(34) Willem Floor, Agriculture in Qajar Iran (Washington D.C.: Mage, 2007), 16–17.

(35) See Rudolph Matthee, “From Splendour and Admiration to Ruin and Condescension: Western Travelers to Iran from the Safavids to the Qajars,” Iran: British Journal of Persian Studies 54 (1) (2016): 3-22..

(37) Robert B. M. Binning, A Journal of Two Years’ Travel in Persia, vol. 2 (London: W. H. Allen, 1857), 46.

(38) Thomas E. Gordon, Persia Revisited, 1895 (London: E. Arnold, 1896), 39–40; quoted in Gilbar, “The Opening Up of Persia,” 81.

(39) Jean-Baptiste de la Maze, “Voyages,” in Lettres édifiantes et curieuses, vol. 4, 70 (Toulouse, France: Noël-Étienne Sens, 1810–11); Binning, Journal, vol. 2, 144.

(40) Ibid., 301, 315–316.

(41) Archives des Affaires Étrangères, Paris, Corr. Pol., Perse 1, Tehran to Paris, April 6, 1900, fol. 119.

(42) Binning, Journal, vol. 2, 57.

(43) Ibid., 301, 315–316.

(44) James Morier, A Second Journey through Persia, Armenia, and Asia Minor, to Constantinople, between the Years 1810 and 1816 (London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, and Brown, 1818), 135.

(46) Jean-Baptiste Tavernier, Les six voyages de Jean Baptiste Tavernier … en Turquie, en Perse et aux Indes, vol. 1 (Paris: La Veuve Clouzier, 1686), 418. Also see Ducrocq, in Richard, ed., Regards français, 28.

(47) Tavernier, Les six voyages, vol. 1, 712; Judas T. Krusinski, The History of the Late Revolutions of Persia, vol. 1 (London: J. Pemberton, 1733), 67–68.

(48) Chardin, Journal du voyage, vol. 4, 26–27. He attributed the modest food intake, in part, to the hot climate and, in part, to heavy tobacco, wine, and opium use.

(49) A. Henry Savage Landor, Across Coveted Lands: Or, a Journey from Flushing (Holland) to Calcutta, Overland, vol. 1 (New York: C. Scribner’s Sons, 1903), 458.

(51) Farhad Khosrokhavar, “La pratique alimentaire,” in Entre l’Iran et l’Occident: Adaptation et assimilation des idées et techniques occidentales en Iran, edited by Yann Richard, 145 (Paris: Éditions de la Maison des Sciences de l’Homme, 1989).

(52) Christian Bromberger, Un autre Iran: Un ethnologue au Gilan (Paris: A. Colin, 2013), 37–42.

(53) Jacob Polak, Persien: Das Land und seine Bewohner, vol. 1 (Leipzig: Brockhaus, 1856), 106.

(54) Joseph Knanishu, About Persia and Its People (Rock Island, Ill.: Lutheran Augustana Book Concern, 1899), 103.

(56) Ibid., 57; Flandin, Voyage, vol. 1, 342; Tavernier, Les six voyages, vol. 1, 712; Brugsch, Reise, vol. 1, 225–226; J. Bleibtreu, Persien: Das Land der Sonne und des Löwen (Freiburg, Herder, 1894), 70–71; and `Ali Bolukbashi, Ashpaz va ashpazkhaneh. Pezhuheshi-ye ensan-shenakhti dar tarikh-e ejtema`i-ye honar-e ashpazi (1392, Tehran: Farhang-e Javid, 2013), 118–119.

(57) See, for example, Chardin, Journal du voyage, vol. 3, 330–345; and C. J. Wills, In the Land of the Lion and the Sun, or, Modern Persia (New York: Ward, Lock, 1891), 168–170.

(58) Ibid., 170.

(59) Binning, Journal, vol. 2, 126–127.

(60) J. M. Kinneir, A Geographical Memoir of the Persian Empire (London: J. Murray, 1813), 225.

(61) Ibid., 319.

(62) Consul Abbott, “Notes on Azerbaijan,” in Cities & Trade: Consul Abbott on the Economy and Society of Iran, 1847–1866, edited by Abbas Amanat, 220 (London: Ithaca Press, 1983).

(63) Sir Thomas Herbert, Travels in Africa, Persia, and Asia the Great, edited by John Anthony Butler (Tempe: Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 2012), 304; Johan van Leene, in François Valentyn, Nieuw and Oud Oost Indien, vol. 5 (Dordrecht, The Netherlands: J. van Braam, 1724–26), 262. See Floor, Agriculture in Qajar Iran, 286ff, for fruit in the Qajar period.

(65) Binning, Journal, vol. 2, 331–332.

(67) Johann Albrecht von Mandelslo, Morgenländische Reysebeschreibung (Schleswig: Holwein, 1658), 18; Alexander Hamilton, A New Account of the East Indies, vol. 1 (Edinburgh: John Mosman, 1727), 92, 96.

(70) Ange de St. Joseph, Souvenirs de la Perse safavide et autres lieux de l’Orient, 1664–1678 (Brussels: Éditions de l’Université de Bruxelles, 1985), 102–103; Tavernier, Les six voyages, vol. 1, 422.

(71) John Malcolm, Malcolm: Soldier, Diplomat, Ideologue of British India; The Life of Sir John Malcolm, 1769–1833 (Edinburgh: John Dorald, 2014), 315–316; and Floor, Agriculture in Qajar Iran, 353.

(72) Archives des Affaires Étrangères, Paris, Perse 32–33, Comte de Gobineau, Tehran, February 20, 1862, fol. 19.

(73) Wills, In the Land of the Lion and the Sun, 170; Elizabeth N. Macbean Ross, A Lady Doctor in Bakhtiari Land (London: L. Parsons, 1921), 131.

(76) Drouville, Voyage, 110; Polak, Persien, vol. 1, 108.

(77) Nationaal Archief, The Hague, VOC 1603, fols. 28–29, recording the import of 2,730 lbs. of rice from Batavia.

(78) Drouville, Voyage, 110.

(79) `Abd al-Rahim Kalantar Zarrabi, Tarikh-e Kashan, 2d ed., edited by Iraj Afshar (1341 Tehran: Amir Kabir, 1962), 248.

(82) Özge Samanci, “Le sens symbolique du pain dans la culture ottomane,” Food & History 6(2) (2008): 128.

(83) J. Harmatta, “Three Iranian Words for ‘Bread,’” Acta Orientalia Academiae Scientarium Hungaricae 3(3) (1953): 246–247.

(84) Ibid., 263. The word tanur is a Semitic loanword whose borrowing by the Iranians seems to go back to Achaemenid times. See Ibid. For a more elaborate discussion of this and other aspects of bread in Iran, see Willem Floor, History of Bread in Iran (Washington D.C.: Mage, 2015).

(85) Polak, Persien, vol. 1, 110. Sangak bread has been known since the Safavid period. See Chardin, Journal du voyage, vol. 4, 50; and Tavernier, Les six voyages, vol. 1, 713. For a modern study of sangak bread, see Sayyed Davud Rowghani, Nan-e sangak: Motale`a-ye mardom-shenasi, edited by Javad Safi-Nezhad (1383, Tehran: Akhtaran, 2006).

(86) S. A. Mousavi, The Hazaras of Afghanistan: An Historical, Cultural, Economic and Political Study (New York: St. Martin’s, 1997), 1149–1152.

(87) Polak, Persien, vol. 1, 113.

(88) Ibid., 118–119.

(90) Polak, Persien, vol. 1, 119.

(92) Joachim Hayward Stoqueler, Fifteen Months’ Pilgrimage through Untrodden Tracts of Khuzestan and Persia (London: Saunders and Otley, 1832), 118–119.

(93) Baron de Bode, “Notes on a Journey, in January and February, 1841, from Behbehán to Shúshter,” Journal of the Royal Geographical Society of London 13 (1843): 97–98.

(94) Bird, Journey, vol. 2, 93.

(96) William Richard Holmes, Sketches on the Shores of the Caspian (London: R. Bentley, 1845), 215.

(97) Alexandre Chodzko, “Le Ghilan ou les marais caspiens: Description historique et géographique du pays qui borde au sud de la Mer Caspienne,” Nouvelles Annales des Voyage, de la Géographie et de l’Histoire, 126, 5e ser. (1850): 203.

(98) Wills, In the Land of the Lion and the Sun, 142; Chardin, Journal du voyage, vol. 4, 48–49. In the Ottoman Empire, too, beef was absent from the Muslim menu, certainly until the introduction of Western cuisine. See Özge Samancı, La cuisine d’Istanbul au XIXe siècle (Rennes, France: Presses universitaires de Rennes, 2015), 37, 172, 256.

(99) Polak, Persien, vol. 1, 112.

(103) John Fryer, A New Account, Being Nine Years’ Travel in the East, vol. 3 (London, 1915; repr. Millwood, N.Y.: Kraus, 1967), 148.

(104) Polak, Persien, vol. 1, 112.

(105) For an excellent example of an ethnic community resisting cultural assimilation even as if food underwent significant change, see Harvey Levenstein, “The American Response to Italian Food, 1880–1930,” Food and Foodways 1 (1985): 1–24. Also see Monica Janowski, “Introduction: Consuming Memories of Home in Constructing the Present and Imagining the Future,” Food and Foodways 20 (2012): 175–186.

(106) Khosrokhavar, “La pratique alimentaire,” 146–154; H. E. Chehabi, “The Westernization of Iranian Culinary Culture,” Iranian Studies 36(1) (2003): 43–62.

(107) Thomas Erdbrink, “Iran Capitalizing on a Taste for America’s Biggest Brands,” New York Times, August 2, 2015.

(108) H. E. Chehabi, “How Caviar Turned Out to Be Halal,” Gastronomica 7(2) (2007): 17–32.