Iran gives up its delicious culinary secrets and Andrew Stone is smitten.
By the end of your first day in Iran you can put a ring around the certainty that you'll be hankering for your next Persian meal.
The food is fabulous. The customs that go with it are engaging and add another satisfying layer to an Iranian visit.
It is possible in many of the bigger cities to find Western dishes.
My advice is forget it: when in Iran, stick with the local menu.
Breakfast at most places includes different kinds of flatbread, a delicious feta, sometimes wheat porridge and eggs. Tea is the national drink, but coffee is usually on hand.
Lunch is often rice and meat, either chicken or lamb and sometimes beef. Fish is not so readily available and costs more. Salad dishes include herbs, tomatoes, cucumbers, onion and lemon juice.
The full panoply of Iranian cuisine unfolds at dinnertime. Proceedings may not start until 8pm and will last for three courses. Side dishes are worth the entry tick alone: mixes of pomegranate paste and walnut are scrumptious.
Try some abgoosht, which translates as "water meat" but really is pulverised soup. Beryani is minced lamb fried with tasty spices. Jewelled rice is a princely treat — a mountain of basmati rice shot through with saffron and decorated with barberries, slivered almonds soaked in rose water and softened carrot.
In Tehran, we joined a cooking class with Matin and Shirin which started with a trip to Tajrish market.
It's a breezy swing through the stalls, as Matin switches effortlessly from Farsi to English and gives us a potted culinary history of Iran and its favourite foods.
Herbs are ordered depending on the number of hungry bellies to fill — coriander for 10 was tossed in a dangerous looking stainless steel chopper and chomped. Pickles, chicken and salad vegetables were gathered and we headed for the kitchen.
For the next three hours we cooked and we ate, as the two women dazzled with their skills and food chatter. There was kuku sabzi — an egg frittata which swallowed the coriander, the aforementioned jewelled rice, Shiraz salad and masghati, a sweet cardamom pudding served in little glasses and decorated with rose petals. Unforgettable.
hosts small group trips to the Republic. Costs depend on duration of tour but a 15-day trip starts at $5390.