Sharing food the Persian way
For me, one of the most enjoyable aspects of exploring a new cuisine is learning its culinary idiosyncrasies. Often these will open a window into a country well beyond its kitchen. When travelling, as well as familiarising myself with the dazzling array of new flavours, scents and textures that present themselves on my plate, I’m always curious to learn how a dish is eaten, with what utensils, and for which occasions? The story of food has many layers after all and the more we peel off, the closer we get to understanding the essence of a country.
One of Iran’s most endearing cultural attributes is its emphasis on good etiquette and nowhere do we see this more then on the Iranian emphasis on sharing food. For an Iranian, eating food on ones own is simply unthinkable. Anything one eats simply must be shared with the people around you.
This means that if you happen to take an orange from a fruit bowl at someone’s house, rather than simply eat it on your own, you would break it into segments and offer it around to each person nearby. If that meant that by the time the plate got back to you that it was finished then no problem, you simply grab yourself another piece of fruit and the process starts again.
The same ritual is employed by Iranians whether you are in someone’s home, in a shop or on a bus. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve been offered sandwiches, snacks, drinks and sweets from kind strangers on my travels and am humbled by their generosity and insistence that I simple must part take in sharing some of their food with them.
Sharing food in Iran is about more than just being polite and hospitable. It is about a culture which places great emphasis on the communal experience and collective enjoyment. Iranian culture embodies the sense of the collective in societies, families, friends and communities. And even in its food. This is why in Iran, dinner is never served on individual plates but rather all stews, rice dishes, salads and pickles are all laid out in large serving bowls in the centre of the table for guests to help themselves to as much as they want to. By sharing food out of the same communal pot, Iranians grace their dining tables with a shared experience and collective memories which is, at the end of the day, is what a really good meal is actually all about.
So next time you are thinking of serving up some Persian food, do as they Iranians do – simple put all the food in the middle of the table and let everyone tuck in until every last bite is gone!