SHRIAZ | What did I know about the city of Shiraz in Iran before I visited? Not much more than the ironic fact that one of the world’s most beloved styles of red wine shares the name of this city in a country where alcohol is illegal. While in Iran, I learned more about Shiraz in the days before arriving. The 6th largest city in Iran, Shiraz is considered by many to be the cultural capital or the nation. It has a rich history of arts, poetry and support for creatives. There’s also a joke in Iran that Shirazis are lazy, stemming from the fact that it’s a laid back city and the people are really chilled out (except for their drivers – at one stage our group was split across 2 taxis and the drivers thought it would be fun, with our encouragement mind you, to have a race).
Unsurprisingly, given the lack of international tourism to Iran over the past few decades, there’s not that much in the way of useful information on where to eat in Shiraz. TripAdvisor and Lonely Planet are resources that come up a lot however as with every other city in the world, these aren’t exactly full of the best tips going around. Indeed our Lonely Planet guide to Iran, despite being the most up-to date version, was full of incorrect and outdated information, regarding not just food, but a variety of things.
What all of this meant is that I had to do a lot more research than usual to try and pinpoint any “must try” places and even then, I often came up short in my attempts. When I arrived in Tehran, I soon discovered that a lack of English signs on store fronts was going to make things even more difficult, and in Shiraz the situation was no different. So what then, did I have? A few places that my research had brought up (some which as it turned out were no longer open), my own instinct and sense of smell (always follow your nose and look for locals lining up for food) and our guide Vahid, a Shiraz local. Thankfully these things combined meant that I ate some amazing food in Shiraz
This food guide is broken down into food types, and then places where you can find them. Where possible, exact addresses are provided, and where not, the street and nearest intersecting street will be listed to get you close to where you need to be. I hope you enjoy reading through my Shiraz food guide and that it helps you enjoy some great food while in Shiraz.
To find out where and what to eat in Tehran, check out my Tehran Food Guide. For Esfahan food tips, visit my Esfahan Food Guide.
Buffets & Traditional Restaurants
I know what you’re thinking and I can assure you that I thought the same thing too when I went to my first buffet in Iran. The thing about Iran is that the word buffet isn’t instantly synonymous with terrible. The reason for this is because the kind of food served at the buffets lends itself to this style of serving and, at the popular buffets, the food rotates fast so you don’t get the situation where there’s been food sitting in a bain-marie for ages. Quite often, you’ll have a salad bar scenario where the salads are at a buffet and the meat is cooked to order, which to my mind is what you want to be looking out for.
Buffets are popular with locals for family dinners on special occasions. It provides people with an opportunity to eat some of the foods that they wouldn’t get an opportunity to make at home due to implacability. I.e. not everyone in Iran has access to a big, proper charcoal BBQ with which to properly cook kebabs. Note that at a lot of these traditional restaurants there will be a mixture of buffet dishes and cooked to order meals, meaning the stuff that should be cooked fresh is. Below are some of the common dishes you’ll find at a buffet in Iran.
A plate containing some of the usual types of salad you’ll find at an Iranian buffet. Some pasta, halva, mixed veges, coleslaw and… cold chips. For some reason at this place cold chips are a thing, I wouldn’t say it’s common. You’ll have to excuse the blurry photos in this buffet section – I didn’t realise that my camera wasn’t set properly until it was too late.
As described earlier, the salad at these places will usually be buffet style. If you see the meat in the buffet too you’ll want to be avoiding it as all the good places cook their meat (and sometimes rice) to order. Chelo kebab consists of steamed rice (chelo) and kebab (skewered meat that’s been grilled over hot charcoal), with grilled tomatoes (and sometimes grilled peppers) and buttery rice. There are several types of kebabs which are commonly served these include:
- Kabab Barg (lamb, chicken or beef fillet)
- Kabab Koobideh or Kubideh (minced lamb, beef, or chicken, often mixed with parsley and chopped onions.)
- Joojeh Kabab (chicken marinated in minced onion, lemon juice and saffron)
- Kabab Chenjeh (lamb chop)
- Mahi Kabab (white fish)
Persian rice is famous around the world. It’s a very long grain basmati rice which is highly aromatic. It’s fluffy texture comes from the fact that steaming is part of the process which ensures that each grain is separate from the others. Common rice dishes served with Chelow Kebab include:
- Chelo (white rice topped with a bit of saffron rice and barberries. Similar to pilaf)
- Adass Polo (white rice cooked simultaneously with lima beans, dill and garlic)
Sharzeh Restaurant is one of the best places in Shiraz for a traditional meal, buffet style. It’s hidden, but well worth seeking out.
Sharzeh Restaurant is in the basement level of a nondescript building near Vakil Bazaar and is very popular with locals. You enter down an arcade off the western side of the small street leading from Zand Avenue across from the Vakil Mosque. Their chicken Kabab Barg is one of the best we tried in Iran and the little yellow Halva is sweet and very moreish. One of their specialties, the kalam polo Shirazi (beef meatballs with herb rice, leek and cabbage) is also delicious.
Every traditional restaurant that I visited while in Iran had a space for a band to play traditional Persian music (and the occasional English language Western hit).
Vakil Street (off Zand Avenue, across from the Vakil Mosque)
Tea House & Restaurant Saray-E Mehr
Saray-E Mehr is a popular traditional restaurant located in the Shiraz Bazaar, or more specifically, the Moshir Bazaar (the Shiraz Bazaar is actually a collection of several smaller bazaars). We didn’t eat here, but by all accounts it is worth checking out.
Inside Moshir Bazaar
Shapouri Garden Traditional Restaurant
We didn’t get around to visiting this traditional restaurant. It’s one of the more expensive places in town and by all accounts it is very good. Shapouri Garden also has arguably the most beautiful of settings of all the traditional restaurants in Shiraz. It’s housed in Shapouri House, a Heritage Listed building designed and constructed in the 1930s in a style that blends Art Nouveau with traditional Qajar influences.
Anvari Street (just South of intersection with Ahil)
Bread is a staple in Iran. The most common form of bread is by far the thin, unleavened pita style what flour flatbread, which differs by region but is basically the same throughout the country. The 4 most common types of bread in Iran are:
- tāftūn (taftān)
- lavāš (nān-e tīrī)
- nān-e sangak
- nān-e barbarī
Hole in the wall bakeries like the one pictured below operate seemingly all day, kneading dough, rolling it out into thin disks and baking it quickly in a wood fired oven. Most of these bakeries seem to have a permanent line of people waiting to buy their daily bread, before moving it to a cooling rack at the front of the store where it can be cut to a more manageable size, put in a bag and taken away.
The bread we got from this bakery was lavāš bread, which is one of the most popular unleavened flat breads. The quick bake in the Tandoor oven means that the inside is soft and pillow-like while the outside is light and crunchy. A real delight which needs to be eaten freshly baked to truly appreciate.
You don’t need to seek this bakery out in particular, as there are loads of them throughout the city – just look for the lines and people walking from the front with big piles of bread stacked in their hands!
Near corner of Naser Khosro Street and 3 Road
Another bakery we got some bread from before going on a picnic was this place below, which also specialised in lavāš bread.
As with many of the other foods mentioned on this list, you don’t need to seek out this place in particular, but it gives you an idea of what to look out for.
Loft Ali Khan Zand Street, just up from side street where Nasir ol Molk Mosque is
Cafes that would be instantly recognisable to any Westerner can be found throughout the major cities in Iran. Just like any other cafe, a variety of drinks and cakes are offered.
Ferdowsi Cafe used to be a popular bar back in the pre-Islamic Revolution days and has continued to remain popular although these days it’s strictly a cafe (although they do have live music some weekend nights). It offers a great selection of drinks and a variety of breakfast, lunch and sweet options. It’s popular with students and as a bonus has free WiFi and great background tunes.
A tasty iced coffee always goes down a treat on a hot Shiraz day.
My favourite thing to order though, was the “traditional drink” a sweet, iced orange blossom flavoured tea-like drink. Floral and very refreshing.
194 Kashi Ferdowsi Street
Alcohol might be banned in Iran but you’ll have no trouble finding hot tea, which is served with practically every meal you eat. It’s served without milk, and generally comes with a choice of either white sugar cubes or saffron sugar crystals on a stick. I’ve not listed any specific places from which to get tea as it’s everywhere.
Alcohol is, of course banned in Iran. What you will see in every drinks fridge in cafes and restaurants across the country are non-alcoholic malt beverages. Popular brands include Istak, Delstar, Hey Day and Shams. The original flavours are pretty bad tasting however the fruit flavoured options, such as lemon, peach and tropical are actually quite tasty, although they have more in common with soda rather than beer. The bottles/cans and labels certainly look like beer, but beer this is not.
Ice Cream is super popular in Iran and the streets of Shiraz are full of ice cream vendors. Regular gelato and soft serve is popular just like anywhere else in the world however something that’s not so common elsewhere but popular in Iran is Ab-Haveej Bastani. It’s a Persian carrot juice and vanilla ice cream float that became popular in Iran in the 1960s. The combination of freshly squeezed carrot juice and ice cream might seem odd but trust me, it works. The best places use little pellets of frozen cream as well.
Jamshidian used to be well known for its lemon juice and, while it still serves up lemon juice, it’s today better known as being one of the best places to get Ab-Haveej Bastani in Shiraz. When we arrived there was a line of locals just before the place even opened and when we got our ice-cream we realised why – it was superb.
Near corner of Naser Khosro Street and 5 Road
Western-style fast food is much more common in Iran than I had anticipated. Burgers, fried chicken, pizza, whatever – you want it, you can find it. For reasons political and otherwise you won’t find the ubiqutous Western chains in Iran but where there’s a will there’s a way and there are a lot of independent shops doing their own take. The place below, for example, is not KFC, and you’ll find SFC, ZFC and any other number of KFC knock-offs in Shiraz and throughout Iran’s major cities. It’s one of those things that makes you realise the kind of things that sanctions cause that you never really thought about – regular Iranians can’t get their fix of actual KFC when they want it.
Yes that’s right, none of this is real KFC. Not a bad effort for a knock off job! If you’re wondering why you see Pepsi and Coca Cola drinks in Iran (and these aren’t knock-offs) it’s because local companies were set up before the revolution and the simply license the brand name from the US company. The same way Coca Cola products in Australia are made by Coca Cola Amatil,which is a stand alone company rather than a subsidiary of the US Coca Cola. Technicalities eh.
Shiraz was the last stop on our 15 day trip in Iran and after eating a LOT of traditional meals we thought we’d try our luck at this “KFC”. After all, it’s just as much a part of what Iranians are eating as anything else. It was actually pretty good. The flavour wasn’t quite KFC’s secret herbs and spices but it was close, and the chicken was actually a lot less greasy than real KFC.
Sattar Khan Boulevard, just North of intersetion with Afif Abad Street
Just around the corner from “KFC” was this popular Hot Dog joint. We didn’t grab one, but it was busy.
On the same street was this felafel stand which was very popular. Despite having filled ourselves up on “KFC” we couldn’t go past a felafel as they smelled delicious.
We made the right choice, as the felafel was fantastic – soft and crumbly on the inside, crispy on the outside and full of flavour. It was served with lettuce, tomato and a sauce in a hot-dog style bun.
Another place that was popular was this restaurant which had a street side Doner Kebab stand. A street food option that’s not hard to find in Shiraz.
Hot Dog, Felafel, Doner Kebab
Afif Abad Street near intersection with Erfanmanesh
Cakes, Sweets & Nuts
Cakes, sweets and nuts. All very common throughout Iran and it’s easy to find shops that sell all 3 in the same place. Walk inside and grab a pastry or a bag of something that tickles your fancy from the large selection on offer in most shops. No need to give addresses here – these shops are everywhere. The photos below are from shops along Naser Khosro Street.
Faloodeh is a cold dessert which contains thin corn starch vermicelli noodles, mixed in a semi-frozen rosewater syrup. It’s common throughout Iran, but originated in Shiraz and is brilliant not just for its sweet rosewater taste but for the crunchy texture that the noodles provide.
One of the best places to try Faloodeh in Shiraz is this little shop, in a narrow passage in the jewelry section of Vakil Bazaar.
Another place that is famous for its Faloodeh, that we didn’t get the chance to visit is Baba Bastani. It has a very good reputation and by all accounts should be on your list.
Jahad Sazandegi, just west of the intersection with Sarvenaz
If Shiraz was the first stop on your Iranian holiday or if you only had a short time in Iran I probably wouldn’t be recommending these places to you however if you find yourself in Shiraz and you find that you’ve had one too many traditional meals and want something a bit different, then here are a few “fancy” places that serve non-Iranian food along with Iranian food too.
Baghe Raaz (or Raaz Garden) is a modern restaurant that’s split over 3 levels in a very nice part of Shiraz. For anyone who wants their misconceptions about Iran busted, a drive through this neighborhood will be sure to do it – you could be passing through any upmarket neighborhood in the Western world. The building itself is architecturally classy and well designed and the whole place is very chic. On the ground floor and in the garden is traditional Persian food but on the rooftop it’s a mixture or European dishes with a few Iranian flourishes here and there. The view is something else and it’s worth heading up here even if just for a drink.
Lauren went for the lasagna.
While I went for the fried shrimp.
The food isn’t going to blow you away but it’s perfectly acceptable and in our case a nice change after almost 2 weeks straight of eating mostly traditional Persian food. Don’t get me wrong, I think that the traditional food is fantastic, however there’s only so much grilled meat on a stick that one can eat before getting a craving for something different.
A mock mojito – no alcohol of course but still very refreshing.
Haft Khan is another upmarket restaurant and if you had to choose just one fancy restaurant in Shiraz to dine at, this should be the one. The name Haft Khan refers to the 7 quests undertaken by Rostam in order to save his shah in Persian poet Ferdowsi’s poem Shahnameh. The meaning of this to the restaurant is that there are 7 dining options on offer. The restaurant is split over 5 levels, with each offering something different – there are a total of 5 restaurants and 2 cafes in the building. The building mixes traditional and modern architectural styles and has amazing views over the foothills of the Zagros Mountains.
We dined at Nofel, which serves “International” cuisine.
More non-alcoholic cocktails.
Sauce poured onto pizza in a spiral is a “thing” in Iran. It’s always interesting seeing how different cultures adapt the food of another, and the sauce on pizza in Iran is the perfect example. When we told our guide Vahid that nobody outside of Iran does sauce on pizza like this he just thought that was odd – how can you have pizza without sauce on top? In any case, everyone at the table agreed that the pizzas were quite tasty. Mine was a chicken and pesto one.
This place opened up with a lot of hype but has supposedly declined in quality since it first opened. We didn’t eat here, but though it best to mention it simply because it’s worth seeing. Why? The entire restaurant, designed by Emtiaz Designing Group, is inspired by rock caves and built entirely out of environmentally sustainable, locally sourced and affordable salt, powder and rock. Another venue that busts certain stereotypes about Iran in on fell swoop. Iran has a long and proud architectural history and this pride in the built form continues today. The reason you don’t hear about much work performed by Iranian architects in Iran being awarded is because, you guessed it, sanctions. Many of the awards are run by organisations in countries that have imposed sanctions on Iran so the architects are illegible to have their work entered.x
Afif Abad Street
There are several other delicacies which you can try in Shiraz. We didn’t try everything in Shiraz as we spread out our eating over several cities across 15 days. Delicacies you may come across during your time in Shiraz that are worth trying include:
- Pashmak (Sugar & sesame seed Persian fairy floss/cotton candy)
- Gaz (Persian nougat)
- Abgoosht, or Dizi (lamb, chickpeas, white beans, onion, potatoes, tomatoes, turmeric, and dried lime that have been cooked into a stew then mashed and served with the broth)
You’ll be able to read more about these other foods, including additional food not commonly found in Shiraz in our Tehran Food Guide and Esfahan Food Guide.
If you’re from Shiraz or have visited and have got any tips of your own I’d love to hear about them in the comments section below.