Saturday, May 5, 2012

Khoresh-e Fesenjan in Isfahan Iran

As the call to prayer rises from its minarets, Isfahan’s famous mosque, Masjid-e Emam, glitters in the late afternoon sun. In the nearby bazaar, the air is filled with the scent of spices, and toward the city’s edge an ancient fire temple is silhouetted against low, jagged hills. There is no more atmospheric place to sample khoresh-e fesenjan, one of the most opulent dishes in Persian cuisine.

Isfahan is an unforgettable place.It is said that nearly half a million tiles make up the exquisite mosaic  atterning and calligraphy decorating the Masjid-e Emam, or Imam Mosque .
Imagine a square – originally a polo ground – surrounded by some of the most exquisitely beautiful architecture to be found anywhere in the Islamic world. The Persian capital during the 16th and 17th centuries, Isfahan is for many synonymous with the art and architecture of Iran – refined palaces, elegant gardens, and mosques lavishly decorated with dazzling blue and turquoise tiles.
Iran (Persia) has an exceptionally long history.
It was already a formidable empire some 2,500 years ago, against which first the Greeks and then the Romans measured themselves. Though there are plenty of signs of this long history in Isfahan, the city is most closely associated with the Safavid period, when the great ruler Shah Abbas turned it into his capital in the late 16th century. He laid out the Meydan-e Emam (a huge square) together with the Masjid-e Emam (the famous royal mosque on the south side of the square) and the smaller Masjid-e Lotfallah mosque. These buildings still constitute one of the greatest architectural ensembles on the planet, and along with the Meydan-e Emam are inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list.
The cuisine of the Persian empire also developed over the course of many centuries, and is equally refined. Khoresh is the Persian word for a stew or sauce, and it comes in many guises, of which fesenjan is one of the best known and certainly one of the richest. This dish – also called the king of stews – is often prepared at home for special occasions. Chicken, or more traditionally duck, is simmered with onion, ground toasted walnuts, and pomegranate syrup until literally falling off the bone.
The resulting sauce is a rich, dark brown, with an exquisite sweet-bitter flavor from the walnuts, pomegranate, lemon, and cinnamon. Some say the dish originates in northern Iran, though it can be found across the country – at least, in restaurants serving a range of dishes rather than just kebabs, the nation’s favorite fast food.
Khoresh-e fesenjan is served with rice, cooked slowly to perfection and topped with melting butter, a serving of tasty yogurt, and a wedge of the golden crust (called tah-dig in Persian) that forms at the bottom of the rice pan. This is the best part of the dish, as far as many Iranians are concerned. Of course, this being Iran, you won’t be drinking wine with your meal – think more in terms of a glass of cool mineral water.

Above : The thick, dark sauce of khoresh-e fesenjan surprises the taste buds with its unique sweetbitter  flavor from pomegranates and walnuts

Above : The Bazaar-e Bozorg is a 400-year-old market selling an astonishing array of goods, including a vast range of spices 

Best Places to Eat Khoresh-e Fesenjan
Restoran-e Shahrzad moderate In the center of Isfahan and only a short walk from the Meydan-e Emam, Restoran-e Shahrzad serves some of the finest Persian cuisine in Isfahan – including a delicious khoresh-e fesenjan. There is a good range of dishes on the menu, from golden tachin (see p179) and other rice dishes to fish and sizzling kebabs.
Portions are generous, the staff polite and efficient, and the interior decor suitably lavish, complete with wood paneling, colorful stained glass windows, and paintings in the style of Persian miniatures. Prices are slightly higher than average for Isfahan, but still very reasonable. As with most restaurants, the fesenjan here is made with chicken rather than duck – but it is nevertheless incredibly rich and fragrant, deep-colored and bursting with sweet and sour flavors. The buttery rice is, as always, a perfect partner to this heady stew. The longestablished Shahrzad is understandably popular with locals as well as foreign visitors, and is both a great place to eat out in Isfahan and a wonderful introduction to the delicious Persian fesenjan.
Abbas Abad Street, Isfahan; open 11:30 AM– 10:30 PM daily; +98 311 220 4490
Also in Isfahan
The Khan Gostar restaurant (+98 311 627 8989; moderate) in the Hotel Julfa is one of the best places to eat in town – perhaps as good as Shahrzad – and a good place to try a range of Persian dishes. Popular with Isfahanis, this restaurant is farther from downtown, but an obvious choice if you’re spending time in Isfahan’s historic Armenian quarter. By far the most atmospheric place to sip tea in town is in the teahouse (inexpensive) under the Si-o Se bridge – you may even find abgusht, a thick meat and potato stew that’s a specialty of Tabriz in northwest Iran, rather than khoresh.
Also in Iran
Ferdosi Sonnati (+98 21 6671 4503; inexpensive) is a busy place at the southern end of Ferdosi Street in Tehran, which serves plenty of traditional Persian dishes including several types of khoresh.
Around the World
One of the best Persian restaurants in London is Shandi’s (www.shandispersianrestaurant.; moderate). Smaller and less well-known than some others, this gem of a restaurant has excellent food, reasonable prices, and offers a genuinely warm welcome. The khoresh-e fesenjan is delicious.
What Else to Eat In Isfahan
Khoresh-e fesenjan is a great example of a khoresh or sauce-based dish, but there are many others, such as khoresh-e bademjan (eggplant with chicken, lamb, or duck), khoresh-e ghormeh sabzi (lamb cooked in a sauce of fresh green herbs), and khoresh torsh (lamb with dried fruit). Along with plenty of fresh herbs and spices such as cinnamon and nutmeg, another popular ingredient you may encounter in these dishes is whole dried lime, which imparts a wonderful flavor. The accompaniment to khoresh is a mountain of perfectly cooked rice. Iranians generally eat their main meal in the middle of the day, so look for khoresh then, rather than in the evening.
A Day in Isfahan
Most of Isfahan’s main sights, including the Meydan-e Emam and the bazaar, are north of the Zayandeh River, while the Armenian quarter and a few other places lie south.
MORNING : Start with the Masjid-e Jame, a 12th-century masterpiece that has an amazing carved stucco prayer niche from the Mongol period. Then walk through the streets of the bazaar to the Meydan-e Emam, the vast square laid out at the close of the 16th century, and visit the magnificent Masjid-e Emam.
AFTERNOON : Visit other buildings on the Meydan-e Emam, including the breathtaking Masjid-e Lotfallah and Ali Qapu Palace, then take a short walk to the Hasht Behesht Palace in the gardens nearby. Share a taxi to the old Armenian quarter of New Julfa, with its fascinating churches.
EVENING : Return to the river, ducking under one end of the Si-o Se bridge to stop at the atmospheric teahouse beneath the arches. Walk to Restoran-e Shahrzad in the centre of the city for khoresh-e fesenjan.

Getting to Isfahan

Iranian Air and other Gulf states airlines fly into Isfahan’s airport. There are shared taxis to the city 15 miles (25 km) away. Trains run from Tehran.

Where to stay in Isfahan

Amir Kabir Hostel (inexpensive) is the most popular low budget option. +98 311 222 7273
Hotel Julfa (moderate) in the Armenian quarter is another good choice. +98 311 624 4441 Hasht Behesht Apartment Hotel (moderate) is modern and just five minutes from the Meydan-e Emam.

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