Because alcohol isn’t an option in Iran (except for rather rough illegal moonshine), the range of non-alcoholic beverages is wide, interesting and delicious, including lots of freshly squeezed fruit juices sold by street vendors all over city streets and markets.
Chai, tea, is the national drink, always on the brew in every Iranian home, shop and office, even at rustic roadside stops. It’s traditionally made in a samovar-style device with a small pot of strong tea on top of a larger pot of boiling water, so each person can dilute the tea to their preferred strength. Guests are offered multiple glasses of tea throughout a visit, usually with a few dates and often a saffron-infused rock sugar stick for sweetening it, though some prefer to hold a sugar cube between their teeth and sip the tea through it. I love the saffron, rose and cardamom tea imported by Saffron & More.
Sharbat is Persian cordial, a syrup flavoured with fruits and/or flowers, usually with a sour touch, that’s then diluted with water and served over ice. The word is related to sherbet, sorbet, shrub (in the drinks sense) and syrup, via the Arabic šariba meaning ‘to drink’. Sharbat sekanjabin, made from honey, white wine vinegar and mint, is the most famous and very refreshing. Other popular sharbats are rhubarb, sour orange, sour cherry, and quince or rose mixed with lime.
Ob’eh anar, pomegranate juice, is sold at street stalls all over Tehran, some open 24-hours. Pomegranates, native to Iran, represent fertility, life and rebirth because of their many seeds. They’re traditionally eaten on the winter solstice, yalda meaning rebirth as it’s when days start to get longer and light wins its ancient battle over darkness.
Paloudeh talebi are rockmelon slushies sold by street vendors and made in homes throughout summer; paloudeh is a variation of the word faloodeh, Persia’s famous rose water, lime and noodle granita. Paloudeh talebi can be simply fresh rockmelon chunks blitzed up with ice and a little sugar or it can be flavoured with honey, rose or orange blossom water, and/or mint.
Doogh is a slightly fizzy, lightly-salted yoghurt drink flavoured with mint; it’s similar to Indian lassi and especially popular with kebab koobideh (minced lamb). It was traditionally made by shaking milk in a dried sheep’s stomach, the enzymes in which would have started the fermentation, then left at room temperature for a couple of days to develop a gentle fizz. Using yoghurt and soda water is much quicker.
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