Honestly, it is pretty difficult to survive as a vegetarian traveler in Iran. Most of the restaurants do not serve/serve very limited vegetarian food. The locals love to eat meat and hence most of the restaurants serve kebabs. I spent 27 days traveling the length and breadth of this country and really struggled at many places, but towards the end of my trip, I learnt a lot of things that would have helped me as a vegetarian traveler in Iran. Below are these helpful tips if you are a vegetarian and intend to visit Iran.
1) Learn to say that you don’t eat meat in Persian. (Bedoonay Goosht means ‘no meat’). You can also say ‘Man kiah korh hastaam’ (I am a plant eater).
2) In restaurants, ask for dishes like Mirza Ghazeimi (roasted eggplant), Kashq e-Badumjun (Eggplant and Tomatoes in a broth), Khorak e-Badumjun (Eggplant with lentils in a thick broth), shorba (lentil soup) and must (yogurt with garlic).
3) If you are visiting a local home, you can ask for any of the above dishes or for Kuku Sabzi (a deep fried dish made from vegetables).
4) You can eat saffron rice, plain rice and any of the many types of breads available in Iran.
5) Yoghurt and Yoghurt dishes are aplenty in Iran. This will help you get you much needed protein and hence it would be good to know their names. Mast-o-Khiar (Cucumber and Mint Yoghurt), Tzatziki (Cucumber in Yoghurt), Mast-o-Badamjun (Eggplant in Yoghurt) and other varieties.
6) Buy labneh cheese, peynir cheese, butter and other types of cheese spreads from the super market. You can eat this with the many types of breads available in Iran (Barbari, Taftoon, Sangak, Lavash and others). My personal favorite is Barbari, but it is best consumed hot.
7) A lot of fruits and vegetables are available in the local markets. This will ensure that you get your vitamin supplement easily.
8) Iran is like the nut and dry fruit capital of the world. Almonds, pistachios, Apricots, Dates, Walnuts, Figs, Sunflower Seeds, Watermelon Seeds and many more are available here and at very reasonable prices. It would be good to snack on these from time to time.
9) The people of Iran have a sweet tooth and hence like to indulge in their desserts and sweets (shirni). These desserts have a lot of nuts, butter and sugar and hence make for ideal food supplement in case you can’t find yourself a wholesome vegetarian meal. Even the local ice creams are delicious.
10) In most parts of Iran, even if you can’t find a vegetarian dish in a local restaurant, you can definitely find a vegetarian sandwich in a sandwich joint. These sandwiches are made from (veggies, falafel (deep fried chickpeas), mushrooms and/or peynir (local cheese)). They are not the healthiest option, but they are cheap and help you get your calories for the meal.
11) Another great protein supplement in Iran is doogh (their yoghurt based drink). At some places close to the Turkey border, it is referred to as Ayran. This drink is either served plain or flavored with mint and other herbs.
12) Other drinks such as Sherbat, Tea, Coffee are available at many places.
If you follow these handy tips while traveling to Iran, you will find that it is easy to travel as a vegetarian in Iran. You might not have tons of options, but you will end up eating local and delicious food that takes cares of all your nutritional needs.