What is Special about Gilani Cuisine?

What is Special  about Gilani Cuisine?
What is Special  about Gilani Cuisine?

Gilani dishes (of Gilan Province) are unique in the way that they entice all and sundry with all sorts of tastes. During an interview with tour-guide Mohammad-Kazem Halaj-Sani, the Persian daily ‘Iran’ newspaper attempts to figure out what is so special about Gilani cuisine.

Can food attract tourists to a country?

Indeed it can, but it depends on the cuisine in question and also its variety.  A country may be seem  attractive for its food.

How does gastro-tourism work?

Like music and handicrafts, food is among the cultural constituents of a country. Some believe gastro-tourism is a sub-category of agro-tourism or medical tourism. In fact, gastro-tourism is an interdisciplinary tourism category, encompassing many apparent and hidden elements.

When tourists plan their trip and pick their destination, they are bound to consider the regional food and what’s on offer.  One can learn a lot about people from what they eat.  This is not limited to food alone, but also includes drinks and other refreshments.  One principle method that comes to mind, is learning to cook a particular culture’s or region’s dishes.  This is the most common way that gastro-tourism works everywhere; tourists eat the local food, then ask about the ingredients and recipe.

The second is through ‘gourmandizing’, which is simply indulging in the particular delicacies of the region.  When traveling to northwestern Iran, for instance, its famous ‘Abgusht’, a meat potage, is a must, for no other reason than the fact that it is simply delicious!  This is not an intellectual exercise!

Finally, the cultural variety. Here, the traveler visits places where there are customs and ceremonies around certain dishes.  Ash, the most famous ‘Iranian potage’ is one such ceremonial food, associated with numerous cultural and religious rites.  Iranians praise the Prophet (AS) and his descendants while stirring the pot, or cauldron (during large religious festivals where it is served for almsgiving). Women from the neighborhood gather together, help chop and clean the meat and vegetables that go into the large vat in a communal act of worship and paying homage. The history behind a pot of Iranian potage is long and multilayered.

What is the significance of Iran in tourism in general and food tourism in particular?

It should be noted that there were initially three culinary schools in the world: Chinese, Roman, and Iranian. All world cuisines originate from a combination of these three.  At the moment however, the main thrust of tourism in Iran is towards historical monuments.  If, however, each of the provinces were to be reviewed from gastro-tourism vantage point, Gilan would be ranked first.  Culinary experts regard the province as the creative center of world cuisine.

In what way is Gilan different?

Gilan’s lush and temperate climate gives rise to the unique and varied ingredients of the cuisine. Its proximity to the eastern province of Mazandaran provides additional fresh quality products such as walnuts, while the meat supplied from the western province of Ardebil, is another important factor in Gilani food. To the north, Gilan is bound by the Caspian Sea where fish and caviar are abundant. Gilan is the center of the caviar trade; the province has the highest caviar consumption. To the south, there are forests and green mountains of Alborz rich in plants and vegetables so abundant in Gilani cuisine.

Coasts, highlands, and plains that are resources of birds, plants and fishes, make a great difference in gastro-tourism.

So food is shaped mainly by geography?

Indeed. By studying the culinary customs of different regions, one can see a close relationship between food and geography. In the north of the country, for instance, the green color of the food comes from the forests and farmlands; while in the northwest, where there is an abundance of high grasslands, sheep, cattle, and grass grow rapidly and steadily.  This area naturally has the best quality meat, and hence the best meat stews and soups. The Iranian potage requires both high quality meat as well as vegetables.

Foods gradually start to take the color and taste of soil, as one approaches the center of Iran, and become less juicy.  This cuisine makes use of dried vegetables.  The Kermani dish called ‘baneh’ or ‘qatoq-baneh’ which is served cold is a good example. The food is made from the fruits of ‘baneh’, a wild species of pistachio, mixed with cold water and onion, combined with bread.

Venturing further south, the oceanic climate prevails, heavily impacting the cuisine of that region. Here fricasseed fish (Perisan: Qalie Mahi) and fish kebab are prominent on the menu. Among the southern dishes, there is an exceptional food called ‘suragh’, which once tasted will leave an  unforgettable mark on one’s taste buds!  It is made from the red earth of the Hormoz island.  The island people of Qeshm and Hormoz cook this dish often.  Suragh is an excellent example of how geography impacts food.

Are there traces of the Gilani lifestyle on the provincial cuisine?

Of course there is. The Gilani food is full of vitality; having originated from a favorable climate the cuisine is imbued with life. Men and women work on the fertile fields side by side. Their lively cooperation brings up lively crops. Throughout the fields, meadows and grasslands of Gilan there are lively people working together energetically.  The provincial food industry is highly evolved and industrious.

There are other cities that are famed for their food, or one associates with certain dishes: Bonab in East Azerbaijan and its kebab; Shandiz in Khorasan Razavi with its famed shashlik; and Isfahan where there is the unique dish of beryani.  Although these have a pride of place, they take second place to other tourism attractions.  This is not the case with Gilan that firmly sits as the gastro-touristic province of Iran.

Being a tour guide, you would have met many foreign tourists. Do Gilani foods suit their palate?

Today, most people of the world are inclined toward vegetarian foods. They prefer to stay away from meaty foods as far as possible. There are over 100 vegetarian foods in Gilan which can surely please foreign tourists. This is a great attraction. A renowned Australian food researcher stayed in Iran for 40 days, and when he returned home, he opened a restaurant where the best foods were abgusht, the Iranian meat potage; Qalie Mahi, the Iranian fricasseed fish; ‘Mirza-Qasemi’; and ‘Baqala-Qatoq’.

When a provincial cuisine is appreciated, the people of the province feel more confident, and encouraged to improve their cooking and open up their kitchens to visitors.  The story with the culture of food is:  The greater its exposure, the better its quality.  Food is our ancient culture’s sustainable heritage.