Cuisine, in terms of both the preparation of food and the social aspects of dining, is an essential part of any culture; indeed, some fundamental aspects of a culture may be more readily apparent in its culinary arts than in other traditions. Certainly, many observations that might be made about food in Iran reinforce those that can be deduced from other facets of its culture. There is a mainstream culinary tradition primarily associated with the urban, Persian-speaking population that can be taken (as it will be in this chapter) as essentially the common national cuisine, but the country also has a very rich array of local, regional, and ethnic dishes. Persian cooking has many features in common with Indian, central Asian, Turkish, and Middle Eastern cuisines, yet it has its own particular characteristics and is unmistakably different from any of its counterparts. For instance, while many ingredients of Iranian and Indian food are similar, Indian food is spicier and uses pepper very generously. Likewise, many of the ingredients used in Persian cooking would be familiar to Americans, but Americans would be surprised at the unique ways the ingredients are used and the fl avors they produce. A good Persian cook has an almost miraculous ability to turn simple ingredients into dishes of great subtlety and beauty. This Persian style of cooking is sophisticated and refi ned enough to hold its own with any of the world’s other great cuisines, but it is relatively little known and appreciated outside the region. However, that is changing as the recent emigration of Iranians and their settlement in other countries, especially Europe and the United States, has resulted in the appearance of Persian restaurants in major cities like Paris, London, New York, Washington, Chicago, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. Food and dining has a public face in Iran, but its fullest development and greatest glories are to be found in the private setting of the home, among relatives and friends. Especially in social gatherings, the variety and abundance of foods, as well as the conviviality and generosity of the host, are remarkable. Sharing food is an important mechanism of socialization and social bonding. A traditional proverb states that a way to win someone’s favor is to share your food with them: namakgir kardan , which means “having someone to have a taste of the salt in your food” (i.e., to become bound by hospitality). Food is not an end itself but a means of family solidarity and social exchange, especially in the traditional world of the past when families were extended and eating was a communal affair within the extended family. The culinary tradition in Iran has certainly been affected by the influence of modernity and Western customs, be it in the way of New World ingredients like tomatoes or potatoes, eating habits, or the appearance of fast-food shops. Indeed, the fastest growing restaurant type in Iran today would probably be pizza shops with delivery service. Yet on the whole, Iranian dining has proved remarkably resilient in preserving its essential character and distinct identity. Even pizza produced in Iran is not exactly the same as that found in the United States or Europe. Both the sauce and cheese used are closer to Persian fl avors than American or Italian ones. In general, culinary practices in Iran have been affected by several important cultural factors. The most obvious, of course, are the requirements of Islamic dietary law since the vast majority of the population are Muslims: meat should come from animals that have been ritually slaughtered; pork and certain other foods are forbidden; and wine or other alcoholic beverages, though certainly used by some people at various times, are illegal under Islamic law and have been strictly prohibited since the establishment of the Islamic Republic. Prior to the 1979 revolution, alcoholic drinks and pork meat in the form of ham and hot dogs were available in modernized sectors of major cities, even though these foods were avoided by the majority of people. Secularized Iranians, especially educated ones, are not much concerned about religious dietary restrictions. There is also a kind of basic philosophy to Iranian cooking that has its sources in ancient Zoroastrian tradition and concepts perhaps derived ultimately from Galenic medical theory. Foods are regarded as being either “hot” ( garmi ) or “cold” ( sardi ) in their nature and in the effects they have on the consumer, inducing either excitement or lethargy, for example. For instance, while yogurt is regard as a cold item, red meat is classifi ed as hot. Individual dishes and meals as a whole seek to balance these two qualities; spices are used in moderation, and ingredients often emphasize contrasting fl avors like sweet and sour. Of course, the younger generation, educated in modern sciences, tends to be neither familiar with these traditional concepts nor to fi nd them particularly relevant when it comes to modern food items like pizza.