Tag Archives: Persian tradition

Hot and Cold Foods In Persian Culture


Informant is a friend of mine from high school. She is a current student at UCLA and former student at The Madeira School (the high school we both attended). She is a first-generation American whose parents immigrated from Iran. She does not have any specific religious affiliations. I chose to interview several people from my high school to compare their versions of our school stories. She is referred to as “SF”.


I asked the informant about any homeopathic medicines or remedies she has learned from her family/culture. She provided multiple examples – this example is of the concept of hot and cold foods.


In Persian culture, there’s this really interesting concept. It’s foods that are used that is like kind of used for specific, like, things that you’re feeling. So basically the words are like there’s two different categories, like a food can be either “garm” or “sard” and garm and sard mean hot and cold. So like certain foods like fit into those categories and based on like this thing that you like, like if you have a headache or whatever, like either someone will tell you, oh, you have to eat foods that are in the hot category or like you have to eat foods that are in the cold category. And like, I don’t necessarily know, like what goes in each category cause there’s no, there’s kind of like an intuitive like thinking that you think so like ginger is like a hot food or whatever because like, you know, kind of warms you up. But like, there are certain ones that you can’t, I can’t really like distinguish. Like you have to know. Like, I feel like elders, like just know what are like hot and cold foods. And so like that’s a pretty interesting concept that I feel is very specific to like Persian culture is like if you say, Oh, I like feeling ill or whatever, it’s like this certain way, that way I tell you to eat also gets either like hot or cold.


While my informant believed the concept of hot and cold foods to be specific to Persian culture, the concept is actually prevalent in a lot of cultures, especially those native to East Asia. In Korea and China, the concept of hot and cold foods is especially prevalent in postpartum care. The correlation of hot and cold is not necessarily the specific temperature of the food, but the effect the food has on the body – if it is warming or cooling. I especially appreciated SF’s comment “I feel like elders, like just know what are hot and cold foods.” It’s a perfect summarization of the mechanisms of folklore: that it is knowledge passed down through generations, so currently, the elder generations have the knowledge, and will pass it along to their descendants.

Translation: Garm and sard are Farsi words. Garm = hot, and sard = cold.


For additional versions of hot and cold foods, see: Song, Yuanqing. “坐月子:Postpartum Confinement”. May 20, 2019. USC Folklore Archive. http://folklore.usc.edu/%E5%9D%90%E6%9C%88%E5%AD%90%EF%BC%9Apostpartum-confinement/

Persian Herbal Remedies


Informant is a friend of mine from high school. She is a current student at UCLA and former student at The Madeira School (the high school we both attended). She is a first-generation American whose parents immigrated from Iran. She does not have any specific religious affiliations. I chose to interview several people from my high school to compare their versions of our school stories. She is referred to as “SF”.


I asked the informant about any homeopathic remedies that she learned from her family and culture. She provided multiple examples; these remedies are based in herbal treatments.


SF: So there are quite a few, honestly, and some of them are pretty weird. Um, but there’s one that I always did because my grandma was like, every time you get congestion or whatever, you’re like, Oh, these people do like vapor, like steaming or whatever, like their faces or like they do neti pots to like clear your sinuses. And so it’s kind of something similar to that, but it’s like a specific kind of herb blend that you like boil in a pot and you basically get a towel and you like put your face like near the pot and you’re like cover the rest of your face with the towel. So like the steam from the herbs like clears your sinuses. I don’t know specifically what kinds of herbs they were. I think oregano was definitely one of them, cause I remember it having a very specific oregano scent. Yeah. And so it’s just like a bunch of boiled herbs, like, in this thing.

Interviewer: And then where did your grandma get the herb pot recipe. Like, where’d she get that?

SF: That’s a good question. I think that it just like it’s a special kind of like herb, one that they use for food in Iran and like, they definitely sell it, like, prepackaged stores nowadays because they’re like. Like Persian supermarkets and stuff like back home and even in L.A. But yeah, they sell them like pot, like package, a lot of packaged like Persian, like spices and stuff like that. So it’s, it’s more like commercialized nowadays. But I think like she probably got it like from back in Iran, like with her family too. But I feel like it’s one of those things that just like, like people know, like they just know about it, you know?

And then I think one which is pretty much just like a universal like thing that everyone will tell you, we like also kind of like it’s just funny to me is is like, is you to feel like, oh, I have a stomachache or if I’m like nauseous or whatever, they’ll always tell you to drink like Persian black tea with like sugar, like saffron, like sugar. And it’s just like, it’s really stupid to me because you drink that, like, every day anyway, if you, like, live in Iran or if you’re Persian. So like, it’s really funny to me that they’re like, Oh yeah, if you feel sick, you need to drink this. But it’s like, I be drinking it every day anyway. But I don’t know. It’s funny because, like, whenever you’re nauseous, we have, like, something they always tell you to like to drink chai nabat, that’s like what you’re supposed to do.


It’s interesting how these remedies are essentially identical to others in other cultures – nasal steaming and drinking tea – but they are specifically engaging with herbs and tea commonly used in Persian culture. Both the herbs for the steaming and the type of tea are just common, everyday combinations used in food and drinks, but in the context of being sick, they have healing qualities. SF had the wonderful comment that her grandmother got the herb combination from her family back in Iran, and that now, the mixture is “one of those things that just, like, like people know.” – That is exactly what folklore is. Both methods are likely fairly effective, as they are standard treatment, but I wonder if the specific combinations of herbs in Persian remedies have a different level of effectiveness compared to herbs from other cultures. For example, in my family, we are told to drink ginger tea, as my mother believes it is most effective.

Translation: Chai nabat is a specific Persian tea. Chai nabat is pronounced “cha-ee nah-bot”.


Main Piece: 

Tarof is basically a form of etiquette in Persian culture that’s extremely important, especially when you are dealing with older generations of Iran— in the younger generations it’s not as important, but in the older generations especially it’s much more important. [laughs] I never know what the first way to introduce this is. So in Iran, hosting is a very important part of the culture. Having people over and offering them food, and tea, and snacks, and a place to sit outside or do they want [to sit by a] window. It’s a very important part of the culture and Iranians take as many chances as they can to offer that kind of service to people, especially if it’s family or a respected elder, or peer like a boss per se, or a teacher. Its very important but in Iran— and I’m sure other cultures as well— but in Iran it has a very specific name. 

The polite thing to do in that situation when you’re offered something is actually to decline, not to be like “Thank you, this is so wonderful you made these delicious cookies!” Or “This dinner you made is so good!” It’s to be like, “No, no, no thank you, but no,” even if you want that thing. The polite thing to do is be like, “I really don’t want that.” But the thing is in that scenario, the other people who’s offering up whatever it is, the polite thing is not to go, “Okay, I respect your wishes,” it’s “No, no, no, I want you to have this.” So every time that interaction happens it’s kind of like a battle every single time. And it can be over something as small as “I’m passing this bowl of peanuts, would you like some?”


My informant is of Iranian heritage, and this is a custom that he grew up experiencing within his household. The reasoning behind this tradition is a demonstration of respect to your elders, peers, and anyone with a higher status. He further explains that even within his own family, the custom is still practiced between them. To him “it’s almost like second nature,” and so ingrained in him that he’ll even practice tarof with his friends. However, he does say that this custom is usually only practiced around other Persians, and not as much with outsiders. 


This piece was brought up when I was giving my informant examples of folklore, such as traditions or proverbs. I then listed customs as an example, and asked if he knew of any customs within his own culture, to which he then provided the above piece. 


I like how my informant expressed how crucial tarof is to Persian culture, to the point where he realized that he has a tendency to practice it around people outside of his cultural group, and that he was able to provide a thorough explanation of the custom. In this piece it’s very clear that tarof is a demonstration of status between the host and the invited guest, and is especially practiced by the older generations, indicating that the tradition is passed down through families. Additionally, the fact that it’s only practiced around other Persians shows that this is a custom that takes place within a certain peer group, and as such, to be considered part of the group, one has to know that there’s an expected way to conduct oneself. For example, if a non-Persian were somehow to be in this scenario and offered food, they would not know that the correct response is to decline the offer, and would expose themselves as an outsider to the group. Lastly, I think that this piece is a good way to determine the values of the culture, one of which being respect and hospitality. 


Main Piece:

The following conversation is transcribed from a conversation between me (HS) and my co-worker/informant (MK).

HS: So can you tell me about Yaldā?

MK: So it’s the beginning of the winter. So in the winter, nights are going to be longer and days are going to be shorter. They say the night is longer by one minute, so in that one minute, Persians celebrate it like crazy. They get fruits, they get pomegranate, they gather together. Lots of craziness. But you basically stay up all night to enjoy the night getting one minute longer.

HS: So is it more of a family celebration or is it celebrated in a group setting with the surrounding community?

MK: You can celebrate with the surrounding community, but it’s more of a family-oriented tradition. If you look at the history of the tradition, it was often celebrated by families but times are changing so I’ve celebrated with friends, more distant relatives, anybody, really. Grand meals and amazing food are also a kind of foundation for the tradition.


My informant is a coworker from my job. She has the same role as me and so we spend a lot of time talking in-between customers. She immigrated to the United States from Tehran, the capital of Iran, when she was 16 years old and has a lot of family here that she enjoys continuing her traditions with. She has enjoyed telling me a lot about her culture and traditions in our time working together.


So we were just talking in-between customers when I became a little curious. I work in an area that has a large Persian population, and according to my coworker, the concentration of Persians in this area is second only to Los Angeles. So back in March about a week before Persian New Year, I noticed that a lot of her Persian clientele were coming in to buy new one-dollar, five-dollar, and ten-dollar bills. I was curious about why this was happening, and so I asked my coworker about it. After discussing the Persian New Year, we discussed other important traditions that she celebrates, such as Yaldā.

Thoughts: Similar to the traditions involved in the Persian New Year, I found it interesting that a lot of Persian traditions are derived from a completely unique religion/tradition that I had never heard of before. Yaldā night is another tradition that has its roots in Zoroastrianism. According to the sources that I read, Yaldā night was actually considered to be an unlucky day, as it was believed that this was the night that the presence of evil spirits was at its peak, which would make sense from a historical lense because evil spirits were associated with darkness and Yaldā night was the longest night of the year. To avoid the inauspiciousness of this night, families were given the recommendation to stay up all night and keep each other company. What I find most interesting is how similar the origins of Yaldā are to the origins of the western tradition of Halloween. Despite strikingly similar origin stories, these two days evolved in completely separate ways.

For an exploration into the rich culinary traditions of Yaldā, see:

“Iranian American Chef Discusses Role Of Food In Yalda Day Celebrations.(Broadcast Transcript).” Weekend Edition Sunday, National Public Radio, Inc. (NPR), 2020.

Iranian Gin Rummy

Main description:

AB: “Are there any other Iranian card games you can tell me about that are special to you?”

DB: “I don’t know. Um. I guess there’s one called Ramee, it’s like the Iranian version of gin rummy. Play it a lot at family reunions with the extended family.”

AB: “How is it different from gin rummy?”

DB: “Uh, let’s see. I guess the first difference is the dealing. You deal the cards out three at time three times to each person, so that’s nine cards. Then you deal out a pair of everybody, bringing it up to eleven. Oh yeah, and then you give two extra cards to the person that starts. Then the next thing is that you don’t keep your cards in your hand. But you can’t put any of them down until you can put down a combo that adds up to thirty. So if you had like, three nines, and you hadn’t come down yet, then you can’t play them, because that’s less than thirty. But if you also had, like, an ace-two-three of the same suit, you could play with your nines, because that’s more than thirty. Then you can just play cards normally for the rest of game. Oh, and then you can add your cards to other people’s stuff. So if somebody played three fours and your have the last one, you can add it to theirs. Oh, and the final crazy part are the jokers. You play with jokers, which are wild, and they can be any number you want, so you could play like two-joker-four and that’s cool. But, let’s say someone else has the three that matches your straight’s, it’s um, suit, they can swap in their three for your joker and then use it however they want. Well, not totally, they have to play it that turn with cards from their hand. So you also can’t add a joker you take to something that somebody else has already played.”

AB: “Awesome. So, you said you normally play this game at family reunions, right? Can you tell me about that.”

DB: “Yeah, so we usually play whenever there’s a lot of us together, for a birthday or a holiday or something. Oh and there’s lots of betting. At the end of the game, you have to give the winner money corresponding to how many points are left in your hand. So if you haven’t come down yet, you’re screwed, lol. One time I was really lucky at Christmas and made like fifty bucks off of our relatives. Now they don’t wanna play with me anymore.”

Informant’s interpretation:

AB: “What can you tell me about why this game means to your family?”

DB: “Um, I guess I’ve always thought of it as like. The grown-up game. The kids always play pasur because it’s easy as long as you can do basic math, but only the adults play rami. That game takes strategy. I was in high school when they taught me how to play and I started betting with them, and I just remember feeling so cool sitting at the adult table and winning some money in Rami while my cousins watched me. They were so butt-hurt, lmao.”

Personal interpretation

Most societies distinguish between children’s culture and adult’s culture, and rami seems to be one such distinction. The informant notes that it’s not only that children are prohibited from playing rami because of gambling, but rami is inaccessible to young children in the first place because it requires substantial strategizing to win. In this way, playing rami may be an important mark of adulthood.