Iran has so many beautiful cities but there is something so magical and lofty about the mesmerising Isfahan. I traveled to Isfahan for the first time when I was 6 years old and all I remember is Si-o-se-pol, which is a huge bridge over the beautiful Zayanderud river with 33 arches. I remember telling my father that I was cold when we reached the open arch and feeling hungry all the time. I also remember that I got lost in the hotel when I was playing in the elevator with my friend and my sister because I could not find the right floor after all.
Isfahan province is nearly 500 kilometers south of capital Tehran with Isfahan as its capital city. Isfahan was the kingdom's capital during the ruling of Shah Abbas. With a population of something above 2 million people, Isfahan is considered the third most populated city after Tehran and Mashhad.
The second time I went to Isfahan was when I was 20 years old and we went there with my parents. The third and the most memorable time was when I was living in Holland and went to Isfahan with some friends and had locals as my guide. I don't know it is age or the fact that I was not living in Iran anymore but what I know is I fell in love with Isfahan like never before.
The sweetness of the Isfahani dialect melted my heart and the sound of chisel on the copper trays to make patterns put tears in my heart regretting why I never discovered Isfahan the way I was discovering it then. I found myself walking in the Bazaar of Naqsh-e Jahan Square up and down crying out of excitement with any tapestry and patterned silver tray I saw in the window shops. Gazing at the famous Shah Mosque I could not help but wonder: how is it possible to have this much beauty and art all in the same place and at the same time. To me, Isfahan is a package of all the beauty, art, architecture, history, lovely people and of course food.
Isfahan is known for its delicious biryani. Biryani is made of ground lamb, white lamb liver, onion and cinnamon all well mixed and fried both sides in a hot tray and served with the juice of a lamb stew with basil and hot bread aside. Whether it was the long history that the restaurant had in making this dish or the freshness of the lamb, I just could not stop myself from eating bite after bite.
It is impossible to go to a restaurant or any little food corner without them serving halim badmjan. Halim bademjan is a traditional Iranian dish that has lots of and lots of varieties in every city. Isfahani halim bademjan is the mix of cooked cannellini beans or rice, fried eggplant and dried mint oil and a special Perisian milk-based sauce named kashk that is served on top. This dish is absolutely amazing with traditional Iranian flatbread which you definitely get if you order it at any eatery in Isfahan.
Isfahan is also famous for its sweet pistachio nougat named gaz. It's impossible to go to Isfahan and not head into one of the gaz shops. Gaz is sold in so many different varieties and sizes with lots of different pistachio percentage options. To me, the best is the one with 40 percentage of pistachio. You can try all different kinds of gaz once you step into the shop. In Iran, nothing comes simple. Everything comes with a story. So be prepared to hear some stories from the owner about their family business of gaz that has been passed from to generation to generation.
Poolaki is also sweet from Isfahan. Poolaki is a thin layer of candy a bit bigger than a coin with all sorts of flavours such as roses, dried lime and pistachios. Poolaki is served with tea.
Isfahan is called to be "Nesfe Jahan" which literally means "half of the world" as it is so beautiful in so many different aspects.
below a video of a must-see antique shop with restaurant, leading to the Bazaar and Naqsh-e Jahan Square