Home » Authentic Travel in Iran » Where to go in Iran » North Iran Tour: Fantastic local food

Getting non-industrial food in Iran is as likely as running into Joe Biden at the supermarket - unless you specfically ask for farm-fresh food. And beware of Iranian hotels many fake stars.

This entry is part 8 of 14 in the series Iran Road Tour: Tehran to Mashhad via the Caspian Coast

Could you one single breakfast suffice for an entire day? I didn’t think it would be for me. On this north Iran tour, I stuffed myself with an unforgettable organic breakfast in Filband, the island of clouds.

On the fourth day of escape from Tehran, we navigated the muddy streets of Filband for breakfast at the home of Amoo Yusef. In the same room we ate the night before, the morning sun now poured in and promised a fantastic day.

Besides omelettes, we asked our host for asal (honey) and sar-shir, which is the fat derived from boiling milk. Yes, it’s pure milk fat. Fattening, but Iranians convince themselves that it’s healthy because of the calcium and protein.

we had a north Iran tour for real mahali/local food in iran breakfast in Filband, mazandaran, iran
real mahali local food in iran . Copyright © Ali Torkzadeh, EscapefromTehran.com

When you travel in Iran, always look for Mahali (local) foods

Eating …

1. non-industrial food and

2. discovering region-specific recipes

… are two of the primary goals of our escapes from Tehran, where finding fresh food is as likely as running into Joe Biden at the supermarket.


Mahali is Persian for “local”. It food can refer to a local recipe. But more often it just means the food is coming directly from the farmer not a factory. In Iran, there’s a huge and also pretty shocking difference. The factory food sold in supermarkets and served in hotels comes heavily wrapped in layers of plastic with the expiration dates often missing or written for the eyes of ants.

Mahali food, on the other hand, is also plentiful if you just look for it. There are stores dedicated to selling only farm-fresh food. And here’s the surprising part: Unlike in Europe or the United States, the local fresh food is not much more expensive than the factory-made food. Sometimes it’s even cheaper. It just might take a little more work. The milk, for example, should be boiled for 30 minutes before consumption.

What is most important here is the origin of the foods. Yusef uses only mahali (local) ingredients. His eggs and sar-shir come from this town or nearby.

His mahali honey, he lectured us, is cold extracted locally. He taught us how to identify good honey.

“But do you really want two omelettes?” Yusef asked. We found out the omelets were huge and the sar shir and bread and honey just impossible to put down. Ate and ate over the next hour and a half. We totally forgot about the day’s agenda.

“Lunch and dinner not important to me. But breakfast – I can eat it forever, until noon,” Saeideh said awe and ooing as she packed globs of shar shir and honey on barbari and lavash bread.

Weekend traffic on our north Iran tour: not good

Well, it turned out to be noon before began rolling down the mountain and smack into heavy traffic! “It’s Friday!” it suddenly dawned on me.

On the weekends (Thursday and Fridays in Iran), the north of Iran is like a giant magnet to the people of Tehran, which is one reason the prices of tourist accommodations are more expensive than any other place outside of Tehran.

The foggy, mysterious road that we climbed up two days earlier was now lined with cars of people picnicking and camping. The raging inflation, plus the excessive prices shomalis (Persian term for the people of the Caspian region) charge outsiders, has made camping popular.

People picnic and camp everywhere in Iran, sometimes on city sidewalks or even on the highway medians. We’ve packed a tent and sleeping bags and didn’t care for the high prices we paid in the last two days. But the cold weather at this altitude kept us indoors.

Back on Haraz Road, we headed for Amol – a major non-coastal northern town with about zero touristic attraction. We avoided the inner city by taking a belt highway toward Sari, the capital of the Mazandaran province. It is November so it’s getting dark even before 5 pm.

The poor state of Iranian hotels: LOTS OF FAKE STARS

Saeideh wanted to save time by going to a hotel on our north Iran tour, something we had vowed to avoid. I hesitated.

Iranian hotels typically are not fun places!  They are overpriced, over-hyped and almost universally poorly maintained.

Always remember that the number of stars of an Iranian hotel is total and complete bullshit! The stars are for a people long isolated from the rest of the world and the star system here does not follow any international standards. Hotel owners here just shamelessly dream up the stars and then pay off the local bureaucrats to keep them.

In Mashhad there are hotels that claim to be – and I’m not joking – six stars and seven stars! I’d like to stay in one and write about it but I just can’t bring myself to pay people who so shamelessly misrepresent themselves.

When an Iranian hotel says three stars, be prepared to be put up with a single star. Don’t even dream about getting a towel or decent Wi-Fi. Four stars, it is at most 2.5 or three stars. 

So we avoid Iranian hotels because “the money they charge does not match their services,” Saeideh puts it succinctly.

There are decent hotels in Iran, which I’ve written about. But there are not a lot of them. They are also expensive (for someone spending local currency, not tourists with euros and dollars). We can’t afford to stay in such hotels often because of our goal of staying on the road for weeks at a time.

One of our goals for this website is to identify the few hotels and ecolodges that offer value, international standards (like clean toilets) and good local foods.

Home-sharing in Iran, poor but brave imitations of Airbnb

So on our north Iran tour, when we get near Sari, we sat at the side of the road and spent at least 2.5 hours messing around with multiple websites advertising local villas and rooms for rent.

There’s been a huge proliferation of such online services, Iran’s versions of Airbnb.

It’s a nascent business here and there are many shortcomings. For one thing, reviews of hosts and guests do not exist or not emphasized.

These websites are useless to the international traveler because they do not offer English versions.

They seem to operate on a hybrid of new and old world technologies. Once we started the process online, we began getting a stream of robot and human calls to confirm things and inform us of what we needed to do next.

Using Jajiga.com we finally paid 300,000 tomans (about $9 USD) for a roostaii (village) home 30 minutes outside Sari. 

We were skeptical, most of all because of our concern for cleanliness. Village homes offer old world charm but can be worse than city accommodations in terms of cleanliness and comforts such as hot water and modern heating and cooling.

But we were pleasantly surprised. The vacant home, which came with it’s own parking, is clean and spacious.

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