Traditional centers can be found in most of the world’s top tourist destinations, including Iran.
Although European countries are home to a large number of luxury reception centers, foreign tourists would rather go to or lodge at traditional centers which are mostly found in Eastern countries, particularly those in the Middle East.
Presently and following the removal of the Western-imposed sanctions on Iran, speculations are high that Iran will be the favored destination of a great number of tourists, particularly those from Europe and the United States.
In the light of foreign tourist’s avid interest in traditional Iranian restaurants, the government is planning to put on agenda the construction of traditional restaurants in top tourist towns of Iran.
The reason for the great enthusiasm among tourists for going to and visiting Iranian traditional restaurants, is the obvious differences between them and their counterparts in other Eastern countries.
In an exclusive interview with Iran Daily, Mahmoud Dabbagh, the secretary of the Society of Traditional Restaurant Owners, listed the differences and elaborated on them.
Excerpts of the interview follow:
IRAN DAILY: What are the differences between traditional Iranian restaurants and their foreign counterparts?
MAHMOUD DABBQAGH: Generally speaking, traditional restaurants, hookah lounges and reception centers in any country represent the culture, traditions and conventions of those states. Therefore, a large number of tourists are willing to visit the centers in person. Such traditional centers are mostly located in the proximity of tourist attractions or historical sites.
There are a large number of traditional restaurants in Iranian cities. They are even found in abundance across towns due to the great interest of Iranians in such places. Three factors distinguish traditional Iranian restaurants from their foreign counterparts: 1. Traditional architectural features and elements in building these centers, 2. Traditional Iranian food served in these places and 3. Traditional Persian music performed in them.
The architectural design, features, elements and decoration used in constructing such centers go back to 7,000 years. The use of arches, artificial springs, Howzes (small symmetrical axis pools) and artificial springs are among the most significant elements of original Iranian architecture, examples of which are still found in temples and sanctuaries at Choghazanbil in Khuzestan Province.
In addition to this, all the delicacies used in traditional Iranian architecture are used in constructing traditional Iranian restaurants. They include plasterwork, muqarnas (a form of architectural ornamented vaulting) and Girih tiles (a set of five tiles that were used in creating Islamic geometric patterns for decoration of buildings in Islamic architecture).
Only traditional food is served at these centers. Due to the remarkable diversity in Iranian food, at least, some of them always appeal to foreign tourists. Traditional Persian music played in these centers is mostly on the basis of Maqami musical modal system. Such centers are promoters of original Iranian art and culture. In case a foreign tourist desires to learn more about these three aspects of the Iranian culture, he/she can go and visit these centers.
The history of coffeehouses in Iran goes back to over 500 years. How are traditional Iranian restaurants distinct from modern ones?
The very first coffeehouses in Iran were built almost around the same time as Iranians began importing coffee a long time ago. The first coffeehouse in Iran was built during the Safavid dynasty. With the lapse of time, such centers turned into stages for performing minstrelsies and reciting elegies as well as sonnets.
Traditional restaurants are present day versions of old Iranian coffeehouses, with the exception that they serve a variety of local cuisine.
When was Tehran’s oldest traditional restaurant constructed?
There is a traditional restaurant in Tehran which was constructed 300 years ago. This building was registered on Iran’s National Cultural Heritage List in 2000 due to its cultural and artistic values as well as its historical background.
In addition, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization has mentioned the building in its Practical Manual for World Heritage Sites as one of the world’s oldest buildings which was turned into a traditional restaurant.
As stipulated in the document of the 20-Year Vision Plan of Iran’s tourism industry, Iran is required to attract more than 20 million tourists by 2020. Is the present number of traditional centers sufficient for meeting the needs and expectations of this number of foreign visitors?
There are scores of traditional restaurants across the country. Nevertheless, few of them are members of the society of Tehran’s traditional restaurant owners. Although the number of such centers is greater in Tehran than in other cities, other Iranian provinces, such as Isfahan, Khorasan Razavi and Alborz boast a large number of pleasant and elegant traditional lounges.
Alborz Province, for instance, has 18 traditional lounges. People in other provinces do not go to such places as often as those in Tehran Province. Given the interest of Iranians in going to such places, in case the number of foreign visitors increases, we will, undoubtedly, require more traditional lounges in the future.
Is the activity of non-member traditional restaurants illegal?
No. However, all such restaurants are required to obtain permits from Iran’s Cultural Heritage, Handcrafts and Tourism Organization.
How many members does the society have?
It has 22 members.