Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > General Topics >
Sep 30, 2010 07:47 AM


In my 40 years I've never seen a restaurant that called itself Iranian, only Persian.

Of course, in my lifetime, politics have been such that the distinction makes sense in terms of restaurateurs not wanting to scare Americans (who may or may not be quite aware of the CIA's role in shaping the Iranian government of today) off. But if I understand correctly, it may also be a distinction that they themselves care to make precisely as a personal political statement. Or for that matter a culinary one, the cuisine having ancient roots.

Can anyone speak to this?

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. It's true that "Persian" and "Iranian" are not exact synonyms, but I suppose that for most restaurants, both terms would apply accurately. So if they only use "Persian" then there must be a reason. Political, maybe. Phonetic, also (too many different pronunciations floating around for "Iranian"). And there is a tendency to use "Persian" for things with ancient roots and cultural significance, as you said: Persian rugs, Persian leather, Persian cats (?), …

    6 Replies
    1. re: DeppityDawg

      Yeah, I was thinking about the fact that when it comes to food, we really only see "Iranian" attached to caviar, presumably as a strictly geographical signifier.

      1. re: DeppityDawg

        As above "Iran" is political rather than cultural term as ethnic Persians are the majority but not the only people living in Iran eg: Kurds, Azeris, Turkic, Arabs. Azerbaijani and Turkish cuisines certainly are not the same as Persian so therein lies the difference.

        1. re: Pedr0

          Yes, this sums it up. Not all Iranians are Persians. Persian is an ethnocultural identity while Iranian is modern political identity.

        2. re: DeppityDawg

          Had a BF from Iran about 25 years ago - during the time of the hostage situation. He and his family called themselves Persian, but the whole community i met did that before the hostage crisis - none of them called themselves Iranian (and when they said Iran it was "Ee-rahn"). Food was Persian too. Persian was ethnicity, and Iran was the country where they were born.

          1. re: mariacarmen

            Got it—thanks Pedr0 and mariacarmen. That makes sense.

            1. re: mariacarmen

              Agree with all this, but just to put a little more context - similar to Africa, the countries and borders in the Middle East weren't decided by where the cultural/ethnic groups lived, but largely due to European geopolitics. So feeling a stronger connection/relationship with cultural/ethnic signifiers as opposed to nationalities isn't uncommon to the region (with some noteable exceptions).

              Also regarding Persian, I wonder if in the West it also has something to do with distinguishing themselves from being "Arab". Persians and Arabs do see themselves as culturally/ethnically different, where in Europe/North America there isn't always as much knowledge of the differences. So while Iranian, Lebanese, Saudi may all blend together as being part of a similar geographic region, saying "Persian" indicates a specific culture.

          2. Bought a box of Byzantine Delight the other day. It was delicious, but the flavors were rather confusing.

            2 Replies
            1. A major Iranian restaurant in Chicago, Reza's, calls itself Persian; my sense of this is that "Persian" is now the marketing term for Iranian. We also have a grocery store, PARS Grocery, that is "Persian". All I can say is that the food is wonderful, surpassing politics.

              2 Replies
              1. re: Querencia

                Reza's has been "Persian" since it was a little hole in the wall 30 years ago. Growing up in Chicago in the 60's and 70's my friends whose parents emigrated from Iran always referred to them selves as Persian. It's a cultural identity in that the name Iran is a 20th century political designation. It's more analogous to "Assyrian" being the cultural identity for Christian Iraqis.

                1. re: Querencia

                  I suspect you are right about the "marketing term". Here in the UK, restaurants also describe themselves as Persian. Perhaps hardly surprising given the "bad press" some western countries (mine included) gives to Iran.

                2. I have one friend who is a modern-day Iranian citizen, so draw what conclusions you will from a sample size of one. She insisted on being called Persian and would get upset if the term "Iranian" was used in conversation to describe people, restaurants, whatever. She was not afraid of discrimination, rather she just did not want her ethnic tradition associated with the current administration.