Speak / Lesson 16

How to Talk More About Food and Specific Persian Meals

It's hard to talk about Persian food without wanting to eat it, so we apologize for this lesson in advance. In this lesson, we will go over different mealtimes that come up in every culture, such as:

breakfast - sobhāné

lunch - nāhār

dinner - shām

and a few other meals in between. We learn how to call people to a meal, and talk about a few different extremely popular Persian foods. 

We also learn how to leave a party. In Persian culture, leaving requires a whole ritual- it's not a simple process. So for instance, Iranians never simply say they have to go. Instead, they use the phrase 'bāyad yavāsh yavāsh beram,' which literally means 'I have to slowly, slowly go.' This begins the incremental process of leaving. They use the phrase a few times in order to warn the host that they're about to leave. It takes a few more steps to actually accomplish this task however, such as getting up, standing by the door for a while, standing by the car for a while, etc. Iranians just like to keep the party going.


how are you?

Note: In Persian, as in many other languages, there is a formal and an informal way of speaking. We will be covering this in more detail in later lessons. For now, however, chetor-ee is the informal way of asking someone how they are, so it should only be used with people that you are familiar with. hālé shomā chetor-é is the formal expression for ‘how are you.’

Spelling note: In written Persian, words are not capitalized. For this reason, we do not capitalize Persian words written in phonetic English in the guides.


I’m well

Pronunciation tip: kh is one of two unique sounds in the Persian language that is not used in the English language. It should be repeated daily until mastered, as it is essential to successfully speak Persian. Listen to the podcast for more information on how to make the sound.

Persian English
salām hello
chetor-ee how are you?
khoobam I’m well
merci thank you
khayli very
khayli khoobam I’m very well
khoob neestam I’m not well
man me/I
bad neestam I’m not bad
ālee great
chetor-een? how are you? (formal)
hālé shomā chetor-é? how are you? (formal)
hālet chetor-é? how are you? (informal)
khoob-ee? are you well? (informal)
mamnoonam thank you
chetor peesh meeré? how’s it going?
ché khabar? what’s the news? (what’s up?)

Leyla: Hello everyone, and welcome back to Chai and Conversation!

Matt: We're glad to have you with us!

Leyla: Traditionally, Iranians have held guests in high regard, seeing them as gifts from God, so hosting is an especially important concept in Iranian culture. We've spent a couple of weeks so far learning vocabulary that is centered around hosting, and today, we are going to learn vocabulary that centers around food. 

Matt: Food is an especially important part of Persian culture with many traditions centering around meals and eating. In this lesson, we'll learn the vocabulary for different mealtimes as well as the names of several different common dishes.

Leyla: As always, remember that you can find bonus materials for this lesson as well as all of our previous lessons on the website at chaiandconversation.com with “chai” spelled C-H-A-I. These include the extremely helpful PDF guide that includes a vocabulary list of all the words we'll be learning today. But enough of that for now. Matt, hāzer-ee barāyé dars? Are you ready for the lesson?

Matt: hāzer-am!

Leyla: Great! Let's begin to learn Persian with Chai and Conversation.

Let's begin by learning the words for the different mealtimes. In Persian, breakfast is called sobhooné.

Matt: sobhooné.

Leyla: You'll also hear this pronounced sobhāné from time to time. sobhāné.

Matt: sobhāné.

Leyla: Lunch is nāhār.

Matt: nāhār.

Leyla: And dinner is shām.

Matt: shām.

Leyla: So, sobhooné, nāhār, and shām. In Persian culture, there's another meal called asrooné.

Matt: āsrooné.

Leyla: asrooné.

Matt: asrooné.

Leyla: And, Matt, can you remember that word asr, what it means?

Matt: ‘Afternoon’?

Leyla: Right, exactly, so asrooné is a meal that comes between lunch and dinner, around about 4 PM, and it consists of tea with bread and feta cheese and walnuts and other light afternoon snacks. asrooné.

Matt: asrooné.

Leyla: So let's go over these one more time. ‘Breakfast’ is sobhooné.

Matt: sobhooné.

Leyla: ‘Lunch’ is nāhār.

Matt: nāhār.

Leyla: ‘Afternoon snack’ is asrooné.

Matt: asrooné.

Leyla: And ‘dinner’ is shām.

Matt: shām.

Leyla: We learned a word last week that we're going to visit again in this lesson. When a meal is prepared and the host is calling you to it, the word “befarmāyeen” is used. Do you remember that from last week, what this word means, Matt?

Matt: It means ‘please’ or ‘help yourself’.

Leyla: Right, exactly, so in this context, “befarmāyeen,” it means the same. ‘Please help yourself’. So the host would say, “befarmāyeen shām.”

Matt: befarmāyeen shām.

Leyla: Meaning ‘please come to dinner’ or ‘help yourself to dinner’. So befarmāyeen is if you're talking to more than one person or to a formal ‘you’. If it's one person and you wanna call them to lunch, you say “befarmā.”

Matt: befarmā.

Leyla: So, for example, befarmā nāhār.

Matt: befarmā nāhār.

Leyla: Which means ‘lunch is ready’ or ‘please come to lunch’. You could also just say ‘lunch is ready’, which is nāhār hāzer-é.

Matt: nāhār hāzer-é.

Leyla: So “hāzer-é” means ‘it is ready’. How would you say ‘dinner is ready’?

Matt: shām hāzer-é.

Leyla: And let's go through a few of the most common meals in Persian culture. For breakfast, the most common thing to have is noon ō paneer.

Matt: noon ō paneer.

Leyla:noon” is the word for ‘bread’, and paneer” is the feta cheese that's spread on the bread. It's often accompanied by things like honey: asal

Matt: asal

Leyla: Or jam: morabā.

Matt: morabā.

Leyla: So you can have noon ō paneer bā asal.

Matt: noon ō paneer bā asal.

Leyla: Or noon ō paneer bā morabā.

Matt: noon ō paneer bā morabā.

Leyla: Another delicious thing to eat noon ō paneer with is gerdoo

Matt: gerdoo.

Leyla: And “gerdoo” means ‘walnuts’, so how would you say ‘bread and feta with walnuts’?

Matt: noon ō paneer bā gerdoo.

Leyla: Exactly. Then, for lunch and dinner, there are certain foods that are staples for every meal. These include rice, or, in Persian, berenj.

Matt: berenj.

Leyla: berenj is usually served with every meal. Persian food usually consists of rice with a certain type of stew on top of it. The stew is called khoresh.

Matt: khoresh.

Leyla: You may have heard of khoreshé ghormé sabzee.

Matt: khoreshé ghormé sabzee.

Leyla: And I'm sure you eat this all the time, Matt.

Matt: Yes.

Leyla: And this is one of the most common and delicious stews in Iranian culture. It consists of several types of herbs and greens mixed together with a tiny amount of meat and some kidney beans. “ghormé” comes directly from the French word “gourmet.” “sabzee” means ‘greens’ and is another important part of a Persian meal on its own. I've often heard that a Persian plate of food should consist of a third of a plate sabzee, which is a medley of basil, mint, parsley, cilantro, and other seasonal greens. A handful of greens is usually eaten with each bite of Persian food. So, again, greens are “sabzee.”

Matt: sabzee.

Leyla: Another important part of the meal is “māst.”

Matt: māst.

Leyla: And this is the word for ‘yogurt’. Let's also learn the words for something that you often have to add to food, and that is salt and pepper. ‘Salt’ in Persian is “namak.”

Matt: namak.

Leyla: And ‘pepper’ is “felfel.”

Matt: felfel.

Leyla: namak ō felfel.

Matt: namak ō felfel.

Leyla: ‘Salt and pepper’. Another important part of lunch and dinner is “desser.”

Matt: desser.

Leyla: And you can guess what this is.

Matt: ‘Dessert’!

Leyla: Exactly, ‘dessert’. Now let's go back to the concept of hosting and add a few more phrases to our vocabulary, to our list of phrases pertaining to this very important part of Persian culture. The word for ‘hosting’ in general is “pazeerāyee.”

Matt: pazeerāyee.

Leyla: Now let's learn an extremely common expression used after the end of a meal when you want to say ‘thank you’. This expression literally means ‘I hope your hand doesn’t hurt', and it is spoken to the person who has cooked the meal as a way of thanking them for cooking. The expression is “dastetoon dard nakoné.”

Matt: dastetoon dard nakoné.

Leyla: dard means ‘pain’, and dastetoon is ‘your hand’ in the formal manner. So, together, it's “dastetoon dard nakoné.”

Matt: dastetoon dard nakoné.

Leyla: And if you're speaking to someone with whom you must speak to in an informal manner, you say “dastet dard nakoné.”

Matt: dastet dard nakoné.

Leyla: And this doesn't always have to be used in the context of a meal; you can use that phrase to thank someone for anything.

Now let's go back to last week when Matt was visiting his in-laws. After his visit is over and he's leaving, he can say “mamnoon az pazeerāyeetoon.”

Matt: mamnoon az pazeerāyeetoon.

Leyla: And do you remember what the word “mamnoon” meant, Matt?

Matt: It means ‘thank you’.

Leyla: Right, and “pazeerāyee,” as we learned earlier, means…?

Matt: ‘Hosting’.

Leyla: Together, it means ‘thank you for your hosting’. mamnoon az pazeerāyeetoon.

Matt: mamnoon az pāzeerāyeetoon.

Leyla: pazeerāyeetoon.

Matt: pazeerāyeetoon.

Leyla: mamnoon az pazeerāyeetoon.

Matt: mamnoon az pazeerāyeetoon.

Leyla: Now, in Iranian culture, with the custom of tārof, there's a phrase for everything you wanna do! So when you wanna leave somewhere, you rarely say ‘I have to go!’. You usually say it in a roundabout way, something like ‘well, the time has come for me to slowly begin thinking about leaving’, which actually has a translation in Persian, and it translates to: bāyad yavāsh yavāsh beram.

Matt: bāyad yavāsh yavāsh beram.

Leyla: Perfect! So this means ‘I must slowly start leaving’, and it gives your host a chance to mentally prepare for your departure and is nicer than just saying ‘I’m leaving' abruptly. bāyad yavāsh yavāsh beram.

Matt: bāyad yavāsh yavāsh beram.

Leyla: So this phrase has a few words you've never heard before, so let's break it down. “beram” is the conjugation of ‘to leave’ in the first person. beram.

Matt: beram.

Leyla:bāyad” means ‘must’. bāyad.

Matt: bāyad.

Leyla: And “yavāsh” means ‘slowly’. yavāsh.

Matt: yavāsh.

Leyla: So let's put it all together again into “bāyad yavāsh yavāsh beram.”

Matt: bāyad yavāsh yavāsh beram.

Leyla: If there's more than one of you leaving, you can replace “beram” with “bereem,” which is the third person conjugation of ‘to leave’: bāyad yavāsh yavāsh bereem.

Matt: bāyad yavāsh yavāsh bereem.

Leyla: bereem.

Matt: bereem.

Leyla: bāyad yavāsh yavāsh bereem.

Matt: bāyad yavāsh yavāsh bereem.

Leyla: And to say ‘I had a great time’, you say “khayli khosh gozasht.”

Matt: khayli khosh gozasht.

Leyla: And, more literally, this means ‘a good time was had’ or ‘a great time was had’. And Matt, using vocabulary we learned in Unit 1, what is a possible way to say a final goodbye to a host?

Matt: khodāhāfez bé omeedé deedār.

Leyla: Great! That's a good one to choose. Now, let's try putting all these together into a conversation that Matt could possibly have as he is at his in-laws' house. Again, let's say Matt is visiting his in-laws on a Saturday, and this time, they've just finished having a delightful lunch together. We'll start with Matt.

Matt: dastetoon dard nakoné. nāhār khayli ālee bood.

Leyla: khāhesh meekonam, Matt.

Matt: man bāyad yavāsh yavāsh beram.

Leyla: na, bemoon shām!

Matt: oh, khayli mamnoon, bāyad beram!

Leyla: bāshé, khosh āmadee!

Matt: khayli khosh gozasht, merci.

Leyla: bāshé pass, khodāhāfez, bé omeedé deedār.

Matt: balé, bé omeedé deedār! fe'lan khodāhāfez!

Leyla: Great, so hopefully, you should have understood all of that conversation! Let's go over a couple of parts you might not have understood completely. In the beginning, Matt says…

Matt: dastetoon dard nakoné. nāhār khayli ālee bood.

Leyla: We just learned dastetoon dard nakoné. We've also learned the rest of the vocabulary in different lessons. Matt, can you put together what “nāhār khayli ālee bood” means?

Matt: It means ‘lunch was really great!’.

Leyla: Exactly! ‘Lunch was really great’. The next phrase we haven't learned before is “khāhesh meekonam.” This is a basic part of vocabulary; it means ‘you’re welcome'. 

Matt: khāhesh meekonam.

Leyla: Great. Later on, the in-law says “khosh āmadee,” which we learned last week; it means…?

Matt: ‘You are welcome’.

Leyla: Exactly, so in this context, it means ‘you’re welcome here!' or another way of saying ‘thanks for coming!’. Then Matt says:

Matt: khayli khosh gozasht.

Leyla: This is another phrase we haven't learned before. It basically means ‘a very good time was had’. Another part that we haven't learned before is that when Matt said that he must start leaving, the in-law says, “na, bemoon shām!” and this means ‘no, stay for dinner!’. na, bemoon shām!

Matt: na, bemoon shām!

Leyla: Exactly, and with that, we come to the end of Lesson 16.

Matt: We hope you all enjoyed the lesson.

Leyla: Thank you so much for joining us! If you haven't noticed yet, we've now uploaded all the lessons to YouTube so that there's yet another way to have access to all the lessons.

Matt: As always, one of the best ways to access the material is through our website, chaiandconversation.com, with “chai” spelled C-H-A-I.

Leyla: You can also follow us on Facebook and join the conversation there with many fellow Persian language learners.

Matt: And that's it for this week. We look forward to you joining us next time on Chai and Conversation.

Leyla: And until then, bé omeedé deedār from Leyla.

Matt: And khodāhāfez from Matt.