A Taste of the Road of Smiles: Iran to the Balkans

The previous episode of our culinary adventures took place in Central Asia, aka Kebabistan. We left Turkmenistan wondering what was going to be filling our plates and our stomachs next. Fortunately, the gastronomical transition was very smooth as Iranians, Turks and former-Yugoslavians seem to all share the same love for grilled meat as their Central Asian neighbours. As in the Stans, however, we did manage every now and again to venture outside of the kebab realm and come across some unforgettable local delicacies. For better or worse. Here are a few of our finds:

Iranian chicken wings. Finger-lickin good.  In Gonbadli, Iran.

Iranian chicken wings. Finger-lickin good. In Gonbadli, Iran.

The most vicious of all Iranian torture techniques: it looks like beer, it says "Premium Pilsner" on the label, but it tastes of tropical fruits and does not contain any alcohol at all. In Gonbadli, Iran.

The most vicious of all Iranian torture techniques: it looks like beer, it says “Premium Pilsner” on the label, but it tastes of tropical fruits and does not contain any alcohol at all. In Gonbadli, Iran.

And the "best kebab of the trip" award goes to... The Taj-Mahal restaurant, in Mashhad, Iran

And the “best kebab of the trip” award goes to… The Taj-Mahal restaurant, in Mashhad, Iran

Pomegranate "malted beverage". In Shirvan, Iran.

Pomegranate “malted beverage”. In Shirvan, Iran.

The biggest Mr Whippy ice cream we have seen in our travels. The woman in the back does not look impressed. In Mashaad, Iran.

The biggest Mr Whippy ice cream we have seen in our travels. The woman in the back does not look impressed. In Mashaad, Iran.

Getting rid of the excess of enriched uranium. In Mashhad, Iran.

Getting rid of the excess enriched uranium. In Mashhad, Iran.

Being brought up in Europe, we thought pistachios grew in packs on supermarket shelves. In fact pistachio shells grow inside a green skin and can be eaten non-roasted and non-salty.

Being brought up in Europe, we thought pistachios grew in packs on supermarket shelves. In fact pistachio shells grow inside a green skin and can be eaten non-roasted and non-salty. And yes, we know the ones below are sunflower seeds. Near Bandar Turkman, Iran.

Assortment of Iranian pastries. Near Bandar Anzali, Iran.

Assortment of Iranian pastries. Near Bandar Anzali, Iran.

Beans, herbs and mutton ragout. Near Marand, Iran.

Beans, herbs and mutton ragout. Near Marand, Iran.

Very interesting dish consisting of a tennis ball filled with dates, eggs and meat and some basil leaves. Enjoyed with our young friend Ali the cyclist. Near Ardabil, Iran.

Very interesting dish consisting of a tennis ball filled with dates, eggs and meat and some basil leaves. Enjoyed with our young friend Ali the cyclist. Near Ardabil, Iran.

Ghare Ghoroot. It was offered to us with such kindness by the mother of one of our hosts that it fills us with shame to have to tell the truth. This is by far the worst piece of food we have had on the entire trip (before England, that is). It is fermented yoghurt with the texture of polysterene. Salty. Sour. Foul. Near Shirvan, Iran.

Ghare Ghoroot. It was offered to us with such kindness by the mother of one of our hosts that it fills us with shame to have to tell the truth. This is by far the worst piece of food we have had on the entire trip (before England, that is). It is fermented yoghurt with the texture of polysterene. Salty. Sour. Foul. Near Shirvan, Iran.

Whether it was tripes, stomach, brain or something worse is still unclear to this day. What is sure is that we both got sick afterwards. In Tabriz, Iran.

Whether it was tripes, stomach, brain or something worse is still unclear to this day. What is sure is that we both got sick afterwards. In Tabriz, Iran.

It's official: the best baklavas in the world are in Tabriz, Iran.

It’s official: the best baklavas in the world are in Tabriz, Iran.

Truckies Delight. Near Erzurum, Turkey.

Truckies Delight. Near Erzurum, Turkey.

Ayran, our favourite non-hoppy drink of the expedition. Near Erzincan, Turkey.

Ayran, our favourite non-hoppy drink of the expedition. Near Erzincan, Turkey.

Delicious chicken kebab. In Erzurum, Turkey.

Delicious chicken kebab. In Erzurum, Turkey.

"Fermentated" Carrot Juice. Turkish, but not quite a delight. Near Sivas, Turkey.

“Fermentated” Carrot Juice. Turkish, but not quite a delight. Near Sivas, Turkey.

After Chinese mantou and Central Asian manti, meet the Kayseri mantisi. Dumpling recipes seem to have traveled the Silk Road too... Near Kayseri, Turkey.

After Chinese mantou and Central Asian manti, meet the Kayseri mantisi. Dumpling recipes seem to have traveled the Silk Road too… Near Kayseri, Turkey.

The famous Sivas köfte. In Sivas, Turkey.

The famous Sivas köfte. In Sivas, Turkey.

An excellent Turkish pide. A bit like a pizza, but with a de. In Kirikkale, Turkey.

An excellent Turkish pide. A bit like a pizza, but with a de. In Kirikkale, Turkey.

Our friend Bayram's excellent home-made Kurdish meal. In Kayseri, Turkey.

Our friend Bayram’s excellent home-made Kurdish meal. Served with extra crosswords. In Kayseri, Turkey.

The key to a good Turkish pastry is to put the right amount of almond, hazelnut, honey, sugar, syrup and dough. And sugar. And syrup. In Edirne, Turkey.

The key to a good Turkish pastry is to put the right amount of almond, hazelnut, honey, sugar, syrup and dough. And sugar. And syrup. In Edirne, Turkey.

A bit of everything in a pot. Delicious. In Sofia, Bulgaria.

A bit of everything in a pot. Delicious. In Sofia, Bulgaria.

This advert for Astika beer was discarded for being "too cutting-edge". The next one will feature a blond girl in bikinis instead. In Bulgaria.

This advert for Astika beer was discarded for being “too cutting-edge”. The next one will feature a blond girl in bikinis instead. Near Plovdiv, Bulgaria.

This Serbian delicacy triggered a fierce debate within Team Road of Smiles when Oli tried to convince Matthieu that cheese gave nightmares. In Pirot, Serbia.

This Serbian delicacy triggered a fierce debate within Team Road of Smiles when Oli tried to convince Matthieu that cheese gave nightmares. In Pirot, Serbia.

Jelen's logo is the best allegory of a man's need for beer after a long day of riding. In Pirot, Serbia.

Jelen’s logo is the best allegory of a man’s need for beer after a long day of riding. In Pirot, Serbia.

Grilled sausages and chips, a delicious Serbian special. In Serbia.

Grilled sausages and chips, a delicious Serbian special. In Nis, Serbia.

More grilled meat, more chips. In Serbia.

More grilled meat, more chips. In Valjevo, Serbia.

Roasted piglet. In Loznica, Serbia.

Roasted piglet. In Loznica, Serbia.

"You may fool some people, Cevapi, but, you see, we have been traveling from China to here. So we know you are nothing but a kebab in disguise." Near Lake Modrac, Bosnia and Herzegovina.

“You may fool some people, Cevapi, but, you see, we have been traveling from China to here. So we know you are nothing but a kebab in disguise.” Near Lake Modrac, Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Once soaked with the equivalent of 3 French baguettes, this soup was actually not bad. In Banja Luka, Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Once soaked with the equivalent of 3 French baguettes, this soup was actually not bad. In Banja Luka, Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Home-made marinated fish. In Novi Grad, Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Home-made marinated fish. In Novi Grad, Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The closest we ever got to actually eat a banana in Split. Not too far from Spit, in Croatia.

The closest we ever got to actually eat a banana in Split. Not too far from Spit, in Croatia.

Whilst not the best beer in the world, Karlovacko certainly did taste special. In Karlovac, Croatia.

Whilst not the best beer in the world, Karlovacko certainly did taste special. In Karlovac, Croatia.

Slovenian piglet. The best food we had in Slovenia by far. In Kozina, Slovenia.

Slovenian piglet. The best food we had in Slovenia by far. In Kozina, Slovenia.

Shortly after crossing into Italy from Slovenia, we stumbled upon this unidentified Italian specialty and thought it might mark the end of our extraordinary culinary adventures. In Castelo Veneto, Italy.

Shortly after crossing into Italy from Slovenia, we stumbled upon this unidentified Italian specialty and thought it might mark the end of our extraordinary culinary adventures. In Castelo Veneto, Italy.

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