A visit to Iran yields a stunning variety of culinary delights. Between the familiar kebab and the decidedly outré grilled lamb’s testicles, there’s a vast spectrum of foods: caviar, pickle, and smoked fish in the north; samosas, falafel and hot and sour shrimp in the south; noodles, flatbread and rosewater-scented ice cream across the country.Take a look at Iran’s place on the map and it’s easy to understand why the scope of native foods is so wide. Once the center of the Persian Empire, Iran neighbors the former Soviet Union countries, as well as Afghanistan, Pakistan, the Arab states and Turkey. Although Iran is part of the Middle East, it has close ties to Europe, the Far East and Africa, owing to its central place on the Silk Road trade route. What’s more, the ancient warrior-king of Greece, Alexander the Great, conquered the Persian Empire back in the 4th century, and later it was invaded by Arabs, Turks, Mongols and Uzbeks. While Iranians already had a well-developed food identity before these invasions, they assimilated what the outsiders brought in. Think Russian-style borscht with cumin and cilantro and Chinese noodles in a soup of beans, herbs and sour fermented whey. Many coveted ingredients are native to Iran, including pistachios, almonds, walnuts, saffron, mint, oranges, pomegranates and grapes. Iran has a variable climate with four distinct seasons, and unlike other parts of the Middle East, where the dry terrain limited what food could be grown, the ancient Persians transformed vast stretches of arid land into fertile oases via underground aquifers that drew melted snow water into the desert. A bright, sensuous, fruit-and-herb filled cuisine was born.