“3-2-1, Happy New Year!” Yes, it’s that time of year again – countdown to a third-time charm. While January champagne toasts and proceeding lunar festivities have long passed, did you know of another official start? Let’s discuss March! Giving birds something to ‘tweet’ about, the first day of spring denotes more than a pleasant defrosted re-awakening. Reviving age-old customs, this seasonal arrival equally marks the launch of another highly anticipated event – Happy Persian New Year!
Spring is in the air, and so are many “must-haves.” Cooking and cleaning complete, every Persian household moves on to set a visual attraction – ‘haft-seen.’ For your eyes only, this symbolic table spread translates to the collection of seven meaningful items, each beginning with the letter ‘s.’ Bringing the outdoors in, representation of the elements – earth, fire, water, sky, flora and fauna – is apparent with the placement of the following: apples, candles, ‘golab’ (rose water), mirror, wheat-grass, goldfish; and coloured eggs to signify both humanity and fertility. Anything but recent, this ancient celebration follows Zoroastrian customs – food included! Resolutions out, a breaking of a new dawn equates to a ‘Nowruz’ (new day), and an opportune reason to celebrate life with a two-week Persian banquet.
Fortunately for Persians, an authentic meal is steps away – kitchen-close. Hungry or not, know this: “mi casa – persa – es su casa.” Even better, ‘finger-food’ – here – is completely lost in translation. Serving mountainous portions of hospitality, steaming-hot dishes are ‘party-size’ in addition to being individualized, with your name on it. So please eat, without hesitation, and to the last grain – ‘tarof’ optional. In case you’re unaware, ‘tarof’ is a form of Persian etiquette that involves a guest’s polite repetitious refusal of their host’s offerings. Food or refreshments, the guest humbly refuses by saying, “no, thank you,” until they finally succumb to receiving ‘star’ treatment. Seemingly never-ending, this mannerly display always ends the same; the host offers plenty of all-things-comfort – undivided attention, conversation, edible treats, and napping pillow if desired – until the guest graciously accepts. Familiar to most if not every Persian, ‘tarof’ is a natural and expected occurrence at social gatherings – really, I insist!
“What’s for dinner?” – thought you’d never ask. Steadfast to ancestral roots, the dynamic menu is consistent with traditional cuisine allotted for the sum of 14 days. While systemic, sticking to the plan is a must – no jinxing of fate! Daring not to disrupt positive omens, the first meal is a plateful of ‘prosperity’ – ‘sabzi polo’ (herbed rice) and ‘mahi’ (fish). Superiorly fragrant and fresh, aren’t we the lucky ones? Other ‘specials’ include noodle-embedded rice to promote longevity, followed by a list of other aromatic recipes. Superstitious or not, you can’t go wrong eating bites of ‘delicious’ – it’s destiny!
Leaving savoury ‘mains’ to my expert mother, a continuum of glorious food extends to my assumed duties – sweets. GPS set to “Tehranto,” I take care of business the best way I know how – shopping spree of gorgeous hand-crafted delicacies. Stepping into my preferred Persian pastry shop – Red Rose Pâtisserie – ‘beauties’ are to be found, and worth a second look: fist-size cream-filled profiteroles; chewy walnut meringue and buttery jam-sandwiched cookies; chickpea-flour sable confections; and a trailblazer of sweet-fried dough, ‘bamieh’ and ‘zoolbia.’ Between bite-size pillows or ribbon-patterned swirls, relish selecting either or both of these rosewater-infused simple syrup soaked mouthfuls – rejuvenated deep-fried cakey-batter bliss.
Superseding in rich taste, texture and technique, traces of ancient influence is rampant. Generously sprinkled, coated or enrobed, Red Rose adds signature touches to an assortment of crisp, flaky, dense and sponge pastries using the finest imports: pistachios, almonds, and walnuts; fragrant orange blossom and rose waters; canary yellow saffron; and flavourful enrichments via cardamom and cinnamon spices. Visibly in the “land of milk and honey,” I patiently wait in queue to fulfill a vital request – some of everything – boxed and ready-to-go! Time-elapsed and prized possessions in hand, I walk away satisfied – like most – with many happily ever-‘afters.’ Three times a ‘new’ year – perfected – this festivity is clearly tailored for good times, entertaining company, and appetizing eats. Marking your Persian calendar, then, forget about eastern/western standard times, and get ready to party – like it’s 1393!
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