Nowruz: A Holiday Rich in Culinary Symbolism

Nowruz: A Holiday Rich in Culinary Symbolism
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Today marks the start of Nowruz, the Persian New Year. Observed throughout parts of the Middle East and Asia, the thirteen-day celebration is particularly significant in Iranian culture. Nowruz, meaning "new day," begins at the exact moment of the vernal equinox - 3:14pm in Tehran or 7:44am EST. The holiday is centuries old and reflects long-standing traditions. The food of Nowruz is especially meaningful, as each item serves as a symbol for the New Year.

The main dish of Nowruz is the Sabzi polo va mahi, or white fish with herbs and rice. The traditional herbs for the dish include parsley, coriander, chives and dill. Fish represent abundance, and the rice stands for rebirth. Other traditional dishes include noodle soup (representing the knots of life), an egg dish called herb kuku (fertility and rebirth) and baklava (prosperity).

Perhaps that most recognizable part of Nowruz is the Haft Sinn. The Haft Sinn is a kind of altar used to present seven (haft) food items, each beginning with the Farsi letter, sinn.

The Haft Sinn usually includes wheat sprouts as a symbol for new growth, sweet pudding made from wheat for affluence, an apple to stand for health and beauty, garlic for health, the dried fruit of an olive plan to symbolize love, sumac berries for sunrise, and vinegar to represent age and patience.

To each Haft Sinn, families might also place additional objects from painted eggs to hyacinth. Every item placed on the table also has a symbolic meaning. The additional items of the Haft Sinn vary by family, and make each altar personal and unique. Just before the transition to the new year, families typically sit around the Haft Sinn and sing songs, tell stories, and recite prayers.

The festivities end on the thirteenth day, called Sizdah Bedar, roughly translated as Outdoor Thirteen. On this day, families go outside for picnics. They bring with them wheatgrass from their Haft Sinn to throw into running water, and thereby cast out the bad luck. With this, they are prepared for the start of the new year.

Do you have favorite Nowruz recipes? Please share them in the comments section below.

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