Today marks the start of Nowruz (or "new day"), the Persian New Year celebration, a 13-day holiday which involves some very deep and specific culinary traditions. NPR's "The Salt" blog takes a look at the most important one, the setting of the traditional haftseen table:
Nowruz begins at the stroke of the vernal equinox, when the sun crosses the equator. Today (March 20), spring will come at 12:57 p.m. EDT. At that precise moment, millions of families of Iranian descent will gather around a ceremonial table known as the haftseen. (Think colorful, elaborate Day Of The Dead-type altars meet a mashup of Easter and Passover traditions.) Young and old hold hands and count down to the New Year together and cheer Eide Shoma Mobarak, or Happy New Year!
The haftseen table is a relatively recent addition to Nowruz – a folksy tradition with murky beginnings. "We do not even find this spread mentioned in the chronicles of travelers to Iran up to the modern times," says Ahmad Sadri, a professor of sociology and anthropology at Lake Forest College and an expert on ancient Persia.
Haftseen "seems to have come into vogue only in the last century, owing to publicity in the media," according to Columbia University's extensive entry in its Encyclopedia Iranica.
And yet, "its essential items perfectly afford reasonable explanation as the reflections of the pastoral and sedentary conditions of ancient Iranians and of their beliefs."
In every home, the haftseen table is decorated with seven items – since seven is considered a lucky number. Each item begins with the letter sin (s) in Persian, and each item is a symbol of spring and renewal, including:
Seeb (apple), representing beauty
Seer (garlic), representing good health
Serkeh (vinegar), representing patience
Sonbol (hyacinth), representing spring
Samanu (sweet pudding), representing fertility
Sabzeh (sprouts), representing rebirth
Sekeh (coins), representing prosperity
The Nevrooz celebrations go beyond the foods of the haftseen table, though, with a repertoire of recipes closely associated with the new year holiday. Several of those recipes can be found on the very nice Turmeric and Saffron blog, on the website of cookbook author Najmieh Batmanglij and in this excellent Saveur article.