Introduction to Nowruz
Nowruz (pronounced no-rooz) is a combination of two Persian words. The first word “now” means new and the second word “ruz” means day; together they mean “New Day.” Nowruz is the name for the celebrations that observe the New Year for many Persian and Central Asian communities. The exact beginning of the New Year occurs when the season changes from winter to spring on the vernal equinox, which usually happens on 20 or 21 March each year. The spelling of Nowruz in English can take many forms, including Noroz, Norouz, Nowruz, and Norooz. For this resource, we have used the spelling Nowruz. The festivities of Nowruz reflect the renewal of the Earth that occurs with the coming of spring. Activities that celebrate the arrival of Nowruz share many similarities with other spring festivals such as Easter, celebrated by Christians, and the Egyptian holiday called Sham Al-Naseem, which dates back to the time of the Pharaohs.

Historical Beginnings
Nowruz is a festival that has been celebrated for thousands of years. It is a secular holiday that is enjoyed by people of several different faiths and as such can take on additional interpretations through the lens of religion. Nowruz is partly rooted in the religious tradition of Zoroastrianism (bolded words are defined on pg. 7). Among other ideas, Zoroastrianism emphasizes broad concepts such as the corresponding work of good and evil in the world and the connection of humans to nature. Zoroastrian practices were dominant for much of the history of ancient Persia (centered in what is now Iran). Today there are a few Zoroastrian communities throughout the world, and the largest is in southern Iran and India.

Persian Cultural Roots
People all over the world celebrate Nowruz, but it originated in the geographical area called Persia in the Middle East and Central Asia. The distinct culture based on the language, food, music and leisure activities that developed among the many people and ethnic groups who lived in this area is known as Persian. Nowruz became a popular celebration among the communities that grew from these Persian influenced cultural areas. While the physical region called Persia no longer exists, the traditions of Nowruz are strong among people in Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, India, Pakistan, Turkey, Canada, and the United States. Nowruz is a holiday that is celebrated by people from diverse ethnic communities and religious backgrounds. For the Parsi community, however, Nowruz is very special and is known as their spiritual New Year.

‘That’s something inbred, it’s a part of me. I will always walk around like a Persian popinjay.’
Freddie Mercury | Queen | Farokh Bulsara

Is it Persia, or Iran?
Often the words “Persia” and “Iran” are used interchangeably, but they mean different things. The word Persia comes from the Greek word Pars, which was used to describe the lands that stretched from the Indus Valley in present-day India and Pakistan to the Nile River in today’s Egypt. The Ancient Greeks called the people who lived in these areas ”Persians”. The word ”Iran” comes from Aryan, which was an ethnic label given to ancient peoples who migrated from the Indus Valley area towards Central Asia. In 1935, the state of Persia officially changed its name to Iran. Therefore, Iran is used to describing the contemporary country and its people, while Persia refers to the broader culture, many ethnic groups and an ancient history that some say goes back 3000 years. Persian is also the name for the language spoken by Iranians.

Rituals and Traditions
Nowruz is a time for family and friends to gather and celebrate the end of one year and the beginning of the next. Children have a fourteen-day vacation from school, and most adults do not work during the Nowruz festivities. Throughout the holiday period friends and family gather at each other’s houses for meals and conversation. Preparing for Nowruz starts a few weeks prior to the New Year with a traditional spring cleaning of the home. At this time it is also customary to purchase new clothing for the family and new furniture for the home.

Chahar Shanbe Suri: The Fire Jumping Traditions
On the night of the last Wednesday of the old year Chahar Shanbe Suri, in Persian, is celebrated. During the night of Chahar Shanbe Suri people traditionally gather and light small bonfires in the streets and jump over the flames shouting: “Zardie man az to, sorkhie to az man” in Persian, which means, “May my sickly pallor be yours and your red glow be mine.” With this phrase, the flames symbolically take away all of the unpleasant things that happened in the past year. Because jumping over a fire is dangerous, many people today simply light the bonfire and shout the special phrase without getting too close to the flames.

Tahvil: The Exact Moment of the New Year
Families return home after the events of Chahar Shanbe Suri and wait together for the exact moment when the vernal equinox occurs, in Persian called Tahvil. Today people know the moment of Tahvil through searching on the Internet or looking in the newspaper. However, before these sources of information were available, families knew that the New Year was close when a special person called Haji Firooz came to the neighborhood to sing, dance and spread the news of Nowruz. Haji Firooz is usually dressed in a red satin outfit with his/her face painted as a disguise. When the New Year is just minutes away families and friends gather together and wait for Tahvil to occur. Right after the moment of Nowruz, the family exchanges well wishes such as “Happy New Year” or “Sal-e No Mobarak!” in Persian. Next, the eldest in the family distributes special sweets and candies to everyone, and young children are given coins as presents. It is also traditional for families and neighbors to visit each other and exchange special gifts.

Haft-Seen Table: The Table of Seven S’s
The most important activity in the celebration of Nowruz is making the haft-seen table. Haft is the Persian word for the number seven and seen is the Persian word for the letter S. Literally, the haft-seen table means a “table of seven things that start with the letter S’. Creating the haft-seen table is a family activity that begins by spreading a special family cloth on the table. Next, the table is set with the seven S items.

Here are some of the items and what they symbolize:
Sumac (crushed spice of berries): For the sunrise and the spice of life
Senjed (sweet dry fruit of the lotus tree): For love and affection
Serkeh (vinegar): For patients and age
Seeb (apples): For health and beauty
Sir (garlic): For good health
Samanu (wheat pudding): For fertility and the sweetness of life
Sabzeh (sprouted wheat grass): For rebirth and renewal of nature

In addition to these S items, there are other symbolic items that go on the haft-seen table, depending on the tradition of each family. It is customary to place a mirror on the table to symbolize reflection on the past year, an orange in a bowl of water to symbolize the Earth, a bowl of real goldfish to symbolize new life, colored eggs to represent fertility, coins for prosperity in the New Year, special flowers called hyacinths to symbolize spring and candles to radiate light and happiness. Each family places other items on the table that are special, for example, the Qur’an, the holy book of Islam, or the Shahnameh, an epic Persian story of colorful kings and princes written around the year 1000 CE.


Another important item to place on the haft-seen table is a book of poetry by the famous poet Shams ud-Din Hafez. Hafez lived in Persian lands during the 14th Century CE and wrote many volumes of poetry and prose narratives. Many Persians consider Hafez to be their national poet, and his historical status is similar to the importance of Shakespeare in the English-speaking world.

Special Foods of Nowruz
Just like other cultural celebrations, many special foods are prepared during Nowruz, depending on the country of origin. One of these dishes, ash-e resteh or noodle soup, is typically served on the first day of Nowruz. This soup is special because the knots of noodles symbolize the many possibilities in one’s life, and it is thought that untangling the noodles will bring good fortune. Another Nowruz dish is called sabzi pollo mahi (fish served with special rice mixed with green herbs). The rice is made with many green herbs and spices, which represent the greenness of nature at spring. Special sweets are also served during Nowruz. Traditional items include naan berenji (cookies made from rice flour); baqlava (flaky pastry sweetened with rosewater); samanu (sprouted wheat pudding); and noghl (sugar-coated almonds).

The Final Day of Nowruz: Sizdeh Bedar
The haft-seen table remains in the family home for thirteen days after the beginning of Nowruz. The thirteenth day is called Sizdeh Bedar, which literally means in Persian “getting rid of the thirteenth.” The celebrations that take place on Sizdeh Bedar are just as festive as those on the first day of Nowruz. On this day, families pack a special picnic and go to the park to enjoy food, singing and dancing with other families. It is customary to bring new sprouts, or sabzeh, grown especially for this occasion. At the park, the green blades of the sabzeh are thrown on the ground or in a nearby river or lake to symbolize the return of the plant to nature. Sizdeh Bedar marks the end of the Nowruz celebrations, and the next day children return to school and adults return to their jobs.

Germination: The process whereby seeds or spores sprout and begin to grow.
Parsi: A member of a contemporary Zoroastrian religious group. Parsis live mainly in southern Iran, India and Pakistan, and there are communities in Canada and the United States.
Shahnameh: Written by the Persian poet Ferdowsi around the year 1000 CE. Literally the “Book of Kings”, it is a long narrative that tells the story of the history of Persia from its earliest beginnings to the seventh century CE.
Shams ud-Din Hafez: Popular and widely revered poet who lived from 1320 to 1390 CE. His book of poetry, called the Divan of Hafez, is an important part of many Nowruz activities.
Qur’an: The sacred book of Islam, believed to be a compilation of the words of God as revealed to the Prophet Muhammad.
Vernal Equinox: The time when the sun crosses the plane of the earth’s equator, making night and day of approximately equal length all over the earth and occurring about 21 March (vernal equinox or spring equinox) and 22 September (autumnal equinox) each year.
Zoroastrianism: The religious system founded by Zoroaster, believed to be a prophet living in Persian lands in the sixth century BCE. It is recorded in the Avesta, or ancient scriptures, which teach the worship of a deity called Ahura Mazda. One of the main principles of religion is the universal struggle between the forces of light and darkness, or good and evil.

International Nowruz Day was proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly, in its resolution A/RES/64/253 of 2010, at the initiative of several countries that share this holiday (Afghanistan, Albania, Azerbaijan, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, India, Iran (Islamic Republic of), Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkey and Turkmenistan.

Inscribed in 2009 on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity as a cultural tradition observed by numerous peoples, Nowruz is an ancestral festivity marking the first day of spring and the renewal of nature. It promotes values of peace and solidarity between generations and within families as well as reconciliation and neighborliness, thus contributing to cultural diversity and friendship among peoples and different communities.

If you’re not familiar with Persian cuisine, the very basics are that if you’re invited to an Iranian home for dinner you’ll likely be served some combination of grilled or braised meats and rich stews, flavored by deeply aromatic spices (though not many of them pack much heat) and accompanied by piles upon piles of steamed rice. (Persian rice is the best rice, and I will hear no arguments to the contrary.)

On the actual day of Nowruz, though, you can expect to see a couple of dishes that are specific to the holiday, often centering on greens and herbs to represent its themes of — say it with me now — freshness and renewal.

The centerpiece of most Nowruz meals will be sabzi polow ba mahi, an herbed rice served with some kind of whitefish. Then you might have a kuku sabzi, which bakes eggs with a whole mess of herbs like dill, cilantro, parsley, fenugreek, tarragon, and more. (My mother helpfully describes kuku sabzi as “an ancient relative of the frittata.”)

No matter what, though, Iranians will always make you more food than you know what to do with — and at the end of the meal, you’ll still wish you could still eat more.

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.

A core curriculum of classic Persian favorites can be found on most Persian-Canadian restaurant menus. Here are 10 to try. Noosh-e jan! (Yes, that’s Farsi for “bon appétit.”)

1. Fesenjan (Pomegranate Walnut Stew)

This iconic stew, an essential part of every Persian wedding menu, pairs tart pomegranate with chicken or duck. Ground walnuts, pomegranate paste and onions are slowly simmered to make a thick sauce. Sometimes saffron and cinnamon are added, and maybe a pinch of sugar to balance the acid. Fesenjan has a long pedigree. At the ruins of Persepolis, the ancient ritual capital of the Persian Empire, archaeologists found inscribed stone tablets from as far back as 515 B.C., which listed pantry staples of the early Iranians. They included walnuts, poultry and pomegranate preserves, the key ingredients in fesenjan.

2. Khoresht-e Bademjan (Eggplant And Tomato Stew)
This stew has the shimmering red-gold color of tomatoes cooked with turmeric, with a sheen of oil on top, a prized characteristic in Persian cooking that shows a stew has been cooked long enough for the oils to rise up. Slightly tart, with the tang of tomatoes, lemon juice, and sometimes the juice of unripe grapes, its tanginess is kept in check by the eggplant, which is first fried on its own until golden-brown, then cooked with onions, lamb and the tomatoes and seasoning. Like all Persian stews, khoresht-e bademjan is thick and meant to be eaten over rice with a fork.

3. Baghali Polo (Rice With Dill And Fava Beans)
In Iranian cooking, rice can be prepared simply with butter and saffron, known as chelo. But just as often, it’s cooked with other ingredients and called polo. Polo can be made with herbs, vegetables, beans, nuts, dried fruit, meat and even noodles, and acts as the centerpiece of the meal. This polo is particularly good in the spring, when fava beans are young and tender and dill is in season. The dish is flecked with green dill and favas, and is often cooked with very tender chunks of lamb. Alternately, it may be served alongside lamb on the bone. The rice should have a mild saffron flavor, with the saffron mixed into the rice just before serving.

4. Zereshk Polo (Barberry Rice)
Iranians love sour flavors. Like cranberries, barberries have a vibrant red color, but they’re even more sour. This classic rice dish is studded with the red berries, which are dried and then rehydrated before cooking. The rice is cooked with plenty of butter, which helps to soften the intensity of the berries. Quince, rhubarb, green plums, sour oranges, lemons, limes, dried limes, sour cherries, tamarind, sumac and pomegranate are all used in Persian cooking to make food more tart.

5. Gormeh Sabzi (Green Herb Stew)
Made from herbs, kidney beans and lamb, deep green gormeh sabzi satisfies two Persian flavor obsessions: it’s sour and full of herbs. The stew is seasoned with dried limes, limoo omani in Farsi. These limes are extra intense and sour, with a bittersweet taste that gives the stew a unique flavor. The other constant in gormeh sabzi is fenugreek leaves, a taste unfamiliar to most westerners. Other herbs include parsley, coriander and scallions.


6. Ash e Reshteh (Noodle and Bean Soup)
A richly textured soup full of noodles, beans, herbs and leafy greens like spinach and beet leaves. It’s topped with mint oil, crunchy fried onions and sour kashk, a fermented whey product eaten in the Middle East that tastes akin to sour yogurt. The noodles, which made their way to Iran from China, are thought to represent the many paths of life, and this soup is traditionally served when someone sets off on a long journey. Because of its auspicious ingredients, it’s also part of the menu for Norooz, the Persian new year, which occurs at the spring equinox in March.

7. Tahdig (Crunchy Fried Rice)
Tahdig is the soul food of Persian cooking. It’s the crisp, golden layer of fried rice at the bottom of the rice pot, and it tastes like a combination of popcorn and potato chips, but with the delicate flavor of basmati rice. (Tahdig is usually not printed on the menu, so you may have to ask for it.) At Iranian family gatherings, there are always plenty of leftovers, but the one dish that disappears completely is tahdig. It’s eaten as a side dish, and it’s forgivable to pick it up and eat it with your fingers.


8. Jeweled Rice (Rice with Nuts and Dried Fruit)
Dotted with brightly colored dried fruit and nuts, like little jewels, this is a sweet-and-savory dish that shows off some of the native ingredients of Iran, including pistachios, almonds, candied orange peel, barberries, carrots and saffron. It’s cooked with a little sugar to balance the sourness of the barberries. Jeweled rice is served for special occasions, particularly at weddings, because the sweet elements symbolize a sweet life. It’s traditionally served with chicken, which contrasts nicely with the sweetness.

9. Kebab (Lamb, Chicken, Lamb Liver, Ground Meat)
Kebabs have more variety than you might think. First, there’s koobideh, ground meat seasoned with minced onion, salt and pepper. It sounds simple, but the taste is sublime. There is kebab-e barg, thinly sliced lamb or beef, flavored with lemon juice and onion and basted with saffron and butter. Chicken kebab, known as joojeh, is traditionally made from a whole chicken, bones and all, for more flavor (although in American restaurants it’s often made from skinless chicken breast), marinated in lemon and onion, and basted with saffron and butter. If you’re lucky, you’ll find jigar, lamb liver kebab, garnished with fresh basil leaves and a wedge of lemon.

10. Sabzi Khordan (Herb and Cheese Plate)
No Persian meal is complete without a dish of sabzi khordan, or edible herbs. The plate can include mint, tarragon, basil and cilantro, alongside scallions, radishes, walnuts, feta cheese and Iranian nan (flatbread). Simply tear off a piece of flatbread, tuck a bit of the herbs and cheese and other garnishes inside, and fold it up like a rustic sandwich. The plate stays on the table throughout the meal, and the herbs are a crunchy palate cleanser between bites of stew and rice. Fresh and dried green herbs are eaten daily in Iran. The Zoroastrian new year Norooz celebrates rebirth and renewal, and the Norooz menu includes several dishes made with green herbs representing new life, including rice with herbs, an herb omelet and the herb platter.


11. Abgoosht (Lamb Chickpea Soup)
Abgoosht is one of the most traditional Iranian foods. It is also called Dizi, which refers to the traditional stone crock pots it is served in. Hundreds of years ago Abgoosht was made with lamb and chickpeas. However, later on, when new foods such as potatoes and tomatoes were introduced to Iranian Cuisine, the recipe had some changes. Serving Abgoosht has a special custom. First, the broth is poured in a bowl and served with small pieces of bread soaked in it. Then the remaining ingredients such as potatoes, beans, chickpeas, and lamb are mashed up to a mashed-potato type consistency and served separately alongside with the broth.


12. Kashk-e Bademjan (Eggplant Dip)
If you are an eggplant lover, Persian cuisine can be a paradise for you. There are plenty of eggplant dishes and side dishes in Persian cuisine, and among them one of the most popular dish is Kashke Bademjan. The main ingredients of this dish are eggplants and Kashk which is a type of yogurt whey. In the process of making cheese, the remaining liquid after milk has been strained is called whey. Kashke Bademjan is often served with a special Persian bread called Lavash, but you can serve it with pita bread or crackers too.

View this post on Instagram

#کشک_بادمجان معمولا کشک بادمجون به روشها و سلیقه های مختلف درست میشه من اینجوری درست میکنم… بادمجان ها رو به تکه های نسبتا ریز خورد میکنم و کمی نمک و آب روش میریزم تا تلخیش گرفته بشه بعد شسته و کنار می ذارم تا آبش کشیده بشه و سپس چند ق روغن زیتون توی یک تابه درب دار میریزم و همه بادمجون ها رو یکجا توی تابه میریزم و در ظرف رو میبندم و حرارت رو ملایم میکنم تا به آرامی سرخ و نرم بشه درآمد حین سرخ شدن چند بار هم میزنم و با پشت قاشق کمی له میکنم بعد از پختن و سرخ شدن بادمجونا اونها رو میکوبیم و دو عدد پیاز درشت رو خلال و سرخ میکنم مقداری از پیاز رو برای تزیین نگه میدارم و مابقی رو با چند حبه سیر ریز خورد شده و یک ق نعنا و کمی زرد چوبه و در صورت تمایل کمی فلفل قرمز تفت میدم و بادمجان ها رو اضافه میکنم و کشک رو با آب رقیق میکنم و به مواد اضافه میکنم و یک ربع بهش زمان میدم تا با حرارت ملایم جا بیفته و بعد با پیاز داغ و نعنا داغ و کشک و گردو خورد شده فراوون تزیین و سرو میکنم #کشک_بادمجون #بادمجان #کشک_بادمجان #کشکبادمجان #کشکبادمجون #کشک_بادمجان_مجلسی #کشک_بادنجان #خوشمزه_جات #بهبه #ناهار #شام #خوشمزه #خونگی #خودمپز #آشپزی #آشپزی_خاص #اشپزی_ایرانی #فیدیلیو #ایران #غذا #delicious #persian #food #yummy #foodie #ashpazone #ashpazi #کشک_بادمجان_خوشمزه_جات @foruzan_azizi @khoshmazehjat97

A post shared by khoshmazehjat97 (@khoshmazehjat97) on

13. Tahchin (Layered Saffron Rice & Chicken)
Tahchin is a popular Iranian rice dish of saffron-infused rice layered with a kind of meat (or vegetable), yogurt and eggs.  There are different kinds of Tahchins based on the ingredient which is layered with rice. The most popular Tahchin among Iranians is made with shredded chicken, and the other kinds such as beef, spinach or eggplant Tahchin are not widely known. The word Tahchin literally means “placed at the bottom” and refers to the rice layer placed at the bottom of the dish, which results in a crunchy outer crust.

14. Haleem (Wheat and Meat Porridge)
Haleem or Halim is a thick, delicious and high-calorie porridge popular in the middle east and central Asia for centuries. It is also known for some other names such as Harees/HareesaKeshkekKichara or Daleem. The origin of Haleem is not definite. But, it is a star of Arabian, Turkish, Persian, Pakistani, Bengali and Indian cuisine. Even though the recipe slightly changes from one region to another, it always includes wheat and meat. People use different forms of meat (lamb, beef, turkey or chicken breast) to cook it. This recipe that I am sharing here is the Persian Haleem, that is typically served for breakfast or during Ramadan month. This dish is slow cooked for some hours which results in a paste-like consistency.