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Sunday, March 31, 2024

Happy Sizdah Bedar, a Persian picnic

Sizdah Bedar is the 13th day, and the last day of Nowruz. It’s a day for family and friends to hangout.
People bring their sabzeh (sprouted wheat, barley or lentil), and leave it in nature or put it in a river at the end of their picnic. Men and women tie the grass leaf, in the hopes of findng a spouse. Others tie it to make a wish.
My family used to do a potluck, and one person always made Ash Reshteh, a hearty soup,because it was tradition. It’s made with a type of Persian noodle, lentil, chick peas, spinach and herbs, kashk – whey, fried onions and mint. It’s tasty, and most Americans like it.


They also ate other foods depending on who brought what to the potluck, based on the tradition when they were growing up.

Dorugheh Sizdah, the 13th Day Lie, is similar to April Fools' Day. You tell an exaggerated lie, and hope that the person you’re telling it to, has forgotten that it’s Sizedh Bedar and believes you. There are plenty of myths and stories behind this holiday, but truth be told, families just like to get together, shoot the breeze, have a relaxing day, and eat a lot of food.


With that, I leave you with the above Persian song titled Gentleman, by a pop singer named Sasy. This song is popular among the young American-Iranian generation. Basically, Sasy tells the woman that she is the love of his life, and the woman tells him that he is a gentleman. He tells her that he is grateful for all her gifts and phone calls, and that she’s sexy, and to shake shake her body, and to c’mon and dance.

Thursday, March 21, 2024

Nowruz 2024 and Tradition

This is the second time I am writing about Nowruz, the Persian New Year in this blog. This year our gathering was low key because some family members were out of town and others were working. But a whole bunch of us are getting together this Saturday.

The above photo is Haft Seen, made up of seven items that start with the letter S in Farsi. Each item is symbolic of something. The Jujube is for love, Sumac is for sunrise and new beginnings, faux gold coins is for wealth and prosperity, the wheat germ pudding in the small container is for sweetness, the vinegar in the tiny cup is for age and patience, apples are for beauty, and garlic is for health. 

Non-S items are the Mirror for self-reflection, painted eggs for fertility, fish for life, a book of wisdom, and Candle for enlightenment. The writing on the candle says Happy New Year. The flower is a symbol for spring arrival.

My family makes fun of me because many of the items on my Haft Seen are not real such as the flowers, apples, garlic, eggs, and fish. But you see, they go bad by the day 13. Imagine eating cooked eggs that’s been sitting out for 13 days. Or forgetting to change the water on the flowers. And red apples are not my favorite type of apples to eat. As for the fish, Iranians put gold fish in a small glass jar as it goes round and round. This is completely inhumane and I refuse to do it. I’m missing Sabzeh, for rebirth and renewal, because I have misplaced mine. It looked like the one in the above photo. The real ones, made from sprouted wheat or barley, are finicky, and you have to know how to keep them fresh, or they don’t make it to the 13th day because they rot.
For my book of Wisdom, I chose Rumi. Some people skip this, some use the Quran (although this celebration is not connected to Islam), and some chose books by other poets. So, tradition has it that you put money inside various pages of your book, and you offer your guests to pull out one. Out here in the U.S, people use brand new $2 dollar bills, because they are rare. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any and used $5 bills. My brother complained because they were not new. The money is not for spending. You are to keep it for good luck, but I think nowadays people forget, stick it in their wallet and spend it when they need change.
Anyway, this year was the first year I celebrated Nowruz at my house. Nowruz Mobarak on the icecream cake means Happy New Year. This was my mom’s favorite holiday, and I think my dad liked it too. So, Nowruz is not like the New Year out here where it happens when the clock strikes midnight. Persian New Year happens when spring happens. So, it could land on March 19, 20, 21 or 22 depending on the vernal equinox. Also, it occurs at various hours such as 2, 3, 4 a.m. or other times. When we were little, my dad used to wake us up and make us sit by the Haft Seen as we watched the celebration on T.V. Sometimes we were lucky and new year started in the afternoon or evening.

Upon the arrival of new year, we had 13 days to go visit friends and family members to wish them happy new year. My dad used to make us do it all on the first day as we went from house to house. It is expected for younger people to visit older people or call them to wish them happy new Year. Older people buy younger people gifts or give them gold coins or money. Younger people do not give gifts to older ones. Nowadays, people don’t give gifts as much because of financial reasons.

So, my brother and Ellie came over to my place for dinner. My sister-in-law and my younger niece were out of town. I had a bunch of appetizers out. The above picture is a vegetarian salad olivieh, Persian potato salad. It tastes different than the American potato salad, but it’s really yum. The non-vegetarian has chicken in it.
Iranians are tea drinkers. So, you can’t just have wine or beer to serve with appetizers. You also need to make tea. And you don’t toss in a tea bag to give to your guest. The tea should be brewed and offered with something sweet, because some of the guests expect it. The sweets in the above picture are Persian baklava made with almonds and cardamom, chickpea cookies, and chocolate wafers.
Persian food takes a lot of time to prepare, and so, I don’t make it that often, or I just do a condensed version. But this time I cooked the long version. The above picture is of foods people typically eat during Nowruz – sabzi polo aka herb rice, tahdig, the bottom of rice made of crispy rice, lavash or potato, sauteed floured fish basted with eggs and saffron, Koo koo sabzi made with eggs, herbs, walnuts and barberries, yogurt with shallot, and a Persian salad with olive oil and lemon juice dressing. My tahdig didn’t come out all that great, but the rest came out pretty good. The popular drink in the bottle is dough made with yogurt, soda, and mint. Sorry about the meh food photography. My brother was hungry, dug in right away, and messed up my table setting before I could take a picture. And my niece carries her vape with her everywhere and sits in weird positions at the table. But that’s the whole point about close family – to be comfortable doing whatever around each other. We had a nice time, listened to music, and chatted.

Tuesday, March 12, 2024

Chaharshanbe Suri

The last Wednesday before Persian New Year, Iranians celebrate Chaharshanbe Suri, the festival of fire. Suri has two different meanings in Farsi, scarlet, and festive. Chaharshanbe means Wednesday, but because of the time difference, that day may fall on a Tuesday. Those who live in Los Angeles celebrate this holiday on a Tuesday. Other countries such as Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Turki, and Iraq also celebrate the festival of fire because parts of those countries were once part of the Persian Empire.

The festival of fire is based on Zoroastrianism religion which has three mottos: “Good thoughts, good words, and good deeds." Persians aka Iranians were Zoroastrians until the Arabs invaded Persia in 7th century and made life difficult for the Persians unless they changed their religion to Islam. Islamic leaders everywhere tried hard to put a stop to the celebration of Chaharshanbe Suri because they believe it is a blasphemous celebration, and label those who participate in it, “Fire Worshipers.” But Iranians refused to give up this holiday. They considered it part of their heritage that predated Islam.

A bit of Trivia: The above photo depicts Farvahar Ahura Mazda, a Zoroastrian god and symbol. Ahura Mazda is the God of the sky in Zoroastrianism religion. Ahura means Lord and Mazda means wisdom. The Japanese car, Mazda, is named after the Persian God Farvahar Ahura Mazda. Etsy sells necklaces and bracelets like this.

So, what happens during this night? People make a bonfire for a purification ritual. The fire sometimes goes much higher than the one you see in the above video which is of my nieces and their friend when they were younger. People jump over the fire and literally say, “My yellowness goes to you, and your redness comes to me,” meaning any sickness that I have, I pass it on to the fire in exchange for heat, warmth, and good health.
Families also burn a handful of rue seeds in a small pan over the stove and when the seeds start to make popping noises like popcorn, and cause smoke, they turn off the stove and walk around the house with pan in hand to spread the smoke, for good health and to ward off evil.
Sometimes they swirl the smoke over someone’s head. Unfortunately, this ritual is not good for the lungs, and is banned in some countries such as in Australia.
It’s tradition to eat dried fruits and raw nuts on this night. This special mix of nuts is best purchased at a Persian markets. In Farsi, they are called Ajil-e Moshkel Gosha which means Problem Solving Nuts. It is said that if you have problems, and eat these nuts, your problem will be solved. Obviously, there is a lot of superstition attached to most of these rituals, but people still do it for the fun of it.

On this evening, there is also Ghashogh Zani, spoon banging, which is similar to the Halloween tradition when kids go trick-or-treating. Except Spoon banging can be done at any age. Men or women, boys or girls cover themselves with Chador, a loose cloth thrown over hair and body. They go from house to house, and bang their spoon to get candy, nuts, or food. When I lived in Iran, someone did that to my mom. My mom, gave the person food, but they kept ringing the doorbell. My mom got angry and started to get into a fight with the intruder, not realizing that the person under the chador was her friend pulling a prank on her. They had a good laugh about it.

There are other rituals tied to this celebration, but today, many skip a lot of it, and focus more on the bonfire ritual.

Monday, March 4, 2024

Tehran, Darband, and Tabriz

Since the first day of spring, March 19, is the start of Persian New Year, this month’s posts will be about Iran. There are many beautiful cities, islands, beaches, mountains, hiking trails and villages to visit. This post will touch on a few highlights. I have not been to Iran since I was 12. Well, I went back as a tourist for two weeks when I was 14. So, when my brother went to Iran, he sent me some pictures. Before the Islamic Revolution of 1978-1979, Iran was called the France of the east, and the capital, Tehran, was referred to as the Paris of the middle east.

This area is called the Azadi (freedom) square, and the white monument is called the Azadi Tower. It is an important symbol in Iran where many gatherings and celebrations take place. When Iran was a monarchy until 1979, this tower was named Shahyad after the Shahs (kings) of Iran representing 2500 years of the Persian empire.
Street vendor selling cooked fava beans and beets. Cooked fava beans taste good with cumin as a snack or mixed with other ingredients in various dishes like this one.
This dish is sholeh zard, saffron rice pudding. I haven’t yet met an American friend who doesn’t like it. Of course, it must be done right, and not all Iranians know how to do it with a perfect balance of ingredients. You may wonder why it is in such a huge pot. It’s Nazri – free food you give away to family, friends and the needy on religious holidays. People also give away free food on the anniversary of the date when relatives or friends passed away.
 High-end condos with views in Tehran 


A café serving eggs with Barbari (a type of Persian bread) on a bench on a sidewalk.

A baker making fresh bread. Just as in Europe, the food in Iran is amazingly good, and takes a lot of work to prepare. You often see people walking on the street with fresh baked bread hand wrapped in brown paper. None of that frozen stuff…
Darband, near Shemran, is a village in northern Tehran which is now part of Tehran. It is a popular place with the locals and tourists. I have been there when I was younger and remember sitting on the ground behind tables covered with Persian carpet and servers bringing us tea. There are mountainous areas, beautiful views, and hiking trails. Among the places to eat, Darband restaurant is well-known. If you’re into Hookah, you’ll find Hookah places around. Check out the video below about Darband towards the end of this blog.
This scene is funny. It’s a domestic airline, and as Iranians wait, they shoot the breeze.
Tabriz is a Turkish city in Iran where the residents speak mostly Turkish or Farsi with a thick accent. It’s a clean modern city in the Iranian part of Azerbaijan. Included here is an aerial view of Tabriz, a video of university grounds, and a restaurant where my brother had dinner.
There are plenty of restaurants throughout Iran where you take off your shoes and sit on the floor. The food in the center is a popular dish called Abgoosht – lamb and chickpea stew with onions, turmeric and tomato paste cooked slowly in a special pot, allowing all the flavors to set in. There are two parts to this dish. One part is like soup and you soak in pieces of Sangak (a type of Persian bread you see in the photo) before you eat it. The second part of this dish is mashed, has a burrito like texture, and eaten with the same Persian bread. It’s yum. My mom used to make a vegetarian version for me since I don’t eat meat.

Young Tabrizi girl weaving Persian carpet.

There is so much more to see in Iran. Perhaps at some other point in time, I will do another post like this.