A celebration of Life


March 21, 2011

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We do some Parsi-style gorging, even as it readies itself for the yummy Nowruz Festival

The Iranians call it Nowruz. The Parsis, descendants of the ancient Zoroastrians in India, spell it as Nowroz. Each one of them has slightly different traditions, but both communities celebrate the event with the most splendid of tables, groaning under the weight of the most marvellous of dishes. The essence of the festival, that marks the spring equinox on March 21, is to celebrate life amongst family and friends.


"Yes, of course, I will celebrate Nowruz," says Nasrin, the enthusiastic owner of Cafe Shiraz, "At lunch and for dinner with friends." She describes the setting up of a table, that is spread with a beautiful table cloth and decorated with seven special items. It’s termed ‘sofreh haft sheen’ and as she describes each item that starts with the letter ‘s’ in Farsi, you are struck by how similar these customs tend to be. The traditional Iranian items include serkeh, (vinegar, for age and longevity), sumac (a condiment, the colour of the rising Sun), seer, (garlic, meant for the health), samanu (a sweet pastry for the good life) seeb (red and green apples for beauty), sabzi (sprouted wheat or barley, to suggest the renewal of life) and senjeb (a berry from the Oleaster tree, symbolising love). The Parsis have a slightly different list — instead of vinegar, they keep sharab or wine and bits of sugar instead of the sweet. But in most cases, the other items such as a mirror, a bowl filled with gold-fish, red ribbons, rose water for sprinkling on the guests, incense, flowers, preferably hyacinths or tulips, are the same. The matriarch holds up the mirror for each member of the family. When that person looks into the mirror and smiles at the reflection, the person is able to forget the past, divine the future and remind himself or herself, that the present is full of joy.

"The main item is a rice dish, sabzi-pillau," explains Nasrin, "A dish of rice made with special herbs." This is often served with fish on the first day, and chicken and a special kind of vegetable bake or soufflé on other occasions. There are usually pastries such as baklava and sticky halwa, as well as fruits and nuts.

Who can ever describe a Parsi banquet? The community revels in its love for the good things of life. At Nowroz, it’s usually a pillau rice with chicken boti kebabs scattered over with finely julienned potato chips fried golden brown and lacy cutlets, fish in a delicate custard sauce, if not carefully stuffed with gorgeous green chutney, wrapped and steamed in banana leaves and sweets to die for. A side dish may include variations on the theme of baked egg custards on a lightly-spiced bed of spinach or tomato. The traditional desserts include ravo and sev (sweet semolina and fried vermicelli). Even their curd is thickened and set into a pudding with sugar and scattered with rose petals and tiny edible silver pearls.

Sal Mubarak, Happy Nowruz is all we can add to that!


Cholamandal Artists’ Village, ECR, Injambakkam

Tel: 9840572126