Persian treats ring in the spring new year
At 4:44 a.m. next Friday (March 20), at the time of the vernal equinox, Persian families across the city will gather to celebrate the start of the Persian New Year, or Norouz. “It is not like the Canadian New Year that is 12 o’clock on December 31st. Persian New Year is not always the same time. It is based on a solar year,” explains Nassreen Filsoof, president of the Canadian Iranian Foundation, during a phone chat. And of course, like any festive occasion, it’s time to bring on the food.
This year there are many different ways to party Persian-style, starting on Saturday (March 14) at the Plaza of Nations from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Nader Farid, president of the Iranian Information Centre Society, expects roughly 60,000 people to be dancing to live music, admiring artwork, and chowing down on Persian delicacies at the event. Expect to get kebabs as well as a stick-to-your-ribs bowl of aash reshteh, a soup typically full of spinach, freshly chopped herbs, chickpeas, lentils, kidney beans, and noodles and topped with dried whey, dried mint, and saffron.
You can also enjoy spoonfuls (or forkfuls?) of aash reshteh at two other free entertainment-packed events. Mahon Park in North Vancouver will be the site of the Canadian Iranian Foundation’s big bash on Sunday (March 15) from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. “We start the week before New Year by getting the whole community out,” says marketing director Brian Hooshi by phone. As spectators bop along to the live beats of Iranian pop superstar Shahram Shabpareh, they can munch on kebab kubideh sandwiches—minced-ground-beef kebabs that are served in lavash, a soft, thin Persian flatbread—before their sweet tooth calls for Persian baked goods like coconut macaroons (nan-e nargili) or walnut cookies (nan-e gerdui). The foundation is also hosting a gala dinner next Saturday (March 21) at the Marriott Pinnacle Downtown Hotel. (For tickets [$80 members/$120 nonmembers], call 604-696-1121.)
And at Ambleside Beach in West Vancouver, fuel up on aash reshteh and kebabs before jumping over one of 14 bonfires that will be lit on Tuesday (March 17) from 5 to 11 p.m., on the eve of the last Wednesday before the New Year (chahar shanbe suri). “We believe that the bonfire will bring in new ideas and put everything in the past,” says Davood Ghavami, president of the Iranian Canadian Congress of B.C., which organizes the night. “We kiss each other and hug each other, and dance, and start our relationships brand-new.”
The big events promise to be a blast, but another huge part of Norouz will be the smaller celebrations with family and friends. Farid likes to eat at Kandoo Restaurant & Bakery (2099 Lougheed Highway, Port Coquitlam), where owner Mano Moazzeni will be serving sabzi polo va mahi, which consists of rice mixed with dill, parsley, leeks, green onion, and cilantro, along with fried white fish. He’ll also be serving samanu, a sweet pudding made by slow-cooking wheat germ and flour, without sugar or additives, for five or six hours until the starches break down into a creamy paste. Zahra’s Kitchen (106 West 13th Street, North Vancouver) will be offering traditional Persian rice, as well as ghormeh sabzi, a lip-smackingly hearty stew of tender beef, beans, herbs, and dried limes.
Lonsdale Avenue in North Vancouver will be a hive of activity around the New Year as shoppers stock up on goodies for visitors and items for their haft sin (translated as “seven Ss”) table, which displays seven items, including samanu and garlic (sir), that each begin with the letter S. During a tour of the store, Masoud Shekarchi, owner of Yaas Bazaar (1860 Lonsdale Avenue), points out boxes of Turkish delight, vanilla and saffron nougat, cotton candy, and dried nuts and fruit, which are always bestsellers for the New Year. The kitchen will be busy at booths at the Ambleside Beach and Mahon Park events, as well as feeding takeout and eat-in orders of items like chicken (jujeh) and lamb (chenjeh) kebabs with grilled tomatoes over a bed of saffron basmati rice.
Yaas Bazaar has a large display case filled with Persian cakes and pastries (the log rolls and cream puffs are a must), as does Golestan Bakery (1554 Lonsdale Avenue), where owner Zamaneh Nowrasy recommends nan-e nokhodchi, bite-sized chickpea cookies in the shape of a four-leaf clover, and zaban, flaky puff-pastry “tongues” with a sugary top. Stacks of honey-soaked baklava at Rose Bakery (1537 Lonsdale Avenue) are deliciously sweet, as are their version of the popular chickpea cookies. And because they’re so tiny, you can justify eating a dozen at one sitting. After all, who doesn’t want a wee treat (or two) to celebrate the start of a new year?