NJ Dining: Everything you wanted to know about Nowruz as a foodie


The Vernal Equinox marks the start of Nowruz — an ancient festival celebrated by people of Persian descent. While many modern-day Persians are muslims, the festival is really a purely Persian/Iranian one rather than a religious one, and it has been celebrated for at least 3,000 years.

That makes Nowruz one of the oldest celebrated festivals in all of  modern civilization. In fact, the Jewish festival of Purim as well as several others may be based on Nowruz. Nowruz is also celebrated by Zoroastrians, the Bahá’í Faith and various other religions and cultures.

Officially, Nowruz marks the beginning of the new year in the Iranian calendarHowever, the main takeway for foodies is that this is one of the best times of the year to sample Persian cuisine.

I’ve written about Persian food a bit on Off The Broiler in the past, although I consider myself fairly new to it. The ingredients and flavors are exotic and very different from other cuisines in that part of the world, so it’s a real treat when you can find restaurants that do serve it.

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This year, the center for all Nowruz activity was held on March 18 at the Crowne Plaza hotel in Seacaucus, New Jersey.

The festival was held in the main ballroom, and boy was it buzzing with activity. There were merchants galore, the place was utterly stuffed with people, the room was pulsating with throbbing Iranian disco music, and there was at least four restaurants and catering businesses represented serving all sorts of Persian food.

The smells, the sounds and the atmosphere were intense.

Ready for some food fit for a Persian king? Click on the “Read the rest of this entry” link below for more

The festival was organized by the Khayatian family, the folks who own Honey Mediterranean Gourmet & Market in Teaneck. This is Ali Khayatian, showing off his prized Iranian pistachios and barberries.

Here’s a closeup. Iranian pistachios are the best in the world. The bright red berries which look like tiny raisins are barberries (Zereshk) and they are used to top rice dishes. They have a very sour acidic punch to them, sort of like dried cranberries. And they are loaded with Vitamin C.

This table display is known as a Haft-Seen. Every item has a specific symbological significance. Mirror (Sky), Apple (Earth), Candles (Fire), Rose Water (Water), Sprouts (Plants), Goldfish (Animals), Painted Eggs (Fertility)

Semolina cakes served with carrot jam

Ghormeh Sabzi. A traditional Persian stew of greens and kidney beans with lamb and flavored with dried lime served over saffron rice.

Koobideh Kabab and Chicken Kabob over Persian rice (polo) with fava beans seasoned with dill. This was served by Kabob on the Cliff in Cliffside Park, NJ. I loved the food from these guys so much that I decided to pay their restaurant a visit.

Kabob on the Cliff
657 Palisade Avenue, Cliffside Park NJ
(201) 941-8010

Ash Reshteh. This is a greens-based  soup made with herbs, noodles and kidney beans, with a sour flavor.

Fresh-baked Persian bread, served piping hot. Kabob on the Cliffs has its own pizza oven and does all the baking in-house.

This is a Tahdig appetizer served with Gheymah, a lamb stew made with yellow split peas with barberries on top (click on photo to zoom in).

Tahdig is essentially a rice pilaf that has been formed into a pancake and shallow fried. Traditionally, Tahdig is what you get at the bottom of a pot of rice that crisps up, but this place actually makes it to order.

The portion at this restaurant is huge and can feed two people, no problem. You can have this appetizer with any of your choice of Persian stews.

Assorted Kabob platter for two, with Koobideh (minced beef) Chicken and Steak. Click on the photo to zoom.

And of course all Kabobs come with saffron rice.

7 Responses to NJ Dining: Everything you wanted to know about Nowruz as a foodie

  1. David Wilson says:

    Jason

    Is Kebab on the Hill a Persian restaurant? I live down the street from it and always assumed it was Turkish, based on the menu. I usually go to the Turkish bakery next door and have been well satisfied with it. Never felt the need to stray next door. But I’ll try it out based on your recommendation.

    (still afraid to go to Paterson? There are some choice places that you probably don’t know about.)

    • It’s definitely Persian. The restaurant/cafe next door to it is Turkish and has pastries and things, I recommend that after having dinner at Kabob on the Cliff.

      I’m not afraid to go to Paterson. Been there quite a few times, if you search the site. My favorite restaurant is Aleppo, which is Syrian.

      My issue with Paterson isn’t so much “fear” as “impossible to park”. :)

  2. David Wilson says:

    You guys from Tenafly think that Teaneck has a parking problem!

    • Teaneck is definitely a pain in the ass, as is Englewood and Ridgewood. But nothing beats Paterson.

      • David Wilson says:

        Jason, you just gave me a chuckle after reading that. All those small dick towns in Bergen County deliberately restrict parking because they have a parking ticket scam going. I don’t know where you go in Paterson (assume it must be Main St. by Crooks Ave) but I’ve never had a problem parking there ever. Plus there is no parking ticket con game.

        You may want to write about those parking issues since they impact restaurant business.

  3. It makes me so sad that I read about these wonderful events weeks after they happen.

  4. Thank you for such a great and informative post! I love the photos too! Everything looks so delicious.

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