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 calendar. However, 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.
- Honey Mediterranean Gourmet and Market
- Shahrzad (Restaurant is now know as Revagh)
- Teaneck Kabab House
- Make Kabobs, Not War
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
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.
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.