Before wine became a cultural phenomenon (think wine moms), it was a cultural symbol saved for traditional ceremonies and celebrations going back thousands of years. As we approach our celebration of the Persian New Year, and the celebration of Nowruz (meaning “new day” in Farsi), I wanted to take a look at the role wine and food plays in this 13-day celebration of a new year, rebirth, joy, and love.
I’ve heard stories of the importance of wine in Persian culture dating back millennia. Today, pairing different wines with Nowruz dishes throughout the ceremony is not only a delight for the palate, it signifies symbolic and almost holy ritual throughout our 13-day celebration.
To understand Nowruz, one must understand the traditions that guide us. First, we set up the Haft-seen (translating to seven Ss in Farsi), a table of offerings in preparation for Nowruz. On this table we place food to encourage redemption, rebirth, and a good year ahead. As part of the seven Ss, we gather six foods that begin with the letter s, each with a different meaning:
There are many traditional dishes served throughout Nowruz including mixed rice and kabobs, lamb stew, noodles, Persian frittata, fragrant rice, sweets, tea, and nuts. Fish dishes are often paired with a Viognier, balancing the delicate taste of trout, white fish, or herbed rice with the full-bodied taste and bouquets of peach, mango, or vanilla that Viognier is known for.
While many westerners may not be familiar with the towns and cities of Iran, most have heard of one: Shiraz. While the city of Shiraz is known for gardens and poets, Shiraz – or Syrah as it is sometimes called – is a full-bodied red wine known for the black fruit, smoke, and pepper spice that lingers on the tongue. Shiraz is a perfect complement to dishes like Reshteh polo – chunks of lamb with rice and noodles. Cabernets are often paired with meals like brown noodle rice with raisins and dates, or braised chicken.
For a two-week celebration focused on unity, love, joy, and rebirth, it’s only fitting that Nowruz culminates in the13-Be-dar, a picnic held 13 days after the Iranian New Year. During the 13-Be-dar we gather with our families to eat traditional foods, drink wine, and throw the greenery, wheat grass we’ve grown on the Haft-seen. Like so many other cultures, we exchange gifts, we eat, drink, bask in the joy of each other’s company and look forward to the year ahead.
In this moment in time, The Story of Nowruz is a beacon of hope. It’s a symbol for looking forward with an open heart, with hopes of being together again. This year to celebrate Nowruz, the Niosha International Conservatory of Arts (NICA) will present two performances of The Story of Nowruz through dance, music, and a few surprises along the way.
Join us for one of our performances on Saturday, March 19 and Sunday March 20, 5pm PDT at the San Mateo Performing Arts Center and learn even more about this 3,000-year-old tradition and the Persian New Year. Not in California? You can still join us through our livestream! To learn more, get tickets, or sign up for the livestream, visit www.nicart.org. Become part of our community as you watch the story and celebration of Nowruz unfold while sipping your Shiraz and enjoying a delicious Retesh-polo.
When Niosha came to the United States as a teenager, she brought her love and talent for dance and innate curiosity to her new home. A dancer since she was two, Niosha remained immersed in her Persian heritage after coming to the U.S. After winning the Miss Iran Pageant in 1992 and completing her degree in psychology at the University of California at Santa Cruz, Niosha founded the Niosha Dance Academy, an elite, prolific Iranian dance school, and later the Niosha International Conservatory of Arts Foundation (NICA). In the time between, she toured the US with her troupe, was diagnosed with and beat Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, and raised 3 children. Niosha lives in the Bay Area with her husband and children, among the community she loves.