Food Culture and Tradition

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Special Occasions in Iran


The largest religious group in the ancient land of Iran is Muslim, with much smaller groups of Christians, Jews, and Zoroastrians.

Friday is the Muslim day of rest and Iranian women relax by enjoying a form of a country picnic, chaperoned by the men of the family: The traditional dish is kuku or kukune, which is like a large omelet or pancake cooked on top of the stove and prepared from cooked and lightly browned vegetables bound with beaten eggs. It can be enjoyed hot or cold accompanied by breads, cheese, and fruits.

The Iranian New Year (Norouz) is joyously celebrated on March 21, the spring solstice. Like so much in Iranian life, the end of the year is seen as symbolic of death and darkness, while the beginning of the new year is seen as rebirth and light.

Several weeks before, houses are cleaned, new clothes are sewn, and sweet baked goods are prepared. A special ceremonial sofreh (embroidered white cloth for the new year) is set up ready for the feasting. The eve of the last Wednesday before the new year is called Red Wednesday, a night for bonfires, costumes, even the wearing of painted faces and shrouds, to symbolically chase away bad spirits.

In addition, to help chase away the spirits of darkness, a special sofreh is placed on the carpets or table to be laid out with seven symbols of good angels, to symbolize “life, rebirth, health, happiness, prosperity, joy and beauty” Close to the sofreh, a mirror is placed to reflect the beautiful symbols, and candles to represent the number of children in the home are lit. With the singing of songs and readings from the Koran, the family ushers in the new year.

Iranian families prepare many special sweet dishes for the new year and always among them are the shekar polo, a sweet and syrupy rice dish flecked with almonds and pistachios, and the traditional baklava. Shoots of wheat to symbolize the very roots of life adorn the festive table together with a mirror on which eggs are arranged. The first jiggle of the eggs symbolizes the very moment when the legendary bull tosses the whole earth from one horn to the other. There follows a happy time of family visits and gift-giving and many sweets and treats to nibble and munch for thirteen days of festivities when all schools and businesses enjoy a holiday too. Traditional outdoor picnics end the days of New Years celebrations.

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