Thursday, 20 March 2008

A Persian New Year 1: Sofre-ye haft sin

Happy New Year again, again. We celebrate them all here at Saffron an Lemons. December 31, January 1, Chinese New Year, and now the Persian New Year, or No Ruz. And, as it happens, we get the day off here in Japan for the spring equinox (Shumbun-no-hi), too. (Not that we need an excuse for a party, mind (g).)

Plus, my dear Turkish friend Si had just graduated from her master's course the day before, so this was a double celebration, with Turkish friends in attendance.

I had had my multi-national menu in mind for a while: the traditional Iranian noodle soup (which I made for my dear Iranian friend G and his wife last year), a terrific Turkish dip that was sure to go down a treat and a new recipe for an interesting sounding Indo-Pakistani dessert. But I thought I would give the decorating side of No Ruz a go this time, too .

The Sofre-ye haft sin (seven S's spread) is like the Christmas tree of the Persian New Year celebration. Seven items begining with the letter sin (S) in Persian alphabet are placed on a tray or table cloth, alongside other symbolic items.

In my first attempt, the items are (clockwise from the top):

Tulips (non-S): My substitute for hyacinth flowers (sonbol); representing the coming of spring
Orange floating in water (non-S): Symbolizing the Earth floating in space
Garlic (Seer): Representing medicine
Vinegar (Serkeh): Representing age and patience
Greenery (Sabzeh): Representing the rebirth of nature in the spring (normally this would be a bowl of sprouted lentils prepared a couple of weeks in advance)
Coins (Sekkeh): For wealth and prosperity
Sumac (Somagh): Representing the sunrise and the triumph of good over evil
Eggs: Represening fertility
Apple (Sib): Symbolizing natural beauty and love

One big omission in my haft sin is a goldfish going swimity-swim. The fish (representing life and the the star sign Pisces, the last of the year) is absent mainly because I didn't have time to get one, but also because I'm not sure a fish would enjoy our normally dark entranceway, where I set up the haft sin.

(There may also be some residual fear that it would do like the goldfish in the French film Amalie (an all-time favourite) and try to go walk-about outside the fishbowl. You might laugh, but our last fish (a boring old loach) did a Houdini on us, escaping through the finger-thick hole in the lid of its tank (the night before we flew out to Iran, funnily enough), only to be found, months later, ossified under the hifi a good 2 m away from its former watery home!)

Another is the lack of a religious book or other spiritually important tome (often a book of Hafez poems). I do have one of those (and also, more importantly to me, several books of Rumi's poetry), but alas, they are far too big for my little haft sin.

Which reminds me. I have photos of a real haft sin at the real Iranian embassy in Tokyo (circa 2006), which I needed to visit several times in order to convince the powers that be that we were an okay risk for tourist visas. (Obviously the campaign was successful in the end (g).) I'll look them out and post one in the next couple of days...

And here it is. You will note that this haft sin has both a Qoran (on the stand) and a book of poetry; so all the bases are covered, I guess (g).

You can read more about haft sin here, the source of most of the information above.



Anonymous said...

Wendy, love reading your blogs, make me hungry on the other side of the world. Hope life is wonderful for you. Pat Iyer

Saffron said...

Lovely to hear from you, Pat.

Do you have any interesting leads on Indian food I might want to try?? I feel a spice wave coming on...