Context: The informant is a student in college and both of his parents were born in Iran. While he was born in California, the informant is a fluent Farsi speaker. He has never been around that many other Persians throughout his life besides his family, which he told me is quite extensive, and during the times in which he has visited the country of Iran. His family celebrates all of the major Iranian holidays. As I was interviewing him, I remembered that the informant had recently told me that he was going to his Grandparents house to celebrate the Iranian New Year with his entire extended family. I asked him if he could describe a particular custom that takes place or a food that is eaten during the celebration.
Piece: “My family is Persian and every year we gather together to celebrate the Persian New Year. The holiday takes place during the spring solstice. I don’t know exactly when that is, but I think it was on March 19th this year. Every year we… it’s tradition to have the same meal. Every year, my family always eats whitefish with rice and dill and lima beans. The dish is called sabzi polo and . Mahi is fish and ‘sabsipola’ is green rice. Wait, no. ‘Sabsipola’ is rice with greens. You eat that dish at the meal, and you always have to remember to squeeze the juice of a fresh orange over it. Make it good and yummy. I’m not sure if this dish physically represents some aspect of Iranian culture, but it’s like a very clean food. It’s really light, natural, refreshing, easy food to take in. It’s simple and has bright colors. The white fish, the green vegetables, and the orange juice all come together, and they make the food really visually striking and cleansing. These go along with the bright fresh flavors. The entire celebration is about spring, renewal, rebirth, life, green, prosperity. All that stuff.
Analysis: I find this piece interesting, for a major aspect of the folklore of this celebration, which the informant’s family cherishes to a great extent, are the sensory aspects that come with it, such as taste, smell, and sound. It seems that the dish containing whitefish holds a large amount of symbolism during the springtime festival. As the Iranian New Year celebrates the rebirth of the natural world that comes every springtime and the transition from one year to the next, the dish acts as a palette cleanser to send whoever eats it into the new year with a clean slate. All of the bad decisions that one may have made during the year may be partially absolved by the celebration. Like in this piece, there is an abundance of symbolic food dishes in many other holidays celebrated by a multitude of different religions. In the Jewish celebration of Passover, for example, the meal consists partially of a “seder plate” that holds many small individual food items, which all represent different elements of the Jew’s biblical exodus from Egypt.