Persian New Year, or Nowruz, marks the coming of Spring, and is the most widely celebrated festival in Iran today. What is effectively our Christmas Day, we spend much of it eating too much, exchanging presents, and probably talking too loudly over the dinner table.

And with that, comes a set of other long-standing and elaborate rituals. For thousands of years, it has been celebrated on the vernal equinox, which this year falls on 20 March at 9:24pm.

Whilst the political situation in Iran will undoubtedly be occupying the thoughts of people both in and outside of Iran, the fiercely proud Persian population will be doing what they can to maintain and preserve the traditions of the new year.

The history of Nowruz

The traditions of Nowruz are literally carved in stone. The halls of the palace of Persepolis, built at around 300BC, were carved with images of the Achaemenid kings accepting tribute from processions of people bringing rare and valuable gifts from all corners of the vast Persian empire to mark the Spring equinox.

And because of its historic reach, Nowruz is not just celebrated in Iran but also in other nations that were touched by the Persian empire, including Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, India, Iran, Iraq, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

The Haftsin

One of the Nowruz traditions is the Haftsin display, a beautiful and usually elaborate table arrangement of seven symbolic items whose Persian names begin with the letter S to represent the coming of spring: Sabzeh (sprouts grown in a dish, symbolising rebirth), Samanu (a sweet paste made from germinated wheat, representing affluence, Senjed (dried oleaster fruit, encouraging love and affection), Serkeh (vinegar, symbolising patience and immortality), Seeb (apple, representing health and beauty), Seer (garlic, representing health) and Somagh (sumac, a symbol of love and compassion).

There are also associated elements that grace the table such as mirrors, candles, coloured eggs, hyacinths, coins, and wine. Persian hospitality is sacred, whether you’re in a palace or restaurants, a picnic or at home, so Iranians will prepare for Nowruz by cleaning their homes, dressing up and providing a generous meal to welcome family, friends and neighbours.

The food

A typical Persian Nowruz feast is itself a blend of regional influences, as multi-dimensional as the mix of flavours and spices.‍ We welcome in Nowruz by ensuring there’s a huge and hearty noodle soup (ash-e-reshteh) bubbling on the stove for the stroke of the New Year. This is served to any family and friends we have with us and is also traditionally offered out to neighbours and distributed to those in need.

The traditional menu for a Nowruz meal must then include sabzi polo, steamed rice with strands of golden saffron and herbs such as dill, coriander, parsley and chives. Persian grandmothers and chefs take pride in their huge mounds of fluffy long-grain basmati that have been prepared through a time-consuming soaking, rinsing and steaming process.This is crowned with tahdig, which literally translates as ‘bottom of the pot’, a layer of crispy, golden lavash bread, which will be at the centre of any banquet.

The tahdig is also often at the centre of friendly family feuds, with siblings fighting over every last crispy morsel. The rice is served with fried white fish (mahi sefid) – it can be cod, haddock or plaice – the fillets of which are dusted in flour, a pinch of turmeric, fried in oil and served with a drizzle of bitter orange and saffron water.

We also serve this with an omelette called kuku sabzi, a delicious accompaniment to the sabzi pollo. We slice through the crispy outer crust to serve it in wedges and show off the green centre stuffed with herbs. This meal symbolises everything hoped for in the New Year: bounty (the rice), growth (the herbs), and freshness (the fish).

Legend has it that King Jamshid discovered sugar on Nowruz three thousand years ago, and the word ‘candy’ comes from the Persian word for sugar, qand. Therefore, it’s obligatory to bake or buy mountains of pastries, cookies and cakes ‘to keep mouths sweet’ for the whole year. Visitors will also bring gifts such as dried fruits, sugar-coated almonds, Persian baghlava, nougat, wheat-germ brittle (sohan), and delicate cookies made of rice, almond or chickpea flour – all to be enjoyed with a constant supply of hot tea.

Happy 2583, or ‘Nowruzetan Pirooz’!

Five London restaurants to enjoy Persian food this Nowruz


27 Romilly Street, W1D 5AL

View on Instagram

Probably the most popular London Persian restaurant, Berenjak, will be hosting a special Nowruz dinner on 20 March. Celebrate with ash-e-reshteh noodle soup made by chef Kian Samyani’s mum, and a special sabzi pollo va mahi.

Tehran Berlin (formerly The Drunken Butler)

22 Rosebery Avenue, EC1R 4SX

Formerly The Drunken Butler, the intimate Clerkenwell-based restaurant will offer a creative multi-course special Nowruz menu, featuring sabzi pollo va mahi.


5 Warwick Place, W9 2PX

View on Instagram

The sabzi pollo and mahi is a regular feature on the menu and one of the best in London. Hidden away in Little Venice, the restaurant offers a more upmarket take on Persian eateries.

Persian Palace

143-145 Uxbridge Road, W13 9AU

View on Instagram

This Ealing-based restaurant has a hugely popular sabzi pollo and mahi dish and ash, while fillets of pan-fried sea bass seasoned with saffron are a firm fixture on the menu.


87 The Broadway, SW19 1QE

View on Instagram

Its branches in Wimbledon, Richmond and Chelsea will be laying on special sabzi pollo va mahi dishes to mark the new year. Word has it that there may be music and dancing depending on the crowd.