Arriving at an artist loft in Chinatown on a Thursday night, I was first greeted by an elevator operator who quietly guided me to a three building. Walking into a spacious room filled with women in bold prints, edgy floral displays in every color and a bright red samovar to brew tea in time for cocktail hour, the celebratory mood was just right. This group of 20 left and right – and all these flowers – are here to commemorate Nowruz, also known as Iran or Persia new year.
Every year, it starts on the day of the Beginning of Spring and lasts for the entire Days, the ancient Nowruz festival has been celebrated for thousands of years; it is rooted in the Zoroastrian tradition of ancient Persia and even predates the advent of Islam. As part of the celebration, the Iranians produced a sheet called haft-sin A table with seven items (food items including wheatgrass, garlic and vinegar) all begin with the Persian letter “S”, symbolizing themes ranging from love to wealth to rebirth.
Upon arrival, we were drawn to a long table where I chatted with Nilou Motamed, former editor-in-chief of Food & Wine, Just got back from the Nowruz celebrations at the White House. She walked me through all the special elements of haft-sin, and
As Motamed told me haft-sin
“Talk about Iranian politics tends to overshadow the beauty of Iranian culture,” Clemens Poles, one of the dinner’s organizers, told me beforehand. “There’s not so much visibility, so much liveliness, so much beauty, so much poetry.” For Polès, the dinner was meant to show that “Iranians are boisterous, vibrant, generous, colorful.”
as moderator, Polès – a photographer and Passerby Founder of Magazine – Tehran-born artist Sunny Shokrae started planning the dinner after meeting at the Women, Life, Freedom protests in New York. The tragic death of Jina Mahsa Amini at the hands of Iran’s morality police for “improperly” covering her hair ignited a movement that only left “previously fragmented” as it began to gain momentum in the fall The Iranian community in New York is more closely bound together, Shokrae said. After Clemence and Sunny found themselves sitting next to each other at a dinner hosted by fellow Iranian New Yorker chef Andy Baraghani, they decided to plan a Nowruz celebration to honor that spirit of friendship. “That [dinner] filled our glasses,” Shokrae added. “In Iranian culture, food is an important part of socializing.”
For their own celebration, the couple brought in Chef Nasrin Rejali, who was in moved from Iran to New York and her three children. Rejali runs her own catering business, and she cooks food according to her grandmother’s traditional recipes—but with an occasional New York twist. She explained that she couldn’t get the same fish from the Caspian Sea as in Iran, but found that the local sea bass was very similar; for this dinner, she chose arctic char. Stuffed grape leaves, Persian noodles, herb frittata and string bean yoghurt are also on the menu, while the dish’s signature freshness is achieved through heady herbs such as tarragon, saffron, parsley, dill and coriander of.
Naturally, the conversation at dinner quickly turned to Iranian food in New York: from the portion sizes at Sofreh in Brooklyn, to the wider range of Persian food on offer in Los Angeles, to how every American Iranian family owns a book by cookbook author Najmieh Batmanglij. That’s when Shyan Zakeri from Shy’s Burgers turned to me and asked, “Do you know the band Vampire Weekend? Najmieh Batmanglij is his mom!”
However, the costumes are almost as dazzling as the food. “People really go all out and put on their best clothes,” Clemens said before the dinner, and she was right. Across from me sits Pari Ehsan, the creative director behind Pari Dust, in a floral print and frilly necklace, and below that sits stylist Alexis Badiyi in a charcoal gown and her sister Natasha in velvet Brown wrap dress. I recognized the two dresses from Mina Alyeshmerni’s online shop Maimoun, where I sourced the Maryam Nassir Zadeh dress; once I found myself sitting next to the Iranian-American designer, I quickly felt a little Like the guy who wears the band t-shirt to the concert.
Shyan Zakeri and Clémence Polès.
Fashion is an equally important element of Nowruz celebrations, however, the themes of rebirth and spring cleaning extend to clothing. Wearing brand new clothes (called lebāsé nō
Before I knew it, it was time for tea. Nilou explained to me earlier in the evening that, according to her family, the three principles of Persian tea are that it should be dark, bitter, and full to the point of overflow. (It was considered bad manners not to fill a guest’s teacup.) There was an overwhelming sense of hope as the conversation turned to more important topics: hope for bodily rights and freedoms for women in Iran, neighboring Afghanistan, and even here in the United States deprived place.
Slowly we finish the wine in glass goblets – covered in Karen Cumming Kalen Kaminski’s hand-dyed swirls, whose art studio was the backdrop for the event’s dinner. Iranian pop music from a playlist made by Nassir Zadeh’s brother reverberates throughout the space, while people relocate to couches for last sips of rosewater-infused baklava. The waiter refilled the strong black tea into small samovar cups, and we passed trays of biscuits. Finally, Polès, Shokrae and Kaminski sent guests home with flowers – and, of course, wishes for a Happy New Year.