Celebrate Navroz with a platter from Tajikistan (Eating Out With IANS, With Image)

March 20th, 2011 - 1:36 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, March 20 (IANS) A traditional festival platter from Tajikistan is adding a touch of gastronomic joy to the spirit of Navroz, the Persian spring festival celebrated by the Parsis and Muslims, in the national capital this year.

Delhi will celebrate Navroz March 20-21 with ceremonial prayers and offerings of fruit and sweets followed by a feast to coincide with the spring equinox.

Navroz marks the Parsi New Year.

A 10-day festival of the traditional Navroz feast from Tajikistan opened at The Surya Hotel here Friday night.

“Tajikistan, one of the 15 former republics of the Soviet Union, is gradually shaking off the yolk of Russian cultural stranglehold of more than 130 years and returning to its cultural roots,” Ambassador of Tajikistan to India Saidbeg Saidov told IANS at the inauguration of the festival.

“The spread laid out at the festival is traditional Tajik fare that we serve as community feast during Navroz. The festival, a national holiday in our country, is the beginning of the Tajik New Year,” Saidov said.

Navroz is the primary festival of the tiny land-locked hilly nation of Tajikistan - often known as the roof of the world. It is home to the Pamir mountains, 8,000 glaciers and 700 rivers, each 5 to 10 km long.

Once a part of the ancient Samanid empire of Iranian origin, the nation shares its borders with Afghanistan, China and the independent republics of Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan.

Tajikistan was once a hub of the ancient silk route. It assimilated Persian, Islamic, Chinese and Russian influence to develop a distinct culture of its own.

The Tajik Navroz platter is a mix of Persian, Chinese and Islamic influences laced with Russian flavours.

Central to the festival is the traditional preparation of ’samanak’ - a sweet paste made from germinated wheat, Saidov said.

“Women in Tajikistan (and in Afghanistan) cook the ceremonial ’samanak’ during Navroz. They stir the pot of wheat throughout the day so that the sweet porridge does not coagulate as they sing a ditty, ’samanak is boiling and we are clapping; others are asleep’,” the envoy said.

‘Samanak’ is a component of the ritual ‘haft-sin’ platter, which is made of seven food items beginning with Persian alphabet ’sa’ or ’s’ in English.

The platter includes ’sabzeh’ (vegetable stew), ’samanu’ (wheat pudding), ’senjed’ (dried oleaster fruit), ’sir’ (garlic); ’sib’ (apples), ’sumac’ (berries) and ’serkeh’ (vinegar).

Each edible represents one virtue in life, Saidov said.

The buffet at The Surya flaunts a selection of puddings (halwa) - wheat, almond and apricot, variations of ceremonial puddings, which are eaten as starters.

The main courses constitute an assortment of traditional breads and other edibles like ‘naan’, ‘kulcha’, ‘kattama’ and ’sambusa (’samosa’ filled with vegetable and meat).

A variety of meat ’shaslyks’ (steak or kebabs) is accompanied by yellow meat pilaf, “hassar” (a Tajik cold meat and egg salad), pickled aubergines, stuffed cabbage in flour dim sum, walnuts, raisins, cashew and grape fruits.

“Tajik food is very basic and easy on the Indian palate,” Devraj Halder, the brain behind the feast at Surya, told IANS.

The festival of Navroz, a 5,000-year-old tradition, is a part of Tajikistan’s political and religious tradition, Saidov said.

“The official religion of Tajikistan was Zoroastrianism before the arrival of Islam. The festival of Jamshed-e Navroz is a Zoroastrian festival which was celebrated to commemorate the ascent of the first Persian king Jamshed to the throne,” the envoy said.

“The festival, however, continued to be the country’s New Year even after it adopted Islam,” he said.

Legend cites that King Jamshed rose to skies in a divine chariot to save the mortals.

The time of the festival is usually decided in Iran and passed around the world.

For Tajikistan, the fervent celebration of the Navroz in the last decade, along with the former Soviet republics, marks a cultural revival.

Tajikistan, which came under Russian occupation in the 1860s, became independent in 1991.

During the Russian occupation, Tajik schools were shut and the local ethnic population was denied appointments in high positions.

“Our girls known for their long calf-length hair are once again growing their hair back. They have reverted to their traditional outfits and hand-embroidered skull caps - a ceremonial headgear - and are studying Persian, Urdu, Cyrillic (alphabets in which Tajik Persian language is written) and Russian in schools,” the ambassador said.

“The cuisine has also become more traditional, free of Russian influence,” he added.

According to Suhail Zehra, a teacher at Jamia Nagar, “the colour of the Navroz ceremonial flower this year is white”.

“The white flower symbolises peace, unlike last year when the colour of the Navroz flower was red. The second century festival sports an emblematic flower of different colour every year,” Zehra said.

(Madhusree Chatterjee can be contacted at madhu.c@ians.in)

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