Nowruz (the Persian new year) is coming up on Sunday, March 20th. In celebration of this auspicious occasion, we asked Bardia Ilbeiggi, chef and owner of Delara, to share a special childhood memory tied to the annual holiday. We also recently paid a visit to his Kitsilano kitchen, where he and his mother, Mina Parsa, were busy preparing a trial run of the special Nowruz menu they will be offering to diners in the weeks to come…
Tell us about a particular food and memory that stands out for you when you think of the Nowruz celebrations of your childhood, growing up in Iran.
“School is closed for two weeks during Nowruz, the Persian new year celebration, which falls on the first day of spring. I remember the feelings of anticipation during the days leading up to it, thinking about the many games we were going to play, all the family parties we were going to have, how much eidi (new year’s gifts mostly given to kids in the form of crisp rial bills) we were going to get.
The only issue was that the schools felt it necessary to send us home with a massive booklet of holiday homework. The booklet was ironically called Peik e Shadi (“the happiness messenger”), but it definitely did not bring us happiness! Fortunately, this was the only negative part of Nowruz for me and most other kids my age. I used to sit down and finish all my homework on the first couple of days of the holidays, and then the festivities would begin.
A day or two before the new year, it was time for the shopping. We would go to Tajreesh bazaar, in the north of Tehran, to get all the good stuff. From the fish monger, a couple of goldfish for the haft seen – a traditional arrangement made of seven elements all starting with the letter س (“S”) – as well as some white fish for sabzi polo ba mahi (herbed rice and fish). The smell of herbs in the produce market is one of my strongest memories of those days: dill, parsley, tarragon, cilantro, mint, chives … mountains of them displayed and sold in the bustling market.
After stopping at the pastry shop to pick up sweets and nut mixes, we went back home, where my mom would wash and lay the herbs on towels to dry. Then the chopping would begin, and it always felt like it would go on forever. I wish I knew how to sharpen her knives back then – I bet it would have cut the chopping time by half. She would then cook the rice, layering it with herbs, green onions and garlic, and set it to steam while she got everything else sorted: frying the fish and finishing it with sour orange juice; setting the table with pickles, yogurt, salad and plates. I don’t know why we never helped with any of this! We would wait until it was all ready and then eagerly dig in.
Nowruz is filled with aromas of spring. Sabzi polo ba mahi definitely stands out for me and I’m hoping to recreate these childhood memories at my restaurant Delara this coming March.”
Delara’s special Nowruz menu is available from Sunday, March 20th, until Sunday, April 3rd. The menu will reflect the change in seasons and feature dishes typically eaten in Iran over the holidays, such as: whole roasted trout, braised lamb shank, kookoo sabzi, spinach borani, and sabzi polo (herbed rice).
Reservations can be made via the Delara website or by calling 604-730-4325.