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Foodie: Nowruz; A Time of Renewal Through Food

Foodie: Nowruz; A Time of Renewal Through Food


Manal Jarrar of Arabesque schools the teacher through food and conversation

Sharing food means sharing culture.

In addition to my work for Yellow Scene Magazine, I teach English full-time at a public junior/senior high school. My high school juniors and I recently read a short story by Kate Chopin. In it, the main character finds herself facing the loss of her husband. When she goes into a room by herself, we discover that it is spring outside. The sun is shining, a light rain is falling, and the birds are singing. This scene contrasts what we as readers are expecting to be a cloud of grief and mourning and creates a bit of cognitive dissonance for my 17-year-olds — especially when we start to unpack the symbolism of spring.

Renewal. New life. Light.

It jumbled their brainwaves for a bit until we found out why Chopin strategically placed that symbolism. In true Chopin style, “The Story of an Hour” concludes with a plot twist that leaves some of my teenagers reeling.

This lesson remained on my mind as I drove up to Boulder on a cloudy, snowy day to meet with Manal Jarrar, chef and owner of Arabesque. She had eagerly dove into a culinary challenge presented by my editor: food of Nowruz, the Persian New Year that is celebrated on or around March 21 to coincide with the spring equinox.

Nowruz combines the Persian words “now,” meaning “new,” and “ruz,” – meaning “day.” It was officially recognized by the United Nations General Assembly in 2010. It is a national holiday in a few countries and is celebrated by some community groups in the Middle East and Asia, stretching from Albania in the west to China in the east.

Photo by Kenneth Wajda

Enter Arabesque. Manal and Saib Jarrar opened Arabesque in Boulder in 2009. It has offered them the chance to share their Palestinian heritage and cuisine with the local community. Manal’s culinary journey includes working as a personal chef, caterer, and finally head chef of the brick-and-mortar Arabesque.

The welcome I received from them as I entered the restaurant after hours made me feel as if I was a regular as opposed to a first-time visitor. Manal sparkled with an electric energy, grounded both in a foundational culture of hospitality and in the excitement of finding cultural connections between the food she is familiar with and the ideas she had uncovered in her research of Nowruz.

On the table sat a bright salad that burst with a freshness and vibrancy. Spring on a plate, the salad originated from Shiraz, a city in southwestern Iran. Tomatoes, cucumber, onion, and parsley adorned the plate. Dried mint from Manal’s garden brought forth the cultural connection as it also can be found in salads served during Nowruz. It definitely provided a beautiful complement to the main course that followed.

Yellow, Manal explained to me, holds a significance to both her culture and Persian culture. For Manal, it holds the metaphorical meaning of new beginnings and rebirth. In Iran, it represents knowledge and intelligence, joy and wealth. To be fair, other metaphorical interpretations exist in Persian culture which carry a more negative connotation. But color symbolism often depends on context, therefore, I am going to go with the joy I felt when a dish with a gorgeous yellow rice base found its way to our table.

On top of the rice base sat mahi, a fish that exhibits a moderately firm texture, adorned with roasted almonds, the most luxurious of nuts in the Middle East, golden raisins, and glazed onion. “I added shrimp for fun,” Manal laughs. Like all good chefs, she can’t help but add her own twist on a dish. I’m definitely not mad at that. Tahina, a paste made from sesame seeds, rounded out the dish to perfection.

As we eat, I find myself renewed by Manal’s take on this culinary adventure she created and took me on. She explained that finding small connections between cultures can often grow like a seed, and we can all learn through those connections. She also advised that we must be open to the weirdest things, and when it comes to eating, be open, passionate, and excited, just as she felt when presented with the idea for this feature.

As our evening wound down, I left with a hug and two new friends. And even as I drove home through the dark and snow, through food and conversation I’ll admit I did feel a touch of spring inside.

Renewal. New life. Light.

The teacher had become the student.

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