White and Pure, Fresh and Healthy

White and Pure, Fresh and Healthy

Tomorrow is a new day, the start of spring. Spring equinox is considered as the first day of a new year for many. Nevruz in Turkish, Nowruz is mostly known as the Iranian New Year. Originally Persian word “Nowruz” actually means New Day, “Now” meaning “new” and “ruz” meaning day. Ottomans also accepted Nevruz as the start of year, or at least the fiscal year, all registrars were kept from Nevruz to the next Nevruz the following year. Though the day is known in relation to Iran, it is celebrated by diverse communities covering a vast geography from the Balkans to Central Asia. Anatolia is not exempt from Nevruz celebrations, though it has never been as elaborate as in Iran, and today, one can say that most rituals are fading away, only the Kurdish communities tend to celebrate it as vividly as in the past. As in all celebrations, there are many traditions related to food.

As in all spring festivals, a thorough spring cleaning is essential. The houses are totally wiped before Nevruz. Wearing clean clothes, if possible new ones are essential. Some believe that wearing white clothes, or at least a white scarf is also important to welcome a pure new season. In many parts of Anatolia, especially in the southeast, it is customary to wear white and eat white food during Nevruz. White, the symbol of clarity and purity, is meant to ensure that the coming year will be bright and fresh. According to Nevin Halıcı, esteemed culinary culture researcher, it is believed that a white bird wanders in the skies during Nevruz, wishing happiness to those who wear white and eat white.

So, what are the white foods? Above all, milk is the way to go. Many people I’ve talked to in cities like Diyarbakır, always told me that their mothers would give them warm milk first thing in the morning on the Nevruz day. Milk is also symbolic of the sheep and goat herds reviving, the yearly cycle starting. And of course, anything made with milk, all dairy, fresh cheese, curd, yogurt, clotted cream are traditionally favorable foods for the start of spring season. The foremost sweet is “Sütlaç,” a favorite rice pudding, rich with milk. In Iran rice pudding is not white of course, with the inevitable use of saffron, getting its name from gold, or yellow, “zerde” is the ultimate dessert for a sweet start to the season. Interestingly, in southeastern provinces in Türkiye “zerde” is seldom yellow, sometimes faintly tinted with safflower petals, an ersatz cheap alternative to saffron, but can also be purely white, and still called with the golden name tag. No festive day is without sweet nibbles, just plain sugar or white candy, or Turkish delight, cloudy white dusted with starch, are desirable white morsels to be enjoyed.

Last but not least, there is another white food that has a special place. Boiled eggs. We all know that egg is the most significant food on any Spring festive table, from Easter to Passover, but in Anatolia, eggs are not only for the symbolic fertility significance, but peeling eggs has another nod to leaving behind troubles. Eating peelable foods such as eggs and potatoes to get rid of the troubles of the old year is also considered good and auspicious. Nevruz is all about getting out, and having fun time out in the countryside, sitting on fresh grass and eating morsels of food, making picnic al fresco. People attribute other symbolic meanings to all the typical picnic food they eat. “Dolma” meaning stuffed, and “sarma” meaning wrapped, are such dishes ever present in such outings, as they are easily portable finger food. The significances attributed are that for “sarma” you will be wrapped with affection, caressed and hugged by the loved ones, and for “dolma” your purse will be stuffed with fortune, your pantry ever full.

Whiteness calls for purity, but we all know that a spring festival cannot be without greens. In addition to white foods, fresh greens are also indispensable for Nevruz. People dip green Romaine lettuce to grape molasses, for sweetness, green spring onions are eaten wrapped in flat breads with quarters of boiled eggs. The white and yellow color of eggs perked with bright green onion stalks look like narcissus flowers, and actually egg salads with green onions are called “nergizleme,” meaning “like narcissus,” very pretty and very tasty. Green stands for youth and future, health and vigor. freshness and vigor. For a healthy and bright year ahead, let your table be of white and green tomorrow, do not forget to have plenty of eggs to boil, and take the toil to peel, to get rid of all the troubles of the past year!

Aylin Öney Tan,