(Un)traditional: Spice it Up!


Ella Yadegar

When my grandparents immigrated to the United States just before the Iranian Revolution of 1979 , they had never experienced an American holiday. As a result, the food at my family’s first Thanksgiving consisted of a turkey surrounded by traditional Persian food from Iran. My family now gathers every year to celebrate Thanksgiving as a part of our American identity.

But even as our Thanksgiving meals have become more westernized with American staples such as mashed potatoes, buttered rolls and pie, my family has continued to include Persian food in our Thanksgiving dinner.

In addition to the turkey, my family eats sabzi polo, an herbed rice side dish made with parsley, tarragon and cilantro. This rice is a classic dish in Iran, and my grandparents and great-grandparents often made it during Nowruz, the Iranian New Year, when they lived in Iran.

During our Thanksgiving gatherings, the dessert is mostly influenced by Persian culture. My family still enjoys pumpkin pie with vanilla ice cream, but the most popular dessert in my family is bastani zaferani, or Persian ice cream made with saffron and rosewater. Iranians, including my grandparents, commonly serve it between two vanilla wafers. To complement the sweetness of the ice cream, we drink chai tea at the end of our Thanksgiving meal. Chai originated in India, although it has become a staple of Persian culture. The drink contains black tea with spices such as cinnamon and cardamom and is a lovely way to round out the holiday.