#Saffrodisiac by Vahid Mortezaei

Depression is not only a serious social problem of our time -it is also a business opportunity. It’s almost seven years that I live in Helsinki and at one point I also suffered from depression, for a year and half. 

depression.jpg

When I saw my Finnish friends for the first time sitting in front of kirkasvalolamppu (light therapy lamp), I made jokes about them. But oh man -they were so right! Long dark days, minimalistic daily communication, loneliness and ultra-individualism can really crash you.

Saffron is the signature of Persian cuisine. We use it almost in every possible dish from sweet to savoury, cold to warm. We make saffron drinks, use it in our jam and add it to our pickled veggies. You can find saffron ice-cream on every street corner in Iran during the summer. It’s the most expensive spice in the world but an irreplaceable one in the Iranian kitchen. It so happens that Iran is the biggest producer and exporter of saffron in the world.

[Photo: Rex Features, www.telegraph.co.uk]

[Photo: Rex Features, www.telegraph.co.uk]

Iranians believe that saffron makes you laugh (and too much of it makes you laugh to death!). Well, we exaggerate everything, including saffron in our food. But for sure there is some truth in that belief. 

Scientific research shows that actually saffron is as effective as some anti-depressant medicines in reducing the symptoms of depression.

Saffron custard in beetroot cup

Saffron custard in beetroot cup

In Vahid Mortezaei Studio™ we work on new saffrony products. Our mission is to modernise and globalise Persian cuisine. Saffron is one of the main ingredients that we work on. We try to discover unseen aspects of this magical spice. We constantly look for food production companies, creative people and product developers to collaborate with them on this path. Meanwhile we are looking for small scale saffron producers and suppliers in Iran who apply innovative methods to produce sustainable, transparent and environmentally conscious saffron to sell in the Finnish market.     

Saffron caviar

Saffron caviar

In Finland they even produce earbuds, which point bright light directly to your brain through the ear channel to boost your mood. So why not to try a pinch of Persian saffron instead!

Persian Mämmi by Vahid Mortezaei

Finns are quite insecure with their mämmi. After the British celebrity chef, Gordon Ramsay, made his typical, harsh, comment on this Finnish Easter dish, the confidence disappeared. The very first time that a friend of mine wanted to introduce mämmi to me I could sense the hesitation in her words: “this is something that we have for Easter, it’s a matter of love or hate”… I had a spoonful of it and found its taste, texture and look very familiar. 

[Finnish Mämmi]

[Finnish Mämmi]

In Iranian cuisine we have something very similar to mämmi, called sämänu. We cook it only once a year for Nowruz celebration, which is the beginning of the Persian new year. Nowruz literally means new day and it starts on the 21st of March. Such a coincidence! Iranians and Finns cook a very similar dish once a year around a very similar date -and the two countries are geographically 4000 km and culturally a light-year away from each other!

And this is not all. 

My first Easter in Helsinki had another surprise. I noticed that all the shops were selling decorative grass, rairuoho. I didn’t know at all that this was another Easter tradition. The Iranians always grow grass for Nowruz. They call it säbzeh, which means green. Säbzeh is a symbolic element of Nowruz. A week before new year the whole market in Iran gets full of grass. In the first Easter in Finland I was really homesick. But the grass everywhere in Helsinki gave me the illusion that maybe Finns were celebrating Nowruz!

[Photo by Mohammadreza Alimadadi, Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA)]

[Photo by Mohammadreza Alimadadi, Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA)]

In Iran we also paint eggs for new year. Well, I already knew that this is part of the Easter celebration, but imagine me seeing those painted eggs next to the grass everywhere in Helsinki. The Iranians have another very important tradition for Nowruz. We make an arrangement of symbolic items on a table and call it Haft Sin, which means seven Ss. There are seven fixed items among them, whose Persian names start with an S. The other items are not fixed and don’t necessarily start with an S. The arrangement is a must. The families gather around the table and wait for the exact second when the year changes. The exact moment is calculated every year by astrologists. 

[Nowruz egg painting festival, Tehran, Iran. Photo by Amirhousein Bandi, IRNA]

[Nowruz egg painting festival, Tehran, Iran. Photo by Amirhousein Bandi, IRNA]

But guess what are those seven elements in our Haft Sin! Säbzeh (generally wheatgrass), sämänu (mämmi), sonbol (the hyacinth, which appears in Christmas time here!), somac (a spice), sir (garlic), sib (apple) and serkeh (vinegar). The painted eggs have a crucial place on the table even though they are not from S-group!

[Haft Sin by Hozan Zangana,  www.hozanzangana.com ]

[Haft Sin by Hozan Zangana, www.hozanzangana.com]

Nowruz is an ancient celebration in Iran, which goes back to the Pre-Islamic Era. Therefore, these symbols don’t have anything to do with our Islamic heritage. Maybe they -like some Easter traditions- come from the Ancient Persian religion, Zoroastrianism. Anyhow all the Iranians, muslims or non-muslims, celebrate new year gathered around mämmi, grass and painted eggs.

After seven years living in Helsinki, I realised that there are more similarities between the nations than one could imagine, just for the simple reason that we are human beings that have lived together for millenniums on this tiny planet. If we want to see the similarities, that is!

Hyvää pääsiäistä! Happy Easter! Nowruz mobarak!