The best Persian food in NYC is hidden in a pizza shop

  • Taste of Persia NYC serves traditional Persian dishes like ash reshteh and ghormeh sabzi.
  • It’s hidden in a pizza shop, and is considered to be some of the best Persian food in NYC.
  • INSIDER’s Medha Imam visits the shop to meet owner Saaed Pourkay and taste some of the dishes.

Following is a transcript of the video.

Medha: Hey, guys, we’re here in the Flatiron District to try some of the best Persian food in New York City. And guess what? It’s inside a pizza shop. So let’s go try it out.

Saeed: They say the real ambassador of Iran is on 18th Street, even though United Nation is 20 blocks away. Medha: That’s Saeed Pourkay, proud owner of Taste of Persia NYC.

Narrator: Born in Tehran, Iran, he came to the United States at 22 years old and started his food business eight years ago after he left his job as a graphic designer to move from the art of graphics to the art of cooking.

Saeed: I wanted to do something for myself, and I didn’t know after graphics what else I can do. I sold my company, and for many years I had so many employees, and I refused to work for someone to the point that I became homeless, and almost a year that I was sleeping in one warehouse in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. After a year, then I decided to try Persian cooking. And for that reason, I came to this location, and I asked my friend Sammy if I can rent a window space in front of his shop.

Medha: Positioned at the front window of a pizzeria, it’s easy to walk past this quick-service joint. But since its opening, Taste of Persia NYC has gained a loyal following and has become a major hit among Americans and Iranians around the globe.

– The ash reshteh, which is one of the signature dishes, you can’t get it anywhere else. So he’s the best on the traditional stuff but also can pull cuisines from different parts of Iran that most people don’t have access to.

Medha: Pourkay says he was just 7 years old when he was inspired to start cooking.

Saeed: I remember as a kid, I used to wait until my mum gets out of the kitchen and go for shopping. And I usually jump in the kitchen, and by the time she was back from the vegetable shopping, I had something simple ready.

Medha: Because Pourkay shares the kitchen with the pizzeria, he works around their schedule in the early mornings or late afternoons to cook up a rotating array of traditional Persian dishes such as ash reshteh, a thick vegetable soup; fesenjān, pomegranate chicken; zereshk polo, rice with chicken in barberries; and what many recognise as Iran’s national dish, ghormeh sabzi, a blend of dark greens, beans, and beef.

Saeed: Usually, Persian cooking, it takes a long time to prepare, especially washing the vegetable, cleaning the vegetables, and chopping it. Every dish that I cook usually takes four to five hours for preparation and cooking. My ash reshteh takes like six to seven hours of slow cooking.

Medha: Ash reshteh is Pourkay’s most popular dish. He began serving the hot Persian soup at the Union Square Holiday Market in 2012, where many people were first introduced to his homemade Iranian cooking.

– It’s like magic soup. It is the greatest combination of flavours and toppings, and you feel like you’re going to a very secret place to get it. I probably have had the soup, I don’t know, maybe 30, 40, 50 times.

– I’m here at least twice a week, sometimes more. People make fun of me in the office because this is basically all I eat ever.

Medha: Named the best soup in New York by New York Mag in 2014, ash reshteh is a combination of five kind of beans and 22 different herbs and vegetables. Its sweet yet savoury taste comes from the underlying cinnamon, cardamom, and ginger and is topped with caramelised garlic, dried mint, crispy fried onions, and finally a swirl of kashk, a soury Persian yogurt.

– You can’t imagine how long and how hard I’ve looked for legit Persian food, and all I come across ever is just Persian but not really Persian. And so coming across this place and just tasting how legit it is changed my life. I’m here, I’m telling you, at least twice a day.

Medha: The entire day today, we’ve talked to lots of customers, and everyone keeps hyping up the ash reshteh, which is the popular Persian soup. I’m up to try it. Let’s do this. Oh mylanta, what? There’s so many flavours in that. I taste the caramelised onions. I’m tasting the kidney beans. So many different flavours. Saeed Pourkay said that ash reshteh takes a long time to cook, and it’s one of the best soups that he makes and the best soups within Persian cuisine.

Saeed: The way I cook is like a homemade cooking, like grandma’s cooking, like mum’s cooking. A lot of Iranian students, they come here to me, and I became their mum and grandmas. I love it because at least there is someone here for them to cook.

– Persians are very in tune with our ancestors, all the way back from the Achaemenid dynasty, and so they continue the traditions, whether it’s culinary or literary. It’s very important, and so I always like to support those people who are telling that story and keeping the ancient Persia alive for us modern-day Persians.

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