In North York, a single strip mall caters to all your Iranian-food needs.
Food lovers be warned: A first walk through North York’s Persian Plaza is overwhelming. Every shop is brimming with familiar and not-so-familiar Iranian hot food, baked goods, and meats.
The Persian Plaza is located on Yonge Street in North York, just south of Steeles. It was originally a multi-ethnic plaza, but in the mid-1990s it morphed into what it is today: one-stop shopping for members of the nearby Persian community who want to make use of tailors, video shops, travel agencies, and money transfer services run by their countrymen.
(The Iranian businesses are not contained to this one strip mall. The surrounding blocks are dotted with Middle Eastern specialty stores.)
All the food shops in the plaza sell similar fare, and competition amongst them keeps quality high. Arzon Food Market is a maze of tiny aisles packed with giant tubs of silky Persian-style feta, and jars of cedrate jam (a citrus fruit) and carrot jam (yep, Iranians eat this on toast, apparently). Arzon has a take-out counter where kebabs are grilled over charcoal. The juicy, salty taste of the beef kebab ($6.99) did not disappoint. It was served on a bed of rice that was dotted with lentils and tiny raisins.
Pars Food, also in the plaza, is a family business run by Pouria Khoshkhou, who is originally from Tehran. His shop sells dozens of varieties of picture-perfect Persian sweets—delicate sugary pastries made with saffron, pistachios, and walnuts.
The store also has a wide selection of Persian breads, most of which are made at Pars Food’s other location at 365 John Street in Thornhill. “Our breads are all handmade, with no chemicals or preservatives,” says Pouria. “They’re made of flour, salt and yeast—that’s all.”
My favourite of the breads is sangak, a whole-wheat sourdough topped with sesame seeds. It has a tangy tart taste and is wonderfully chewy and stretchy. The shop also has lavash (a super thin bread) and barbari (a thick, textured flat bread), as well as sweet breads made with fresh dates, walnuts, cinnamon, and vanilla.
The hot-food counter in the back serves a wide selection of Persian stews made with eggplant, spinach, lentils, and coriander. Each is served with rice flavoured with dill, parsley, and fava beans. But the item most coveted by the clientele seems to be the koobideh kebab: it’s a plate of marinated meat that sells for just $3.99 with rice.
You won’t go wrong with a kebab in the Persian Plaza, but if you’re in the mood for risk, there’s no shortage of novel products to try. Hookahs for smoking tobacco and herbal mixtures are on display, as are herb waters that are supposed to help you with a stomach ache, kidney pain, or weight management. The Persian ice cream is another oddity for Western palates: it’s a seemingly alien concoction made of saffron, rosewater, pistachio, and thin vermicelli noodles.
Spice City Toronto explores Toronto’s great hole-in-the-wall restaurants and strip-mall joints serving food from all corners of the world.