The fact that Saeed Pourkay's cooking is revered by both newcomers and seasoned Persian-food-enthusiasts is no accident. Taste of Persia NYC has been a success for many reasons, but one is that Saeed refuses to skimp on quality or process. He started making his food out of a genuine love for cooking, and that earnestness shines through in everything that he makes.
For 35 years, Saeed ran a graphic design firm right across the street from Taste of Persia’s current location. Two years ago, he decided to sell the firm and “find [his] passion”. And find it he did: in 2011 Saeed began selling his now-famous vegetable soup, Ash Reshteh, at the Union Square Holiday Market. Ash Reshteh combines noodles and beans with 17 herbs and spices, and is topped with fried garlic, mint, and caramelized onions, then drizzled with dehydrated yogurt. It’s a healthy, hearty soup with a tantalizing aroma and an exquisite taste. Holiday Market visitors who were previously familiar with Ash Reshteh raved about its authenticity, and those who tried it for the first time were blown away by the unique flavors and incredible freshness of the ingredients. People started lining up to try the soup and, as Saeed recalls, “people saw other people lining up [and joined the line].”
Six months ago, Saeed opened up a more permanent stand in the corner of a pizza shop on 18th Street and 5th Avenue, right across from his old workplace. His customers from the Holiday Market followed, and new people kept coming to try the famous soup and the many other delicious offerings in Saeed’s corner of the shop-- including the hearty lamb stew and the ghaymeh badenjan, a delectable eggplant dish with angus beef and yellow split peas. Even people who enter the pizza shop without the specific intention of eating Saeed’s food are prone to gravitate toward it. And they’re always glad that they did; Saeed’s warm, friendly personality and willingness to provide free samples to customers so they can get a sense of the food are further reasons he has enjoyed so much success.
Authentic Persian food, as Saeed explains it, requires a lot of time, effort, patience, and should only be made with the freshest ingredients. In a city as fast-paced as New York, not a lot of food vendors, of any cuisine, are willing to dedicate so much time to the process, and many definitely aren’t very attentive to freshness. When you consider the lack of authentic, high-quality Persian food options in NYC, it is no wonder that so many people hail this as the best Persian food in New York. Taste of Persia’s Yelp page alone seems to be one enormous love letter to Saeed’s cooking. Rarely can you find an eatery with five star rating after five star rating and detailed accounts of satisfied customers, many of whom stop by the shop on a regular basis. As any of those customers can attest to, and as Saeed has seen for himself, people feel that his cooking tastes “like [what] grandmothers make." Who could ask for more than that?
If you’d like to support Saeed as he begins to expand his shop nationally, you can visit his gofundme page to donate any amount and help keep this delicious food available in New York and beyond.