Taste of Persia NYC’s owner and chef Saeed Pourkay ladles out abgoosht, a lamb and chickpea stew, from his Paradise Pizza corner. Nina Roberts
OBSERVER: Fluorescently lit pizzerias serving by the slice are city staples dotting every borough of New York City. One pizzeria, however, Pizza Paradise in Manhattan’s Flatiron neighborhood, has a unique corner. Saeed Pourkay, originally from Iran, ladles out his home cooked Persian soups and stews for customers who line up at his minuscule corner counter space within the pizzeria.
Pourkay, who has a distinguished salt and pepper mustache and dons a bright red chef’s jacket, opened Taste of Persia NYC, six years ago. Word has spread among Iranian food enthusiasts, gourmands and those who relish unconventional dining experiences. Pourkey’s space is cramped but sufficiently accommodates several stainless steel soup servers, warming platters and rice cookers. Customers can take their food to go or eat with plastic forks at no frills tables among the pizzeria’s clientele.
Taste of Persia NYC is a lunch and early dinner spot; its small menu written on a white board changes daily. Dishes in rotation might include the hearty lamb stew abgoosht, or ghormeh sabzi, a stew of sautéed vegetables and beef or lamb, among others. Classics like ash reshteh—a rich vegetarian noodle soup with legumes topped with fried mint, caramelized onions and garlic, and a swirl of whey white sauce, known as kashk—are nearly always available.
Behind the scenes cooking prep photos, like trays of bright green okra pre-stew, are often found on Taste of Persia NYC’s Facebook page; all dishes are prepared in the pizzeria’s back kitchen.
Since opening, Pourkay has gained a culinary reputation. Taste of Persia NYC’s reviews and write-ups from The New York Times and New York magazine, among other publications, are proudly taped to the storefront window looking onto 18th Street.
But Pourkay’s entrepreneurial success was not an easy or straight trajectory. In between customers and cooking, Pourkay explained how he launched and ran a graphics and printing business with his brothers for nearly 30 years, attempted a green products enterprise which failed and led to nine months of homelessness and, finally, how his former printing business neighbors helped him launch Taste of Persia NYC.
Who are Taste of Persia NYC’s customers? Are they Iranians or of Iranian descent?
A lot Iranians, but mostly Americans. Neighborhood workers come for lunch, and it’s also becoming, I don’t want to say it, a tourist attraction. I get customers from all over the United States, San Francisco, L.A., also Japan, Australia… If they’ve heard about me, they want to come and try the food.
I noticed you give a lot of samples to people coming in.
Some people have never tried Persian food, it’s not like Chinese food that everyone knows. I’ve found the best way to introduce our cuisine is to let them try a little bit. If I have time, I give five or six samples, they choose >>>