Enjoy the perfume of this Iranian baked rice dish found at a North York grocer
What you should be trying is the tachin, a traditional baked Iranian rice dish, says Suresh Doss
Twenty years ago, the Yonge Street corridor between Finch and Steeles was not a great food neighbourhood.
Little Korea — a bustling community of bars and restaurants — was nestled around Finch, but anywhere north of that was a spattering of strip malls with fast food chains throughout.
There was a bakery or old school diner here and there. But other than that, it wasn't interesting.
Luckily, in the last decade and a half much has changed, largely thanks to Arzon Supermarket owner Carlo Zadeh.
Zadeh was born and raised in Tehran, Iran. Back home he was a police officer — a detective, he kept reminding me.
"During the Iranian revolution, a lot of people fled the country, so I left as well and came to Canada," he said.
At first, he struggled with employment but Zadeh recalls that a fellow Iranian suggested that he go into the street food business and open a hot dog cart.
"It was great at first. I was meeting so many people. I had one cart, then two, then three."
For Zadeh, the hot dog business in Toronto's downtown core was a chance to meet fellow Iranians and to get to know the city.
Soon, he realized that there was a need for an Iranian food store. People were having a tough time finding ingredients from back home, even bread.
"Back then, there was maybe one or two shops in the Greater Toronto Area that were making traditional Iranian flatbread," he said.
"I wanted to open a place that would serve hot food, bread and have imported things from Iran."
Zadeh started looking for a place to house his multi-use store. He was confident that the concept would work but couldn't nail a location in the city due to rent costs.
Like many Iranians, Zadeh lived in Thornhill and came across a plaza that was vacant. Shortly thereafter, Arzon market was born in 1999.
The store didn't look like the emporium it is today. Arzon now has a butcher section, a dried fruits and nuts section and an area for freshly baked breads and pastries that are made daily in the basement.
The aisles carry everything from imported pomegranate molasses to saffron, and a hot counter specializes in rice dishes and charcoal barbecue.
"We have grown slowly over the years. Once people started coming regularly, we started to understand what they wanted us to carry."
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Arzon quickly established itself as a meeting place for Iranian families. During my many meals there, I noticed the routine: families would first grab some fresh barbari bread — an Iranian flatbread — then some key ingredients for the pantry, all while their kebabs are being prepared.
Minutes later, they would walk out with a few white containers of charcoal-grilled meats and vegetables.
Over the next few years, Zadeh recalls that the community started to grow and new shops would open. Pretty soon, it became hard to keep track of all the new Iranian busineses.
Today, Little Iran stretches all the way up to Yonge and Highway 7 and it's continuing to grow. There is no short supply of unique, hard-to-find ingredients and great restaurants.
Arzon still maintains its consistency and quality, in my opinion. I'm a big fan of the grilled meats, served over a bed of rice. It's hard to pass up.
But aside from the grilled meats, what you should be trying is the tachin, a traditional baked Iranian rice dish that is hard to find. Zadeh's team does an outstanding job making it.
Rice is layered in a pan with pistachios, barberi, saffron, almonds and chicken breast. It's baked until a crust is formed on the outer layer, similar to the socarrat in a really good paella.
For me, it's that combination of tender chicken, rice with crunchy nuts, and the perfume of the entire dish. It is best enjoyed with a cold yogurt drink, or if you want, get some beef kebabs to go with the rice.
Arzon Supermarket is at 6103 Yonge St.
Suresh Doss's weekly food segment airs every Thursday on Metro Morning. Watch for video of his jaunts across the city on CBC Toronto's Facebook page.
Do you know a GTA restaurant that Doss should visit? Tweet us @metromorning or send us a message on Facebook. And if you try any of the places he features, we want to see photos!