Where Banu’s Samira Mohyeddin eats Persian food in the burbs

Where Banu’s Samira Mohyeddin eats Persian food in the burbs

We're going on the road with some of the city's top chefs and restaurateurs to explore their favourite suburban restaurants. Samira Mohyeddin tells us what's good in North York and Thornhill

Samira Mohyeddin moved to Canada with her parents, grandmother and older sister in the late ’70s, during the Iran hostage crisis. When she was 4, they moved to Drummondville, Quebec to live on her aunt’s farm. The family stayed there for a year and then decided to move closer to Toronto, settling in North York. Growing up in Toronto, Mohyeddin noticed a lack of Iranian dining. “There were Iranian restaurants, but they weren’t places you wanted to stay—there was never any atmosphere,” Mohyeddin says. “It was literally: buy some food, eat it and get out.”

Mohyeddin worked as a server in a number of restaurants, finally deciding to open one of her own, with two of her siblings, in 2006. “We found a place on Queen Street and Banu was born,” she says. In 2014 they opened a sister café, Kadbanu, on Dundas West. When Mohyeddin is craving Iranian food, she treks to North York and Thornhill. The Yonge Street strip from Finch to Steeles has become a hot spot for Iranian businesses in the last 15 years. “These are places that don’t have websites, they’re not on social media—but they are amazing.”

Garni Bakery

451 McNicoll Ave., North York, 416-499-2424

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Tucked away in an industrial setting near the DVP, Garni Bakery is the oldest Iranian bakery in Toronto. It’s run by an Armenian family who specialize in Iranian flatbreads. “This is an evolution of bread for me,” owner Vahe Akopians says. “Our pastries are different in Armenia—this is more Iranian-style baking—but I give it that little bit of my background.” Mohyeddin is the only restaurateur that has managed to convince Akopians to sell his bread wholesale for use at her restaurants.

Go-to item #1: Barbari bread.
Tasting notes: Barbari is a fluffy flatbread topped with sesame seeds. It’s thick enough to be cut in half to make a sandwich.

Garni pumps out 500 loaves of Barbari bread each day, and they often sell out by mid afternoon. Garni pumps out 500 loaves of barbari bread each day, often sell out by mid afternoon.
 

 
Fresh from the oven. Fresh from the oven.
 

 
Barbari bread to go. Barbari bread to go.
 

 
Mohyeddin, ogling the bread. Mohyeddin, ogling the bread.
 

 
Here's a closer look. Here’s a closer look.
 

Go-to item #2: Cake rollets.
Tasting notes: Very similar to Swiss rolls, they’re made with pound cake, whipped cream and nuts (pistachios, walnuts, almonds).

A selection of sweets. Mohyeddin's favourites are the rollets (centre). A selection of sweets. Mohyeddin’s favourites are the rollets (centre).
 
Arzon Super Market

6103 Yonge St, North York, 416-590-1234

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Each strip mall in Little Persia is stacked with cafes, restaurants and grocery stores. Arzon is Mohyeddin’s favourite. It’s a 24-hour restaurant, market, bakery and meeting place. Owner Carlo Zadeh recalls that when it opened in 1990, there was only one other Iranian store near him. “The rent was so cheap! After a few months we started to see other businesses moving in. Now, there are a ton of places.” Mohyeddin frequents Arzon for its lunch counter, which features a menu of classic Iranian stews, rice dishes and kebabs.

Samira points to the meat counter where locals buy whole sheep heads. Samira points to the meat counter where locals buy whole sheep heads.
 

 
Here's the pastry counter. Here’s the pastry counter.
 

 
You can also buy rollets here. You can also buy rollets here.
 

 
Owner, Carlo Zadeh. Owner Carlo Zadeh.
 

 
The hot counter features a variety of rice dishes. The hot counter features a variety of rice dishes.
 

 
But Mohyeddin's favourite thing to order are the heart and liver kebabs. Mohyeddin’s favourite thing to order are the heart and liver kebabs.
 

 
Kabobs are cooked over an open fire. They're a popular late-night snack. Kebabs are cooked over an open fire. They’re a popular late-night snack.
 

 
Here's a closer look. Here’s a closer look.
 

 
Mohyeddin likes her kabobs with this yogurt soda. Mohyeddin likes her kabobs with this yogurt soda.
 

Go-to item: Heart and liver kebabs.
Tasting notes: The meat is slightly undercooked and heavily salted. It’s served with freshly baked pita bread.

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Shabestan Café

6123 Yonge St., North York, 416-222-3335

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Shabestan is a newly opened 24-hour café that celebrates Iran’s tea culture. Buried at the back of a strip mall, it’s a meeting spot for diners that have recently finished a heavy meal and want to unwind with a hot drink (but the café’s boiled sheep’s head-and-feet dish is popular, too).

Go-to item: Tea and pastry service.
Tasting notes: “The best way to enjoy the tea is by putting a cube of sugar in your mouth,” Mohyeddin says. “Set the cube behind your teeth at the side of your mouth, and then drink your tea.” The technique ensures that each sip is lightly sweetened.

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Pure Iranian sugar cubes are used to sweeten the tea. Pure Iranian sugar cubes are used to sweeten the tea.
 
Tavazo Dried Nuts and Fruits

Yonge St., Thornhill, 905-763-1855

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Mohyeddin says that Tavazo has the best selection of dried goods she has encountered. Dozens of large glass counters dress the small shop, with a variety of imported fruits and nuts.

It's like Bulk Barn, but with way prettier bins. It’s like Bulk Barn, but with way prettier bins.
 
Mohyeddin loves these dried fruit roll-ups. They were a childhood favourite. Mohyeddin loves these dried fruit roll-ups. They were a childhood favourite.
 

Go-to item #1: Sweet mixed nuts.
Tasting notes: “This is the kind of stuff families will serve with tea, or as a snack when guests are over,” Mohyeddin says.

A mixture of nuts and dried fruit. A mixture of nuts and dried fruit.
 

Go-to item #2: Sour cherries.
Tasting notes: “These are my personal favourite,” Mohyeddin says. They taste a little like tamarind, with a hint of saltiness.

Dried sour cherries. Dried sour cherries.
 

Go-to item #3: Red sumac.
Tasting notes: “I don’t know what they put in the brown sumac, because it tastes a little too lemony for me. The red sumac is the real deal.”

Red sumac. Red sumac.
 
Parsian Fine Foods

8129 Yonge St., Thornhill, 905-709-1400

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Further north on the Little Iran strip, this market is also well known for its hot counter, bakery and imported food selection. Mohyeddin loves the taftoon, a leavened flour bread baked in a clay oven at at the back of the store. Parsian makes a few different flavours of the taftoon, and they each sell out quickly every day.

The store is popular for its selection of imported goods. The store is popular for its selection of imported goods.
 

 
The store has a variety of hard-to-find items, like this smoked rice. The store has a variety of hard-to-find items, like this smoked rice.
 

 
They make hundreds of taftoon every day. They make hundreds of taftoon every day.
 

 
Sweet taftoon made with saffron and sugar (left) and the classic version with sesame seeds. Sweet taftoon made with saffron and sugar (left) and the classic version with sesame seeds.
 

 
Making Mohyeddin's favourite, cumin taftoon. Making Mohyeddin’s favourite, cumin taftoon.
 

Go-to item #1: Taftoon with cumin.
Tasting notes: The pita-like bread is soft to the touch, tears apart easily and is loaded with cumin and sesame seeds.

Taftoon with cumin. Taftoon with cumin.
 
Heloo Goolub

8147 Yonge St., Thornhill, 905-731-0560

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Mohyeddin loves saffron ice cream. She says that most shops in the GTA don’t use real saffron for their ice cream—and it shows. “If it’s too orange, you know it isn’t made with real saffron. Real saffron ice cream has a lighter yellow colour.” She swears that Heloo Goolub’s is the best she’s ever had.

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Go-to item #1: Saffron ice cream sandwich.
Tasting notes: Lots of rosewater gives the ice cream a very floral taste, and pistachio chunks add texture.

A saffron ice cream sandwich. A saffron ice cream sandwich.