Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Chef Goes Shopping: Finding Persian Delicacies In Caspian Market On Rte 40

As Bill Parcells once said, "They want you to cook the dinner -- at least they should let you shop for the groceries."

The Unmanly Chef blog has been a new, steady source for posts about cooking, especially Persian food.  But the local blogger offered to shop for some groceries at Caspian Supermarket on Rte 40 in Ellicott City -- and to make practical suggestions about things that you could check out in the store or at Pars Market in Columbia.

This is part of a series of guest posts by some new Howard County bloggers.  For local food blogs, check out the HocoBlogs food page.

Caspian is on the south side of Rte 40 just behind the Burger King and Tutti Frutti frozen yogurt.  As an Iranian-American and Howard County local, the Unmanly Chef frequently shops there for essentials of Persian cuisine.  I have been a few times for past posts on saffron ice cream and other delicious items, but the Unmanly Chef offers a comprehensive tour of items that you could ask about there and then cook using recipes on his blog:
The owners of Caspian, Ali Nazarian & Roya Radfar, are a husband and wife that have been fixtures in the local Iranian American community since they opened in 2006.
An international grocery store can be intimidating, especially if you don’t know what is what in the store. I’m here to give you a nice guide from the Persian perspective. 
Roya Radfar or “Roya Khanoom” as I call her was gracious enough to give me a tour as she highlighted items that many of her non-Persian customers often miss.   They are always willing to help you should you have any questions.
Butcher Shop: Caspian has halal lamb, organic beef, and organic chicken. They will also do custom ground blends for you, if you want to make a special kofte or Koobideh kabob they will blend lamb and ground beef for you. I highly recommend using them for any lamb dish you plan on doing.  (I went to get some lamb shanks and tongues.)
Breads: Persian breads are underrated; they go way beyond your standard pita (which isn’t Persian at all) or naan (Indian/Pakistani). I really recommend trying some of their Barbari bread or Lavash. And if they have some in stock, Sangak Bread (Noon-e-Sangak in Farsi, meaning bread of little stones as it is prepared on little pebbles). 

Barbari bread (Noon-e-Barbari in Farsi, literally meaning Barbarian Bread) is bread that originates from Khorasan in Iran.  It is a pillowy flat bread that goes perfect with just about anything.  Slightly toast it and have it with some feta cheese (which you can get at Caspian).  The Lavash is milder than the kind you get at your grocery store. This is real Persian Lavash and it goes great with kabobs.  A lot of times we will use it to get the meat off of the skewers and then we let the meat sit in the bread to soak up the juices. Then you eat it. It’s awesome. 
Dairy: Caspian has a really impressive array of unconventional dairy products. They have several varieties of feta cheese. I highly recommend buying your feta here or at least giving it a try.  It’s much more flavorful than your standard grocery “Athenos” feta brand.  I also recommend buying their yogurt dip (Mast-o-Moosir, translates to yogurt with shallots). This is one of my favorite things in the entire store. It goes great on everything. Iranians eat all of their dishes with yogurt and this is a delicacy. It’s not easy to prepare at home sometimes, so this is a perfect treat.  They also sell Iranian yogurt soda or Doogh. This is served at Iranian restaurants. To be honest, it’s not something I seek out, but don’t let that stop you.  Many people love it and the quality of theirs is good. They also carry kefirs if you are into that.  (Again, I’m not a big yogurt drink fan.)

Sweets: Caspian is not a Persian bakery so they don’t have every single Iranian dessert.  If you do want to experience that, Yekta in Rockville and Yas Bakery have everything you could want.  But Caspian does have some of your staple Iranian desserts. They have Gaz, which is your pistachio nougat dessert that many people love.  It keeps well and it’s a nice change from your standard fare.  But you’ve probably had some variety of either of these before.  I want to tell you about a few items you probably have not tried before.

First try their Persian toffee brittle, Sohan, it’s a perfect blend of sweet and salty. It comes covered in pistachios and goes very well with some Persian tea.  It comes in a tin.  I would ask for it if you don’t think you can find it.  The next item, which they were out of when I visited, is Noghle. T his is my favorite, these are slivered almonds that are covered in sugar and rose water.  When they are fresh, they are these tiny little pieces of heaven.  I highly recommend them.  Next they sell Zoolbiah Bamieh, which are staple desserts at any Persian party; these are two pieces of fried dough that are always served together. They are very sweet, but they are highly addictive.  The Zoolbiahs look like little fried pretzels and the Bamieh’s look like tiny little fried dough balls.

Spices & Others: You really can’t tackle Middle Eastern cooking without the right spices. They have spice mixes for traditional dishes like kabobs, Persian stews, or Persian soups, and they sell other herbs separately.  They also sell more popular Middle Eastern spices like sumac or zaatar.  They also sell a wide variety of tahini and oils if you need them. They sell Persian microwavable meals too. I haven’t ever tried these, but I’m sure they are on par with your other microwavable foods.

Special Treats: Many of you ask me, “where can I get my skewers for my kabobs?” I get them here! They have all the skewer types you would need for a traditional Persian kabob. Just remember that the flat skewers are for ground beef or filet and the skinny skewers are for chicken or sirloin cuts. 
Also, stop and get some rose water and orange blossom water. These go great in cookies or in ice cream.

Which leads me to my next thing, the PERSIAN ICE CREAM! This is the best ice cream flavor in the world. It has rose water and saffron in it.  That is why it's yellow.  They also add little bits of cream that's separate from the ice cream itself.  They don’t put any weird ingredients in it and it is highly addictive. I  had to pull myself away from buying some this time. T hey also sell Faloodeh, which is frozen cooked rice noodles soaked in syrup.  (It’s right next to the ice cream.)  This is a really light and delicious dessert. It goes well with a sorbet.

They also have great nuts, you can find Persian flavored pistachios which are usually seasoned with vinegar and salt (as opposed to what you normally get which is just salted).

You can’t have a Middle Eastern party without tea, so you can get all your traditional Persian tea leaves. They sell tea bags and loose tea too, I’m a traditionalist so I always buy loose.

They sell great Persian gherkins also which are slightly spicy and tangy. Great with sandwiches. 
It’s hard to walk through their store and not walk out with a few bags of treats for yourself. I could go on and on about the awesome things they sell. I highly recommend them.  Pars Market in Columbia, while much smaller, also sells some of these items as well.  It is on Snowden River Parkway if you live closer to that side of town.  They don’t have a butcher/produce side.  But they do have bread, treats, and other typical Persian staples. 


Anonymous said...

This place is great! Been shopping there for years. It's my go-to place for bulk olives-- always a great selection, at low-low prices. I try to look away from all the pastry temptations.

Andrea said...

Great post! I think I'm ready to brave Caspian! Could you find someone to tell me about what to get at Indian markets like Ganesh brothers?!

The Unmanly Chef said...


If you go to Ganesh Brothers I recommend a few things:

1: Get the Tandoori Spice Paste in a Jar it's the exact tandoori spices you find on Tandoori Chicken

2. By their paneer to make classic Indian Favorites like Mutter Paneer and Palak Paneer

3. You can buy their samosas sometimes when they're available.

4. They have good spice mixes for quick dishes also.

Hope these helped!

Andrea said...

Thanks Unmanly Chef! You should lead tours as a side job!