Atlas Specialty Supermarket and Persian Cuisine – Calgary, AB


Atlas Specialty Supermarket and Persian Cuisine
100-1000 9 Avenue SW
Calgary, AB T2P 2Y6
(403) 230-0990

I was asked an interesting question today. “What do you think will be the next big cuisine? Japanese has taken off. Vietnamese before that. What’s next?” In thinking about this, I realized that the food trends over the past 10 years have quite a few similarities. First off, they’re ethnic that are becoming mainstream. Secondly, they have an abundance of flavour, yet with approachable ingredients (sushi would be the exception – that was quite the shock to the North American palette, and based on how many people mean “rolls” when they say they like sushi, i’d still say it is), and lastly, they are healthier than many traditional Western and European fare. Might it be Persian? It’s possible. There are an increasing number of kabob houses starting to open – which are generally Afghani, Iraqi, or Persian. The cuisine is quite healthy, has an abundance of flavour, and approachable ingredients. We might have a winner!

Atlas Specialty Supermarket and Persian Cuisine is a combination restaurant and supermarket, definitely a combination I find odd. While you often find takeout and grocery combined, rarely do you see a nice, well appointed room combined with groceries. However, it’s easy access to some of my favorite spices like sumac, and ingredients like pomegranate paste, so i don’t mind getting my shopping done while i eat.

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As previously mentioned, the room is a clean, well appointed, comfortable affair. Much longer than it is wide, it comfortably seats 30-40. It is often completely full on weekends, when it is usually difficult to get a table. Weekdays i find are hit and miss. Sometimes, completely empty. Sometimes, you’re turned away, or encouraged to order take out. If you get a table, they are spartan, yet comfortable. No complaints here.

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Persian food has similarities to other Middle Eastern cultures, primarily Afghani, Iraqi, as well as similarities in grilled meat with the Turks. As we order, we decide to try the traditional Iranian drink doogh ($2.50) with the meal - a mix of soda, yogurt, and mint. We made the incorrect assumption that this would function similar to a lassi in Indian cuisine – quench some of the heat, while providing a flavourful and complementary balance to the food. On the contrary, we found it difficult to finish, and while it complimented the khoresht (stew) reasonably well, it killed the flavour of the grilled meat. I would not order it again.

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For food, we order a khorest – Ghormeh Sabzi ($13.99) to be exact, and a platter of grilled meat ($31.99) – koobideh, steak and chicken. The platter comes with the typical accompaniments – rice, grilled tomato and onions.

The rice itself is good. A kateh (butter-enhanced rice) decorated with some saffron color and onions,  it is both flavourful, and extremely fluffy. The richness goes well with the depth of the grilled meat. I find it’s a good balance with some of the more acidic, sweeter khoreshts, but not as good with the rich, creamier khorests. Bread would probably be a better choice for those.

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The Ghormeh Sabzi is a khoresht made of mixed greens (herbs, spinach, and cilantro), and cooked with kidney beans, meat, and citrus, to produce a fragrant, tangy, yet slightly sweet stew. It’s good, but a touch oily, and not quite enough chunks of lamb for my liking. Good flavour though.

The grilled platter has many similarities to the kinds of kebabs served in most other Middle Eastern cultures – and there’s definitely nothing wrong with that! A couple of spiced ground meat (koobideh) kebabs, generally my favorite, are excellent. Flavourful, well spiced, and nicely caramelized on the exterior. The barg (beef in this case) is good, but really just chunks of seasoned meat on a skewer. The chicken is good – flavourful, tender, and not overcooked. Easy to share, and tasty to boot, this dish is an easy introduction for people learning to appreciate other flavours.

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Overall, the food at Atlas Supermarket and Persian Cuisine is flavourful, and quite consistent. And just as importantly, the value seems to be there. Khoreshts are small servings, but reasonably good deals, priced similar to an Indian curry. The grill is where some find it a bit pricey – $32 for a platter for two isn’t cheap, but as long as you arent a meat glutton, then it will serve 2 people comfortably. We shared the khoresht and the platter among three people, and left a little bit of food behind. Not bad for $50.

Thinking on it some more, I feel predicting the next “big cuisine” is difficult. Typically, I find the trends of the West Coast generally filter their way across slowly, which means we can usually predict Calgary’s next restaurant shift based on what is popular there a year ago. And Persian food, while somewhat popular, is a long way from sharing the same success that other cuisines have had on the coast. Calgary seems to have a bigger Middle Eastern population, so im not sure if it’ll catch on or not. Which is too bad, as the food is approachable, flavourful, and reasonably priced. Something that should easily succeed here.

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8 thoughts on “Atlas Specialty Supermarket and Persian Cuisine – Calgary, AB

  1. Not so much a “big cuisine”, but after having had some really great HOT POTS last week, I realized how much I miss a good Fondue. In my youth it was served all over Europe, both the meat – and cheese version.
    Great for socializing and if prepared right, a very good dinner.

    No Melting Pot here….yet.

  2. I think the next “big cuisine” will be… none! Here is my reasoning:

    1) In major cities, you will find (not necessarily) small pockets of foreign/ethnic population. And by foreign I mean pretty much anywhere in the world. So, in a way, ethnic cuisine is starting to be commonplace.
    2) With (TV) channels like Travel and Escape and Food Network, foreign food is no longer that foreign. Sure, you might not actually have it/is locally available but at least it is described.
    3) As a result of #2 above, people are travelling more and more to other countries. Now, I do not mean known countries but more “exotic” ones (by North-American standards).
    4) My opinion is that we will regress into old styles of cooking (slow cooking, et al) as “modern breakthroughs” tends to end up as fad (foam anyone???) or something difficult to implement (molecular gastronomy).

  3. JM, you’re right that not all trends come from West to East (like Middle Eastern), but when im referring to trends, i do mean that it gets to a point where each cuisine is on “every street corner”. Malaysian doesn’t have that many restaurants in Vancouver.. i would not consider it in the “dominant cuisine” category.

    Your point re: Calgary is well taken though – if you lump most of the middle eastern cuisines together, we might just see a rise in popularity of their cuisine (though i have a tough time liking dough). With the ubiquitious donair/shawarma shops around, one might say it’s been here for a long time already. I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

    KH – hmm…im going to have to disgaree with you here. I think your point is well taken for the future, but from my perspective, your reasoning only applies to a minority, affluent few. Big cuisine needs to be approachable and available to the masss. The majority of the population, at least here in Alberta, do not watch travel, food, and do not travel outside of North America. Maybe in a few generations, when hopefully a global perspective is more pervasive, but as i see it now, this is more the exception, rather than the rule.

  4. With the exception of a few like you foodospher, I think there is a general apathy for any thing (cuisines, trends, etc) that exits on the other side of the Rockies (no matter which side you are on).

    I tried to choke down a doogh a couple of times – I don’t think I’m ever going to “acquire” a taste for them either. I gotta love the wide eyed look I got both times I ordered them – I think they know they are only for those diners who have been raised with them.

    I think we are are going to see a prevalence of the healthy Middle Eastern – Mediterranean style diet/cuisine taking the lead.

    • KC,

      Fundamentally, I’d like to argue this point, but i know you’re right. I think it’s only natural that people focus on their region – most people take a very localized view of where they live. I feel very fortunate to be able to chase down food experiences regardless of geography.

      You might be right on the doogh, but i keep holding out hope that i find a good pairing, or a better doogh to drink :) As for the Mediterranean style diet/cuisine, im curious to see which elements will be integrated. I feel things like olive oil, and grilling are already a big part of our culture. Whether we start eating more unsaturated fats will be interesting to see.

  5. I agree that there’s a good change of Persian cuisine becoming the next thing. However, It’s a question if it should be treated as a unique cuisine, or be seen in the larger context of Middle Eastern cuisine.

    • Excellent question actually – in general, im not sure how various cuisines should be classified, especially when there are a lot of similarities. From what I can draw from the evolution of Chinese cuisine in North America, most restaurants, regardless of what kind of cuisine they are representing, served a large cross section of various chinese cuisines. The popular dishes, the most well known. It took a lot of time and maturity in the marketplace to create an environment where specific Chinese cuisines were able to stand on their own.

      From a Middle Eastern Cuisine standpoint, almost every restaurant i’ve been to here has a lot of similarities. In that sense, Persian cuisine probably exists more as Middle Eastern than straight up Persian. But im not familiar with some subtle differences between Persian and other Middle Eastern Cuisines. Anyone with more in depth knowledge on Persian cuisine able to weigh in?

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