It's a familiar script in Silicon Valley. Developer builds project. Existing tenants, often longtime mom-and-pop businesses, must move out. The community bemoans the closures. Trendy, bigger-name tenants move in and eventually, everyone moves on.
Mountain View's Rose International Market represents a rare, happy plot twist in that script. After the community rose up against a proposed four-story apartment complex at the desirable corner of Castro Street and El Camino Real in 2014, the developer agreed to sign affordable, long-term leases for several small businesses then at the site, including the decades-old Persian market, so they would remain in the ground floor of the new building once it opened.
Five years later, loyal customers have quickly returned to the new and improved Rose Market, which reopened in February. The space is larger and updated, but the food and the people cooking it remain the same.
Mally Attar has been leading the Rose Market kitchen since its earliest days at its original location on Castro Street, which Iran native Saied Mehranfar opened with his brothers.
Attar left her native Tehran, Iran, 30 years ago for a better life for her 4-year-old son, she said in an interview. A self-taught cook who had also run a bakery in Iran, she quickly earned a reputation around Rose Market and started cooking for the owners when they added a kitchen, she said.
"I love it," she said of cooking. In Persian culture, food, she added succinctly, is "everything."
The market's ever-popular khouresh (stews), herb-forward soups, fluffy basmati rice and succulent kebabs are the foods Attar has cooked at home for decades.
During the lunch rush at the new Rose Market, customers wait eagerly for steaming takeout boxes stuffed generously with saffron rice and kebabs or satisfying beef-and-lamb koubideh wrapped in pillowy-soft lavash bread. Cooks make the rice in enormous vats in the new, larger kitchen while kebabs and vegetables char on two massive grills nearby.
Work your way through the khoresh bar for an education in the Persian palate's affinity for tart flavors and herbs, like fesenjan (a thick stew of ground chicken, walnuts and pomegranate), bademjan (eggplant, tomatoes, bell peppers and sour grapes) and ghormeh sabzi, a fragrant herb stew. There's also ash reshteh, a nourishing bean and noodle soup eaten during Nowruz, the Persian New Year. It's filled with lentils, garbanzos, pinto beans, parsley, spinach and noodles, then garnished with kashk (whey) and crispy fried onion and mint.
Everything goes well with a side of hummus or mast-o-khiar, a creamy yogurt dip with cucumber and mint. While you wait for your food, peruse the market's aisles of imported goods for D.I.Y. add-ons such as pickled cucumbers, whole sour cherry jam and fresh herbs. For dessert, grab plump dates or a container of shole zard, saffron rice pudding.
Don't sleep on the daily specials. On a recent Friday, Attar made heaping piles of shirin polo, a sweet, orange-hued rice studded with slivers of orange peel, barberries and toasted pistachios and almonds. Other specials include tahchin, baked saffron rice with yogurt, eggs and chicken; and baghali polo, dill and fava bean rice topped with a juicy lamb shank (it's Attar's favorite dish to cook at home).
Ibrahim Almamorr, an Iraqi refugee who has worked for Rose Market since 1995, is in charge of breaking down animals for the all-halal meat case and preparing marinades for the kebabs. His current favorite is the chicken breast, marinated in yogurt, garlic, white and black pepper and paprika, then grilled. It's best enjoyed over rice with a heavy dousing of tahini, he said. Customers can also now buy pre-marinated, raw meat to cook at home.
Almamorr said that food was central to his assimilation. When he first arrived in San Francisco from Iraq, he found comfort in what he said was the city's only halal butcher at the time, a small store in downtown. More than two decades later, he proudly boasts that Rose Market offers the Bay Area's largest offering of halal meat cuts, with everything from chicken thighs and goat to New York steak and lamb hearts.
Rose Market continues to be a draw for local Iranians as well as the broader community, which has happily celebrated the return, rather than the loss, of a much-beloved, family-run business.
Rose International Market, 801 W. El Camino Real, Mountain View; rosemarketcatering.com; 650-960-1900. Open daily, 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Grill opens at 11 a.m.