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Food & Drink

A ‘Top Chef’ contender and her chef-husband on their favorite secret SF market

Laura and Sayat Ozyilmaz of Dalida have been loyal to Samiramis Imports for years.

A woman and a bald man stand in a colorful grocery store aisle with spices behind them. The man holds a long vegetable, and both have playful expressions.
Dalida chef-owners Laura and Sayat Ozyilmaz get crazy with the Armenian cucumbers at Samiramis Imports. | Source: Juliana Yamada for The Standard

This is The Haul, a new series from The Standard that follows the city’s top chefs and food experts as they forage for their pantry must-haves.

Laura Ozyilmaz, the co-chef of the year-old, Presidio restaurant Dalida, blithely dips her fingers into a bulk bin full of Palestinian zaatar, takes a pinch and puts the tart, sesame-seedy, sumac-forward spice blend into her mouth. At the sight of this, her husband, co-chef Sayat Ozyilmaz, rolls his eyes performatively: “She got in trouble while competing on Top Chef for drinking out of a bottle,” he says smiling, clearly proud of his wife’s recent fame and free spirit.

It is a weekday at Samiramis Imports—a Middle Eastern mainstay established in the 1950’s. The wonderful little Mission-based grocery store has been one of Laura and Sayat’s favorite markets since the days of their 2016 pop-up, Istanbul Modern. (After that, they worked together at the now-closed Noosh.)

Inside Samiramis, the smell of coffee beans permeates the aisles and the rattle and hum of refrigerators containing garlicky hummus and zesty muhammara mixes with a ding-dong every time a customer walks in. Shelves are stacked high with honeys and flatbreads. In the back are buckets of fuschia-stained pickled turnips and Palestinian olives, a vibrant chartreuse. A blinged-out, Beyonce-worthy hookah is for sale. You can feel Laura and Sayat’s love for the market as they zoom around its narrow aisles, nerding out on the origin of each ingredient.

A man stands at the entrance of "Samiramis Middle East Grocery," an orange storefront with signs advertising organic spices, international food, and products inside.
Owner Anwar Hanhan stands in the doorway of his Middle Eastern store, Samiramis Imports, which has been based in the Mission since the 1950's. | Source: Juliana Yamada for The Standard
A woman in a blue floral shirt and jeans stands in a narrow grocery aisle, surrounded by shelves filled with various food items, examining a product.
Dalida co-chef Laura Ozyilmaz looks for everything from freekeh, a roasted green wheat, to pomegranate concentrate. | Source: Juliana Yamada for The Standard

Laura was on the latest season of Top Chef, which concluded a couple weeks ago. Though she lost in the final hour, her ease with a camera is apparent. For our photographer, she and Sayat ham it up by wrapping pale green Serpentine, or Armenian, cucumbers around their neck like pythons. When the Hamati pita bread delivery guy shows up, he greets them excitedly. Laura once staged, or interned, for a day at the established pita factory in San Bruno. The lesson in flatbread was hard won. When she knocked on the door asking to learn, the owner tried to deter her by saying all of the bakers were not only all men, but also all Mexican, recalls Laura. “And I said, well—I’m Mexican.” 

This is the plot twist: While Sayat is Turkish and the Presidio-based Dalida has been showered in accolades for its fantastic Eastern Mediterranean food, Laura is indeed Mexican, and grew up in Guerrero. She and Sayat met in New York when they were at the Culinary Institute of America, and continued on to work at Michelin-starred restaurants. (At Samiramis, common culinary ground is found when they’re both as delighted as little kids to come across a bright yellow tub of Nesquik chocolate powder, something that they actually both grew up with.)

This is not to say Laura hasn’t taken to her husband’s heritage as if it was her own. Walking through the market, both chefs marvel at the deep knowledge co-owner Anwar Hanhan has of the wide-range of ingredients he sells. In 2011, along with his brother Wael, Hanhan took over after the original Samiramis owner had passed. “We serve a mix of people from Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Tunisia and Egypt,” he says. “We have a little bit of everything.” 

Laura and Sayat’s shopping list:

The image shows three jars of "Selena Hot Pepper Paste" with red contents, yellow and red labels, and red caps, indicating they are kosher and weigh 24 oz (680g).
Hot pepper paste is at the base of so much of the cooking at Dalida. | Source: Juliana Yamada for The Standard

Selena Hot Pepper Paste ($6.99)
“This is one of my favorite ingredients,” says Laura. “I put it on everything.” Sayat adds: “We even use it in our stocks instead of tomato paste.”

A hand holds a scoop filled with a coarse, dark red spice or ground substance, with a larger pile of the same red material in the background.
Laura prefers Palestinian sumac because of the big flakes. | Source: Juliana Yamada for The Standard

Palestinian Sumac ($9.99/lb)
“Samiramis has two kinds of sumac—Palestinian and Turkish,” says Laura. “We’re going for the Palestinian because it has lots of big flakes.”

A person is holding several long, yellow-green, curved cucumbers in both hands, with packaged goods visible in the background.
Sayat loves Armenian cucumbers which have a fleeting season. | Source: Juliana Yamada for The Standard

Armenian cucumbers ($3.99/lb)
“Samiramis has a small selection of fresh produce,” says Sayat. “And these crisp cucumbers are super seasonal and crunchy. We use them in salads.”

Dried yogurt ($6.99)
“[Kashk-whey by Tazah] is a dried yogurt that we use almost like Parmesan. We have made a pesto with herbs harvested from the garden using powdered kashk to bring it together.”

Pomegranate concentrate ($15.99)
“It has some acidity to it. We use it in dressings, even salsas,” says Laura.

Hamati pita bread ($4.99)
“It’s the best commercial pita bread in the region, in my opinion,” says Sayat. “It’s the pita we’ll be using when we’re cooking at Outside Lands this year.”

The image shows several packages of mini white pita bread, labeled with nutritional information, stacked on a metal shelf in a store.
In Laura and Sayat's opinion, Hamati, based in San Bruno, makes the best commercial pita bread around. | Source: Juliana Yamada for The Standard

“Lebanese-style” pickled turnip ($6.99)
“This is the best jarred fermented pickle you can get is [the Mid East brand],” says Sayat. “It continues to ferment in the jar, which is why there are bubbles—so watch out.”

Muhammara made by Samiramis ($5.99)
“Everyone knows hummus but muhammara [a garlicky walnut-red pepper spread] is my favorite,” says Laura.

A hand dispenses "Chickpeas Double Roast" from a bulk bin into a plastic container, with a price sign showing $5.99 per pound.
Sayat loves the protein-filled, crunchy double-roasted chickpeas called Leblebi. | Source: Juliana Yamada for The Standard

Roasted chickpeas ($4.99/lb)
“Leblebi, which are roasted chickpeas, is a word we love. We thought of naming a restaurant leblebi,” says Sayat. “They’re high in protein and low in salt. The best nut that isn’t a nut.”

Ulker Biskrem Duo Cookies with Cocoa Cream ($3.50)
Laura says, “These cookies are the best!”

📍Samiramis Imports, 2990 Mission St., Mission District
📍Dalida, 101 Montgomery St., Presidio

Sara Deseran can be reached at