Little makes me as happy as an ethnic grocery of some sort. The less familiar I am with the food the happier I am. It’s like a little vacation in an exotic local–new smells, unfamiliar language, packaging that doesn’t look like what you see at Giant Eagle. One of my favorite grocery experiences was at the Carribean place on the corner of N.Market and 7th St. The carried a product called “Dried Snails on a Stick.” And it appeared to be–wait for it–dried snails on a stick. There were meats in the coolers I couldn’t identify with a forensics expert. Blackened and haphazardly hacked. I maintain that it looks as if some animals were herded into the shop. The coolers were opened and a bomb went off. Then the coolers were closed. Eat up! Hot sauce that would curl you hair, too. There wasn’t enough there for a vegetarian that I’ve been back, but it makes me happy to see it there.
My newest discovery is the Russian market on the corner of E.Church and East St. It’s in that location that people keep opening delis. Steve and I often wonder what makes the 3rd guy think HIS deli will thrive when the previous two have closed within months? I think it changed hands 5 or 6 times in the 8 years we lived downtown. Well now it’s a deli/grocery specializing…okay pretty much exclusively carrying, Russian and other Slavic foods. I know NOTHING about Russian food or language. The girl working in the store very sweetly escorted me around trying to tell me what things were. Most packaging has some English on it–at least an ingredients list–so it wasn’t a total walk in the dark.
My family loves Halvah–traditionally a sweet sesame paste. Ben likes that traditional kind, but most of the rest of us find it bitter. We loved, however, the sunflower seed halvah we found at the European Market (that’s what it’s called. Even though most of its food is techincally Asian). I always have to sample the sweets of other lands. It’s a pretty safe bet that the candy bar doesn’t have meat, even in Slavic countries. We got a pretty tasty vegetable pate in a jar and I saw a lot of pickles. Other than that, well, you’re left with a few cheeses. It’s a meaty place, so if just seeing meat skeeves you, you might oughta stay out. I’m hearty farm girl stock, though, so I spent a good long time poking around. I visited twice, once getting mostly sweets (you can get various chocolates by the pound, and they have some yummy German Kinder chocolate as well).
My second trip, I got some kefir cheese, which I’d never tried. Kefir is a terrific source of probiotics and can often be digested even by people with sesitivities to most dairy (your mileage may vary). The cheese is textured like feta, but flavored like cream cheese. I find I like it crumbled on my salad. I got a whipped butter, which was disappointing. Not the grand European butter experience I’d hoped for, but the kids like it b/c it spreads easily. From the freezer, I got…crud, I through out the package and I wont remember what they were called..but they were like teeny pieroges–pasta stuffed with potatoes and fried onions. I boiled them and served them mixed with broccoli and cherry tomatoes. Simple and kind of bland, but the kids LOVED it. I have to go back and try the feta, it comes in such huge blocks I was daunted.
It’s tiny and cramped, but certainly worth a field trip, if only to gawk and pick up a Kinder Egg before you go. Support diversity of cuisine!