Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Market Day Russian Style:

I am in the midst of reading War and Peace, a novel that I hope to finish this year. While this lovely novel (so far) highlights the Francophilia of the Russian urban aristocratic class, reading it still makes me dream of Russian food. The east side of Cleveland has a large population of post-Soviet (and Soviet) era immigrants. And with immigrancy, there are the requisite restaurants, grocery stores and video stores. Today, we visited the Overseas Imports in East Gate Plaza. This was my first visit to this little market, but not my last. I was truly impressed. It was clean and organized. I have never really experienced Eastern European food in its glory. Well, I know those items that are part of the Jewish-American kitchen—kasha, lox, blintzes. And, my friend M—, of Polish descent, makes lovely pierogi (and her mother even lovelier ones). But, much of the creamy salads, borschts, and dilled potatoes existed only in textual sources.

It was an interesting experiment to walk into a grocery store without any preconceived desires or taste memories. Asian grocery stores have always been part of my life—depending on the type of market, I can imagine a good percentage of what the wares might taste like. But, everything at the Overseas Imports seemed new to me. There was a aisle of jarred, whole tomatoes. In fact, there was a whole selection of summer’s bounty (fruits, beets, mushrooms) encapsulated within brine, vinegar, sugar syrup. I had this feeling of sitting in an old Russian home in St Petersburg eating thick brown bread and currant preserves off chipped china while watching thick snow drifts. Preservation seems to me to be a cultural coping mechanism against long winters in Russia. Of course, preservation also leads to wonderful taste sensations. Even with refrigeration and the ability to have cucumbers all winter long, we still eat pickles with our sandwiches.

This isn't to say it was all cold winter food. There was a fair share of levity--it in the form of sweets. There were some lovely, Francophilic cakes. There was one reminicent of an opera cake that really tempted me. And, then there was a wall of candies. As I was wandering the aisles with Belle in one arm, I didn't even attempt to peak into the bins. Afterall, I had barely entered the store, and wasn't about to be thrown out because my 2 year old had chosen to pillage their candy supply.

This was a quick trip, so I didn’t leave with much—some interesting rosehip jam, some cute Easter biscuits, and hot Russian mustard. This evening, I am still kicking myself for missing out of the cheeses and meats at the deli stand. If you can bear the Mayfield Road construction, this is a must visit grocery store.


Chef Erik said...

I've never had Russian food befor, I wonder if I would like it. Great post, I had fun reading it.

Heidi Robb said...

I can't begin to count the numerous times I've driven by this market without stopping. Thanks to our post I will venture in next time. There are treasures waiting inside.