Thursday, January 17, 2008

Visit Eastern Europe . . . Without a Passport

I made another trip to Bell's Market in Northeast Philadelphia this morning and left wishing I had a lot more refrigerator and pantry space.

A main attraction for me is the wide expanse of deli cases filled with all manner of Eastern European salamis, sausages, pressed and rolled meats, hams, bacons, etc. The photos below (please excuse the fluorescent glare) provide some idea of the variety.

Salami central. I left with half a pound of a sliced Ukrainian salami, a fat-studded, emulsified and medium smoky stick sliced at an extreme diagonal for a lengthy oval.

Various pressed and rolled cold cuts are available, so I purchased a veal breast roll, which I have yet to taste.

Yummmm, bacon! The lady behind the counter offered me a sample of the fully-cooked Hungarian bacon when I asked what it was compared to others; that was much simpler for her than trying to describe it in English. Very mildly smoked and seasoned, but pleasant. I bought a pound for $3.99. From a self-serve deli case I picked up a pack of Russian-style knockwurst made by a wurstgeschaeft I used to frequent, Gaiser's Pork Store of Union, N.J.

I restrained myself at the smoked fish counter, filled with fish you never heard of as well as whitefish, trout, mackerel, salmon, etc. This is the place for hard-core smoked and preserved fish lovers like me. I'll save major fish buying for my next visit, but I needed some herring so picked up a small jar of Canadian fillet tidbits marinated in dill sauce. There must have been eight or nine different brands/sizes of matjes herring.

The only other fish product I bought was small jar of taramasalata. Here, the jar that would set you back $6 or $7 at Whole Foods sells for $3.50.

Packaged grocery goods offer savings, too. The cocktail-size packages of Rubschlager rye and pumpernickel go for $1.79 and $1.89, vs. $2.50 at supermarkets and $3 at specialty stores like the Reading Terminal Market's Downtown Cheese.

An entire aisle of pickled vegetables and related condiment is a veritable preserved garden. I escaped with one of my more extravagant purchases, an $8.79 large glass jar filled with marinated bolete mushrooms (porcini, just from Latvia instead of Italy) and a jar of red pepper-eggplant spread.

She Who Must Be Obeyed spent most of her time in the chocolate and cookie aisle where a full complement of European staple sweets can be had. SWMBO walked away with a box of Fidelios (hazelnut-encrusted cylindrical cookies), a box of waffle cakes (napoleon-type cookies), industrial packaged croissants filled with apricot jam, and some German chocolates. I couldn't resist a 700 gram (1.5 pound) box of Turkish halvah with pistachios, priced at $6.59. Lots of different varieties of Turkish delights, too.

From the bakery (just around the corner from the salads and smoked fish) I purchased a slab of what appears to be a variety of Dobish torte, $5.95/pound. Across from there was a variety of packaged breads and breads from other bakeries, including a full range of Teixiera portuguese rolls. I found a round Turkish bread topped with white and black sesame seeds, still warm from the oven.

Among the items I want to try in the future are the various dumplings from the salad cases, especially the pelmeni (a Siberian style meat dumpling) and the cherry dumplings. Bell's Crossing also offers a wide variety of yogurts and other dairy products and beverages that you'll be hard-pressed to find anywhere else in town.

Since many of the ladies behind counters have only rudimentary English skills (though their English is far superior to my Russian), finding out what intriguing-looking items are can sometimes be a challenge. But even if you're mistaken and find out what you've taken home isn't quite what you thought it was, it's still going to be delicious. Since it wasn't too busy this morning the staff, which can occasionally be brusque, tried to help when they could.

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