I found Russia in Richmond. Does that surprise you too?
I’d had my eye on Gastronom European Deli since last week, when we went to Lulu Island Winery. I had assumed it was a western European deli, and wanted to pickup our winery picnic there. It was closed, however, so I saved it for yesterday and headed there on my bike.
As soon as I walked in, I knew it wasn’t the deli I was expecting. For starters, the woman who came from behind the counter spoke to me in Russian, then looked surprised when I stammered apologetically “I only speak English!”
Fortunately she does too, and could not have been a more gracious host. Limor and her husband came to Richmond 10 years ago, and are originally from Uzbekistan. They emigrated to Israel before coming to Canada, and their time on the Mediterranean is evident in the shop as well. When I asked what she thinks of BC, she said “everything we touch here is good.”
Immigrants use kitchens to reconnect with their former homes, and the culinary scene in Richmond is a perfect example. Having lived abroad I can fully relate to this, though it usually just meant I ate way too much peanut butter in England or craved cheddar while in Italy. I was hardly desperate, but know there are few greater comforts than the taste of familiar food. Gastronom Deli provides classic Russian fare to those in Richmond who miss it.
Whether travelling or at home, I love exploring grocery shops with goods that are foreign to me, just as I did at H Mart. It’s even better when you have someone like Limor to explain it all; for example, these are a kind of semi-dried fish that taste good with beer, and apparently men especially like them!
Or, these are the wafers they use to make a traditional no-bake cake,
which looks like this when it’s done.
The deli is filled with meats, cheeses, fish, candy, dark rye bread, tea, tinned goods, biscuits, books, and anything else a native of Russia or its surrounding countries might crave.
I asked Limor to slice a variety of meats and cheese for me to take, and picked up various other goodies. I tried a type of Russian bologna, and a red, chorizo-like cured sausage that I LOVED (far right, sorry for the slightly blurred photograph).
It was especially good when eaten with slices of this mild, smoked cheese.
Of course, I had to get a few of the fish, which friends and I ate while drinking a Czech pilsner. Limor’s instructions were to “cut off the head, then eat up to the tail.” It was far softer than I’d expected it would be, with a relatively strong, almost mackerel-like flavour. She was right – good with beer!
Limor didn’t know the name of the fish in English, but referred to it as “moiva.” Google has since told me it’s capelin, a fatty fish from the north. And hey, I found capelin caviar at H Mart just the other day! It’s all coming together. Thanks, internet.
As Limor cut the deli items and I wandered the shop, I quite literally gasped with excitement when I saw this sign:
Homemade perogies are one of my favourite foods, but they’re not always easy to find them unless you make your own, happen upon a Ukrainian church bazaar, or ‘know someone who knows someone who makes them.’ Limor currently only makes meat-filled perogies, but can make large batches of others (including cherry or potato) upon request. They come frozen in 1 kilo bags for about $15, and I took some home to cook up. This variety was different from the half-moon shape I’m used to, but every bit as wonderful.
I took them home and boiled them til they rose to the top of the water, then fried them in a pan with butter. My sister and I ate them with sour cream, chopped green onion, and a sprinkle of parmesan cheese. They were fantastic.
I got a thin slice of vanilla halva, which is a near/middle-eastern sweet made from ground sesame seeds and sugar. This was one of the traditional foods Limor and her husband carried with them from Israel. Figuratively, of course.
Resembling French pâté, pieces of halva are sliced off a brick; it crumbles easily in the mouth and has a sweet, nutty flavour. It’s almost like marzipan, but with sesame instead of almonds. Funnily-enough, it reminds me of my prairie-raised Grandpa, who discovered halva in his 80’s and snacked on it regularly for a few years. I should take him some the next time I visit!
I also purchased a container of fresh cheese that’s made locally. It’s referred to as cottage cheese, but it’s far drier than what you’ll find in most North American grocery stores. I opted for the 10% in the red container, and Limor gave me a basic recipe for using it:
Mix the entire container with one cup of flour (though I might use 3/4 cup next time to increase the cheese flavour),
2 eggs, and 1-2 tablespoons of sugar. Mix just until a dough has formed, and roll into balls.
Pat these into patties, and fry in butter or oil on a low/medium heat until golden brown.
They make perfect snacks, and can be eaten plain, with honey, jam, chocolate, or whatever else you fancy.
My sister and I ate ours dipped in maple syrup, and some with my roommate’s homemade strawberry jam. They were simple and wonderful. They’d be great with some lemon zest added in, or cinnamon and nutmeg. You could also leave out the sugar and make them savoury by adding chives, fresh herbs, and/or a bit of smoked paprika.
Thank you to Limor for showing me around her shop, and for sharing this recipe.
And thank you to fried cheese, for being so good.
Cash and cards accepted
Vegetarian options available, though the perogies are not.