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The Russian Deli

March 9, 2010


Delicatessen is a term meaning “delicacies” or “fine foods”. The word entered English via German, with the old German spelling (modern German: Delikatessen), plural of Delikatesse “delicacy”, ultimately from Latin delicatus.- wikipedia.org

I am fascinated and easily excited with places such as ‘Ethnic grocery stores’. Perhaps it’s the food Anthropologist in me.

I took a trip to the Russian deli off Geary a few weeks ago. Somewhere around 32nd  and Clement lies a charming little Cultural experience. This is a deli where Russian immigrants and Americans of East European descent can get their fix of Borscht, jars of pickled everything, European breads and sweets, and more preserved meat than you know what to do with or have time to eat. Or maybe you do.

There’s a lot  of hustle and bustle happening; like cars double parked in the street right outside the deli. People rushing in to buy bread (is it on sale or running out?). And older men standing outside in the cold, speaking in Russian while taking long drags off small cigarettes.

It was as titilating a scene as the film ‘Eastern Promises’ (minus  Viggo Mortenson). Pork products, foreign sweets, languages I can’t speak or understand. Coupled with boxed chocolates and gravlax, yes this makes me very happy… What can I say, I’m a foodie.

And Vodka is sold here. All kinds. And bottles of Polish beer (if you like lager). I presently have a hand selected 6 pack taking space in the fridge and at what point will I get to drinking it? I do not know. Maybe I will throw a Pole themed party complete with pole dancing, ‘Kopytka, and the ‘Eastern Promises sequel.

There were several older Russian women working behind the counter. In my observation, they seemed to help the Russian customers first (to each his own) and they sport big teased hair (yet this isn’t a country store in Dallas) and look as if they should be smoking cigarettes while they’re slicing the sweetly decorated layered cakes with dull knives. They were not smoking, nor do the cakes taste sweet, the knives were sharp though.

There is a vast selection of fried foods in the case for take away, and they look like they are worth trying. At least once in a lifetime (granted my cholesterol levels checked out). Various types of meat, preserved meats, shredded meats, even mystery meats, preserved fishes and maybe vegetables. They get fried too.

The whole back wall is a large refrigerated dedication to the art of preserved meats.. Guess that’s why it’s called a deli.

There is plenty of cheese too, though the white cheese I tried was inedible to me. It brought back un- pleasant memories of the highly processed cheese slices wrapped in clear plastic sleeves and so far removed from cheese but not far removed from being Government issued, remember Kraft cheese? It’s a bit like that but worse.

I got 1 slice of 3 different cakes. I had hopes, and high expectations that they would be every bit as delicious as they looked (I guess it’s true about judging cakes by their cover). In short, they were just dry and tasteless, but so well crafted, decorated, and meticulously layered. I did pick up a bag of ginger cookies covered in sugar, which are currently doing their time in ‘preservation’ on a shelf in the cupboard. They just might stay there.

I’d love to return to the Russian deli for an arm full of sausage, perhaps some preserved fish, fresh blintzes, a bottle of Vodka, and yet another SF experience in an eclectic unexplored neighborhood.

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