Continent European Deli4150 Regents Park RowLa Jolla858-623-0099
Going on an edible
A friend had just moved into a new apartment, and I thought we'd celebrate the best way I know how—with food. Her new place in La Jolla Colony is near a favorite takeout eatery, Continent European Deli, so I stopped by to pick up a house-warming dinner for us to share. This La Jolla market is the slightly younger sibling of the Rolondo-area Continent Deli—the two Eastern European markets were opened by partners Irina Kanevsky and Edward Serper about 15 years ago. My friend, who is Bosnian, asked me to look for her favorite sweets: chocolate-covered, heart-shaped cookies filled with honey.
Irina Aslanyan, a longtime employee, patiently doled out tastes as I added to a growing stack of food containers that were piling on the countertop. Each bite reminded me of my grandmother, whose family is from Manchuria, part of northeastern China that shares a border with Russia. Her hometown of Harbin once contained the largest population of Europeans in Asia, around 100,000 ex-pat Russians in the 1930s, and I grew up eating her version of borscht, a ruby-red-hued soup, naturally colored by beets and full of cabbage, potatoes, carrots and tomatoes. It's flavored with dill, the predominant herb in Russian cuisine, and served traditionally with a dollop of sour cream.
The market is grouped into sections based on food type; a wall of candy and chocolates sits opposite shelves lined with jarred pickles. One refrigerated case holds tins of caviar and smoked fish, from mackerel to cold and hot smoked sturgeon, and a meat case is laden with fresh and cured sausages. I tried a slice of dry Moscow salami, made with pork, before asking Irina to pack up a quarter-pound along with the same measure of a soft, nutty Russian cheese. A loaf of Russian rye was added to the house-warming bundle, and I selected a thinly sliced, chewy wholemeal rye to take home to toast for breakfast.
Another counter features salads and colorful marinated vegetables from all Slavic regions that are made fresh daily. I love beets every which way, so I always get a bit of creamy grated beet salad. I have a similar affection for eggplant, so I hoped my friend felt the same way as I ordered a Georgian dish of eggplant slices, some rolled around feta cheese and some filled with spicy carrot slaw. The carrot salad can purchased on its own and has a delicious garlic-chili kick. Another tasty showcase for eggplant is the Armenian salad, an outstanding combo of caramelized onions, silky-centered chunks of fried eggplant and the sweet, grassy flavor of chopped dill.
I chose a couple of home-made piroghki—stuffed buns made differently depending on their country of origin. There are shallow-fried potato piroghki made with a raised dough and sweet apple piroghki made from puff pastry. Traditionally, puff pastry piroghkis are mostly of the dessert variety, but Continent makes savory ones filled with chicken, mushrooms and prunes that are very tasty.
For our dessert, I found my friend's favorite cookies and picked up a thick slice of sweet bread swirled with a poppy-seed filling that reminds me of a similar pastry that I used to love at Samson's, now called Elijah's, in La Jolla Village.
When I finally arrived at my friend's place, I found that she had yet to buy a dining room table, so we laid out our picnic on the living-room coffee table. As we perched on her landlord's couch in this new and unfamiliar space, plates balanced in our laps, we clinked wine glasses and dove into the delicious spread. It was plain to see that all it takes is some good food and friends to start turning a house into a home. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.