M & I International Foods is the place to go to for Russian imports and other Eastern European produce here in New York City. “Brighton Beach” came from a naming contest that reminded the developers of a beach resort in Brighton, England. In the 1950s, the neighborhood welcomed its first settlers of second-generation Americans from Holocaust survivors. Twenty years later, refugees from the former Soviet Union started calling it their own Little Odessa.
After the long subway ride from the upper west side, we finally reached the Brighton Beach stop on the Q. The weather was damp and gray, but I couldn’t imagine a more perfect setting to stay in one place and eat. And then I realized I didn’t bring my camera! Ack! Good thing Cameron brought hers and it saved the day.
Pickles and Slaws:
I love a good slaw. Take away the mayonnaise and I’ll eat crunchy cabbage with bite. I also couldn’t get enough of their cucumber pickles. I ended up taking home two pints and they were all gone three days later.
I love me some herring, but for the sake of pacing ourselves and trying something new(ish), I opted for the trout, the sturgeon and the sardines instead. The trout was smoked and naturally sweet; the sturgeon salted and dried; the sardines icky and fishy. We pulled the guts out and I just couldn’t finish eating it. Somehow, it was very different from a refined slice atop sticky rice and some nori.
Fat and Meats:
I’ve looked forward to the Russian lardo ever since I watched the Andrew Zimmern episode about New York City. Because everyone behind the counter at M & I only speaks English when prodded, I found it painful to ask the surly old lady to slice it for me like prosciutto. Our plastic utensils didn’t help slice through the large chunk of fat when we tried to consume it at the store, but it was so lovely when I got home! One swipe of my Global knife and the Dr. and I were picking at it and drinking it with a bold red wine. It’s still in the fridge, but we’ve been doing damage ever since.
The smoked belly was one of the prettiest things I saw at the store. I mean, just check out the mustard seeds on it! As expected, each small bite was soft and fatty, but very succulent and sweet.
Probably the best thing we ate all day was the pressed beef tongue. You’ll devour it as fast as we did if you could just get past the gristly look of it. Don’t let the appearance fool you, though. The texture is smooth and jelly-like and each slice goes down like a well-cooked piece of beef.
Upstairs in the small café, we pointed at a few pieces to try: baba ghanoush, bell peppers and eggplants, cabbage leaves stuffed with pork, potato lattkes stuffed with chicken and mushrooms.
There were plenty of freshly-baked breads, phyllo-wrapped everything and interesting-looking pastries made of honey, almonds and apricots. I even drank a coriander soda that tasted like a watered-down Robitussin. (No, that wasn’t good.) Four hours later, we’ve gone up and down the three-level grocery and deli store and have sampled all kinds of familiar and not-so-familiar delicacies from very far away places. All we had to do was take the subway.
M & I International Foods is at 249 Brighton Beach Avenue in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn.