Eastern European food
As more eastern Europeans make London their home, delis selling imported fare for homesick expats are opening across the capital. Time Out's Viv Groskop discovers where to stock up on borsch, spicy sausage, Red October chocolates – and vegetarian caviar.
Tempting paczki (cream buns) on the counter at Polsmak
Since Poland, the Czech Republic and six other East European countries joined the EU in 2004, Slavic delis have sprung up across London; the Cooltura website lists more than 100 Polish ones alone (www.cooltura.co.uk/dystributio.htm). As in their homelands, many sell processed convenience food in familiar branded packaging, but some genuinely represent the best of these countries’ kitchens.
Three years ago it was difficult to get proper smoked sausage anywhere. But in recent months, selected branches of Sainsbury’s, Asda and Tesco have all launched ranges targeting Britain’s 500,000 Poles. Tesco sells borsch (beetroot soup), golabki (stuffed cabbage) and flaki (tripe soup). Sainsbury’s is trialling 32 Polish products in London and the south-east, including hunter’s stew, cassis sauce and marinated plums.
Polish milled flour
The real deal, though, is to be found in Eastern European-owned corner shops, which are increasingly sophisticated and specialised. Prima Delicatessen in West Kensington is widely credited as London’s first Polish deli. It opened in 1947, when Kensington, Balham and Ealing were the hubs of London’s Polish community. The current owners – Warsaw-born Krystyna and Henryk Medzio – have run the place for 33 years and also own Kristina, a baking company supplying Polish goods to shops and restaurants. Their two rye breads (German and Polish) are made daily, along with the best Polish cakes in London. ‘People come for jam, vodka, beer, flour, herrings, butter,’ says Krystyna. ‘Although a lot of our English customers want frankfurters.’
Literally a corner shop, Prima still has its original red-tiled façade. Inside, shelves groan with bottles of pickled vegetables, brightly-coloured borsch and an impressive range of vodka. Krystyna first came to England 48 years ago and was a customer for a decade before being persuaded to take over the business. Today’s customers can try before buying and expect good value; on a recent visit I bought cheese, ham, rye bread, doughnuts, chocolate-coated plums and a huge slab of twarog (curd cheese) – and still had change from a tenner.
Morawski, near Willesden Junction, is another Polish classic. It’s been open for 50 years and sports a distinctive, old-style shop front. Stock includes excellent golabki (meat-stuffed cabbage), pierogi (dumplings), zurek (rye soup) and potato dumplings, alongside one of the few selections of Romanian products in London: beer, wine and bacon.The new wave of delis embraces London’s booming foodie culture. Polish deli Polsmak, opened by Inga Wojciechowska in October 2003, takes the concept upmarket. ‘At first, not many people knew how to go about opening these places; until 2004 there were few suppliers. I started out like any immigrant – I was a cleaner, I worked in a pub, I studied for an MA – and then I realised that there was an opening for a shop like this: a proper delicatessen, quite posh.’