I got a taste of Russia recently in Reisterstown. It was in Babushka Deli, a small store filled with American flags and Russian foodstuffs. I found the deli near a bowling alley, Bowl America, in a shopping center on Reisterstown Road just north of Franklin Boulevard.
I ate a fistful of salami on a couple of slices of dense rye bread topped with pungent pickles. This was a sandwich made to chew. It was my idea of lunch.
Throughout the store were handwritten signs, some in English, some in Russian, touting the whiting, the Russian "ravioly" and the Mad Ludwig, a sandwich made of smooth liverwurst, Swiss cheese, raw onion and pickle.
I was not brave enough to try the Mad Ludwig, but I left laden with chunks of rye bread and a jar of pickles, or, as the label described them, "cucumbers in brine," which means they were bathed in salt and plenty of garlic, but not in vinegar.
Babushka Deli, I learned later, is about a year and half old and is the most recent addition to a handful of enterprises in Northwest Baltimore and its suburbs catering to Russian tastes.
The first was the Old World Delicatessen & Bakery in Randallstown. The store was already well-known for its selection of German and other Western European foods when, in the late 1970s, the first wave of Russian refugees arrived in Baltimore. These new residents found their way to the Old World Delicatessen and began asking for Russian fare, said store manager Gary Hein.
Many of these immigrants came to Baltimore with the help of Jewish organizations and families located in Northwest Baltimore. Once they got their bearings in the new
neighborhoods, they began looking for familiar food.
Russians, for instance, wanted fish sausages that used a cold smoking process, Mr. Hein said, not the hot smoking process that the Scandinavians prefer. The cold smoking gives fish a fleshy texture and salty flavor, he said. The Russians also preferred meat sausages that were cold smoked, a process that gives the meat a big dose of smoke and garlic.
Mr. Hein found butchers and fish smokers who make food to these tastes in Brighton Beach, a section of Brooklyn, N.Y., where large numbers of Russians have settled.
Next to arrive on the scene, about five years ago, was the International Food Market Inc. at 6970 Reisterstown Road, a small store owned by two Russian families.
Nella Solovyovsky told me the story of how she and her husband, Nick, her sister Lisa Rudyak, and her brother-in-law Michael Rudyak set up their store. The two families arrived in America some 15 years ago and worked at several jobs, including driving cabs and in beauty shops. They saved their money and opened the store. They continue to hold other jobs, and take turns staffing the store, she said.
The families are from the Ukraine, the breadbasket of Europe. Their store stocks a variety of breads. While Mrs. Solovyovsky is proud of the store's food, she noted the store has a social side as well.
"Russians tend to live together," she said. "So people walk here and come to schmooze around, to find out what is going on. And when they schmooze around, they buy something."
The food at the store is, she said, aimed at "European taste, not sweet and too peppery." And the service, she added, is personal. "I try to kiss everybody I possibly can."
Before Lazar Ozeryan and his wife, Inna, opened Babushka Deli, he was a supermarket manager in Moscow. The Russian store he worked in had a number, not a name. Mr. Ozeryan called his store Babushka, a Russian word meaning kindly grandmother, because he thought it would convey a sense of warmth. And because a friend of his in Boston had a successful store called Babushka.
His mother-in-law, Tamara Gorlova, along with his wife and two daughters, keeps the store staffed. The store is open seven days a week. "We work like horses," Mr. Ozeryan said.
Getting supplies for the store was relatively simple, Mr. Ozeryan said, especially compared to doing the same in Russia.
"In Russia we had very good salami," he said. "But not enough and [it was] very expensive." The Russian salami sold in Babushka's is a round sausage stuffed with bright red meat and signature flecks of flavor-laden fat.
During our talk, Mr. Ozeryan dotted his conversation with references to the importance of his family, with criticism and longing for his native Russia, and with enthusiasm for his future in America.
He was exceedingly polite and anxious to be a good neighbor. For instance, he said he keeps beef tongue on the deli menu because the former occupant of his store was Bullock's Country Meats. "Mr. Bullock, he is a very nice man, and he has good meat. His customers come here and want to buy beef tongue, so I keep it for them," Mr. Ozeryan said.
Bob Bullock confirmed the story and said that the new Russian deli has turned into a good customer for the meat from Maryland-bred cattle. "We send them all the beef tongue we can get," he said.