Exploring ethnic markets: Mediterranean Food Imports

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From the July 25, 2013 edition

What’s in store

Fans of falafel and lovers of hummus will discover they’ve hit the Middle Eastern mother lode in this deeply stocked shop no bigger than a bodega. Think Ali Baba’s cave, only the treasures — apart from some hookahs sparkling in the front window — are edible.

Related to other same-named markets (there’s a Hilliard outlet and a semi-famous brother north of campus), this MFI does its own butchering, baking and sandwich-making (arguably the best — and cheapest — shawarmas in town). So while it sells a wide array of pita (including whole wheaters), the best loaves are baked-here beauties.

Expect to inspect lanes of enticing spices, olive oils, killer labneh balls (tangy yogurt cheese), stuffed grape leaves in a can (better than you’d think; you can also buy materials to roll your own), cases of candies and baklava-style pastries (head for the homemade), and jars of makdous (stuffed and pickled baby eggplants — an amazing snack). In the rear, you’ll see whole lambs and goats hanging and waiting to be broken down Halal-style, as well as a case holding homemade (and ready-for-grilling) kefta kebabs, spicy sausages (e.g. sujuk) and lots more.

Grocery list

· Tahini (sesame paste): A key ingredient in hummus and baba ghanouj and, when thinned out with lemon juice and/or yogurt and water, is great on all kinds of salads, sandwiches, etc.; its varieties here rival peanut butters in Kroger.

· Spicy Lebanese olives ($4/pound) + creamy French feta ($7/pound): Really impressive — and so easy! — as a last-minute party purchase.

· Homemade “zatar bread” ($2): Aromatic and addictive zatar (a versatile herb, spice and sesame seed mixture also sold by the pound) crusted onto puffy, baked-here flatbread.

· Namoura (Lebanese semolina cake with nuts, syrup and coconut; a $7 portion serves about six): Bypass the packaged stuff and grab the made-here, sometimes-warm, but always wonderful dessert.

· “Extra” or “Super Extra” nut mix ($9; brands vary): These dry-roasted Lebanese babies are the best.

· Ziyad brand baba ghanouj in a can ($2): Believe it! You’ll fool your friends with this smoky, tangy, rich, all natural and surprisingly delicious stuff.

Dine-in

Actually, MFI’s lavishly loaded, fresh, juicy, really lamb-y and really fantastic shawarmas ($6) are only sold to go — along with other kickin’ kabob sandwiches, falafel and various, expected Middle Eastern favorites.