Photo by Jodi Miller

Counter Culture

When I moved to Columbus at the age of nine, I’ll be honest: it seemed pretty, well, white. Moving from a place as colorful and culturally mixed as New Orleans made Columbus appear a touch lackluster. Wheres the good pastry shop? Where are the seafood shacks? Where do we go to eat Indian food? (Yes, even at nine, I was already an experienced traveler and international food nerd).

Today, I can happily say that the cultural composition of Columbus has flowered into something much more diverse than I ever would have anticipated. And with this change has come a multitude of ethnic markets, each showcasing flavors from its respective culture.

A lot of these markets tend to have snacks very near the checkout, which is a great way to familiarize oneself with the various tastes. Many of these come in a friendly and approachable dough-encased form. I visited several of my favorite markets to wrangle some of these bread-wrapped treats. Here’s what to look for:

Global Mall 2210 Morse Rd.

This space has the feeling of a Somali commerce center, with various merchants selling their wares. Feeling hungry? Skip the shopping and head straight, where you will find a coffee shop. Several varieties of snacks are on display, but you want the Sambusas, triangles of warm, stretchy, flaky dough filled with meat or fish. I know what you’re thinking: “Fish?” Don’t be scared. The flaky tuna is accompanied by hot pepper, plenty of sautéed onion, cilantro, and a delightful spice blend. The beef is equally delicious, with a healthy hit of cumin to give it that savory, earthy crave-ability.

Luc’s Asian Market 3275 Sullivant Ave.

This is a small market with predominantly Vietnamese offerings. There is even a little café in the back. Near the checkout look for the sesame-seed-studded oblong–shaped Banh Ran Man.  Apparently a popular street food in Hanoi, these “fried salty cakes” have a sweet, glutinous, rice-flour shell and are stuffed with minced pork, black mushroom and onion. Sound funky? They’re delicious. I mean, fried dough and pork—what’s not to like?

India Grocers 5839 Sawmill Rd.

While I’m guessing that most of you know what a samosa is, I’ll fill the rest of you in: a samosa is a triangular pastry stuffed with potatoes, peas, and spices (most notably cumin and coriander with a little bit of heat). Easily found in a hot-case by the counter, these things have been known to disappear later in the day, so get there early. And don’t buy just two or you’ll be kicking yourself halfway home. These (pictured) are the best around.

Euro Market 5833 Sawmill Rd.

Nestled right next to India Grocers is this little gem. Here you will find mostly Russian offerings and a great deli, which features an ever-changing array of dough-swaddled goodies. Try the sour cherry pirozhki, encased in a sweet, challah-like dough, or the zrazi: a fried mashed potato cake stuffed with meat (I think ours had chicken pate).

Belle’s Bread 1168 Kenny Centre Mall

While this is more of a bakery than a market, I couldn’t write about doughy snacks without mentioning the curry donut with egg. It’s like a beignet stuffed with Japanese curried beef and a hard-boiled egg—a Godzilla-like creature enhanced by gamma rays, destroying all hunger in its path. EAT ONE!!!

The great thing about testing out new foods in snack-size is that you don’t have to make a large financial commitment. If it’s not your favorite thing, just eat one little snack and go get dinner somewhere else. Or eat a boatload. Just leave some for me.