A buddy of mine recently made a shift in his eating habits: fewer burritos, more Mediterranean. Even though I didn’t imagine finding the ingredients for a Mediterranean diet would prove challenging — it is what most every heart doctor and nutritionist preaches these days — making that diet feel adventurous might.
Then we found Balboa International Market in Clairemont Mesa. The Persian-leaning grocery offers a wide array of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern imports. I found olives and oils from various countries, yogurts including both Greek style and Turkish labneh, medjool dates, marinated meats, cured and salted fish, aged and smoked rice, and unique regional dressings such as the fish roe spread tarama. The list goes on.
As supermarkets go, it’s medium sized, with narrow aisles that ensure personal space will be at a premium on a busy weekend. The wise shopper will first head past the produce section to the far right corner of the shop where a traditional Persian brick-oven bakery specializes in making enormous sangak — tender, leavened flatbreads about 12 inches wide and 4 feet in length. These take 10-15 minutes to make, so put in your order before shopping.
A small food court in the shop’s back left corner serves various Persian stews and kebabs plus plastic tubs filled with tasty garnishes such as baba ganoush, hummus, and mast`o musir, a shallot-and-yogurt dressing that I’m likely to slather on everything now.
I found the entire bounty both thrilling and appetizing and conceded to my friend that his foray into a healthier diet would be more adventurous than I thought. Then I discovered the candy counter just to the right of the entrance. Behind a pane of glass sat an endless array of Turkish delights: a colorful variety of blocks and rolls made with starches, jellies, gums, crushed nuts, rosewater, fruit paste, honey, molasses, and sugar.
5907 Balboa Avenue, Clairemont
The ten dollar-per-pound treats are dizzying to behold, and while every market employee I encountered was able to help me process the unfamiliar scope of foodstuffs, one Turkish delight guy had my number. I pointed to a roll of chocolate surrounded by what looked like a coconut marshmallow, and he quickly cut me a few slices. But not before he said, “If you like that, you’ll really like this….”
Five minutes later I walked out holding a dense pound of dessert I hadn’t planned to buy, which probably doesn’t fit the Med diet. But I haven’t a single regret. The fudgy coconut candy tasted like it looked — rich and sweet with a chewy, elastic marshmallow consistency. Another tasted similarly but with hazelnut spread and cinnamon. My favorite was a pomegranate jelly made crunchy with crushed pistachios and an outer ring of chocolate rice puffs.
This supermarket could change the way I eat. It remains to be seen how it will affect my waistline.