Welcome(back) to our food blog. Kirk, ed (from Yuma) and Cathy usually blog in this space. Today, it's Cathy's turn.
Hi again. I've posted about Valley Foods, a small grocery store in El Cajon, run by a group of refugees from Iraq, two times now. It's turned into a regular stop for The Mister and I, for both a quick lunch and a place to do some interesting shopping.
The steam tray area is always interesting. The weekly specials, with even better prices, are listed in the area below the trays.
One day, we tried the lamb shank meal ($7.99) We were asked which rice we wanted to go with the shank and chose this one, which had bulgur and vermicelli. Then the nice lady put some scoops of a tomato and onion sauce on the grain mix before putting the large and moist lamb shank on top of it all.
We were also asked which soup we wanted to go with and chose this spinach-tomato soup, which was really good.
Another day, we chose the fried fish filet meal (also $7.99). This was tilapia, lightly breaded with corn meal and place on saffron rice. This came with the Iraq salad- chopped cucumber and tomatoes in a simple olive oil and lemon dressing and steamed vegetables. The squeeze bottles of pink liquid on the tables, the only condiment other than salt and pepper, is red wine vinegar. I use that with the vegetables as well as the rice after eating about half of it 'plain'.
The masgoof-prepared whole tilapia ($6.99) is in the steam table just like this and this is what you get. The whole fish, split and grilled with a whole onion and a whole tomato, also grilled. Usually one of us goes into the store and buys a piece of bread to go with this filling, simple meal.
The kabobs are always fresh and moist. They used to be 99¢ each, but in July the price changed to $1.15 for the chicken and $1.25 for the beef. Very much worth it. Even if you order just one, you get a side of sliced raw onion topped with sumac in the tray.
Here is a cross section photo of the kabobs. You can see some of the herbs which are mixed with the ground meats before grilling. I really like the kabobs here, not only moist, but so flavorful- and large. If we order five, we end up taking two home for dinner.
The chicken schawarma plate ($7.95). I mentioned in one of my other posts about the spits in the back cooking schawarma. This is an easy way to get more than a sandwich. The moist, grilled meat is a hefty portion and comes with lettuce, tomato, house made pickles and house made hummus and a small, hot piece of flat bread, which is made in the store.
As mentioned, we are here to shop also. Walking just past the steam trays is a glass case selling a few lunch meats, like all beef Mortadella, many types of olives, some pickled vegetables and various Feta cheeses. Right next to that case is this open case, selling grab and go items. A few are the same as offered on the steam trays, at the same prices.
Right across from that open refrigerator is this case, which has salads, the house made hummus, house made eggplant dip (that's what they call it, it is not labeled as baba ganoosh) and -the reason I am here at least once a week- house made yoghurt. Each is sold by the pound and I crave the yogurt. It is unlike any yoghurt I have ever tasted. There is a definite 'burned' or smoke flavor to it, along with an initial 'tang' that I just love.
Then there is the texture. You can see the 'skin' that was formed on top of this first scoop taken from the container. The yogurt is thick but not smooth. I always buy a container when here. The price is about $2.59/pound; worth it.
Along the back wall, just next to the open grab and go foods is the bakery. There are fresh sammoon rolls sold in bins just past this area (small, 11¢ each, large 30¢ each). At the end of this sweets display area you may get lucky and see a line of people standing and looking through that door right there. That's where the bread oven is located. If there isn't any fresh bread cooling, then someone is stretching and pulling dough, placing it on the rounded, flat pillow-like paddle and bending over, slapping the bread onto the wall of the hot oven and in less than a minute, grabbing it with long tongs after asking you how many and "white or wheat?" (If there is no line, there is a bell on top of the counter that you can ring to get the Baker's attention)
In a few seconds, the large, hot bread is folded and placed in a paper bag and handed to you. This is a large paper bag and the bread is folded twice.
Here is an unfolded white bread on the stove at home. It covers both right burners, the center burner and part of the left burners-18-ish inches around.
Oh. One piece is 99 cents.
Here is a photo of the wheat bread with a small container of the house made eggplant dip- which also has that smoke flavor-showing a size comparison.
Anyhow, in addition to these prepared foods, the store has a few aisles of basics, a small meat department and even smaller fish selection and a small vegetable department, some bulk bins of grains and sweets. It's a nice, not fancy, local place and I hope everyone has the chance to shop like this near their home.
I hope you are having a good week!
Valley Foods 1275 East Main Street El Cajon 92021 (619) 749-8355 Website