It took a minute after I walked into Marina’s International Deli in Cincinnati to get my bearings since nothing was written in English. The market might be small in size, but it is the largest Eastern European market in the region serving customers from Eastern European, middle-Asian and former Soviet republic countries.
Given the amount of traffic coming in and out the door during my visit, I began to understand why Marina’s has been in business for more than two decades.
While the owners of Marina’s, Viktar Lobach and his wife Kseniya, and the employees all speak English, you will find that many of the customers asking for imported German, Russian and Polish food do not.
“Most of the products in our store are made in Europe by European (Polish, Russian, Ukrainian, Armenian, Belarus) cooking recipes, so they have a different taste from American food,” said Viktar Lobach.
As I walk around the store perusing the shelves of candy, meats, snacks and breads all labeled in languages that I cannot understand, I am impressed by the specialties and even exotic selection of food. There are quail eggs for sale alongside chicken eggs in the deli case, lamb dumplings in the chilled section and an entire freezer of novelty ice creams that catch my eye even though I cannot decipher the names of them.
While the foods seem exotic to me, they are a taste of home for the Eastern European community in Cincinnati because Marina’s stocks imported foods that their clientele cannot buy at a conventional grocery store.
Marina’s carries everything from Russian-style meat dumplings (Pelmeni), pierogis (Vareniki), Hinkali and Manty; Russian and European beer; Moldovian, Republic of Georgia, Ukrainian Lithuanian, Slovenian, Romanian, Belarussian and Armenian wines, sparkling wines and sweet liquors; Russian and Lithuanian Ice cream; Herring and smoked mackerel; Russian, Bulgarian, Armenian, Ukrainian and Romanian meat, vegetables and fish preserves; and a large selection of Polish, Russian, Belarussian, Ukrainian and Lithuanian candies, including candies filled with vodka or sweet liquor. There is also a selection of more than 30 kinds of cheese from around the world.
“People can enjoy their usual food from childhood, but it [the market] is also the center of communication,” said Lobach.
Beyond a taste of home, customers can buy magazines and newspapers from their native countries and get specialty medicines from the pharmacy. There’s even a selection of traditional Russian nesting dolls for sale. For the untrained Russian speaker, like me, the woman behind the counter can teach you how to properly pronounce the formal name of the “Matryoshka” dolls. In case you’re wondering, it’s something like this: “Mah-tr-oh-sh-ka.”
This specialty market serves a specific population in the greater Cincinnati region and is an important part of the city’s culture.
“The Cincinnati region is home to a vibrant mix of cultures, each with their own stories, traditions and unique contributions to our community. Places like Marina’s Deli help many Cincinnatians continue to celebrate where they’ve come from and introduce others to their distinct culture and cuisine,” said Jenell Walton, Vice President of Communications and Strategic Development at the Cincinnati USA Convention & Visitors Bureau.
Even if you don’t need anything specific from Marina’s International Deli, it is worth a visit just to experience and appreciate the blend of culture that resides within the small pockets of urban Ohio neighborhoods. You might just walk away tempted to try a Russian ice cream bar or find a new favorite Eastern European snack.