There's a little pocket of Mount Auburn Street in Watertown that is home to several Middle Eastern markets. None of them is that large in size, but all are filled to the brim with rows upon rows of olives, cheeses, grains, spices, and other items. Amongst the refrigerated cases of produce and the shelves of pita bread in more sizes than one would think is possible, there's also a treasure trove of cheap eats, any of which could make the perfect breakfast, lunch, snack, or dinner.
On this particularly hot day, it's quiet as we begin at Sevan. It's been around since the early '70s; in the mid '80s, the team started making prepared foods in-house. It's not crowded at the moment, just a steady stream of one or two shoppers at a time. One man has a basket that is overflowing with goods. It's getting too heavy to handle, so he sets it on the counter and continues shopping.
Towards the back of the store and leading right up to the register, rows of colorful salads and dips are sold by the pound, delicious in their own right, but the real treat is in the last refrigerator case. Shelves are stacked high with bogachas, or savory pies. They come in a wide variety of flavors, including spinach and cheese, mushrooms and onions, and many more. The soujouk (a spiced beef sausage) stuffed bogachas cost just $2.99 each. They can be ordered cold, or an employee will give one a blast in the oven to warm it up. When it's warm, the fat from the sausage runs off and absorbs into the pillowy dough that surrounds it.
The second bite of the day looked like a giant, flat, pale cinnamon bun. Advertised as a spinach and cheese roll, and sold for $3.99, it had an exterior that was flaky and buttery and gave way to a savory spinach-and-cheese-filled center.
On the next block sits Arax Market. This store has the most produce of the three shops, and there's also a large selection of prepared salads and falafel, individually packaged and ready to go. Also up for grabs: lamejun, the popular Middle Eastern "pizza." A trio of mini meat pies for $5.99 catches the eye. Their edges are artistically crimped and golden brown, exposing a center of spiced ground beef. They're like miniature, more doughy versions of the famed lamejun.
Arax is bustling with its workers unloading new goods and shifting products around the store. There are a couple of shoppers milling about, and one woman has a shopping cart full of dates and not much else.
The next and final market on the strip, Massis, offers a small amount of produce in the front of the store and a smaller amount of items being sold overall, but more variety of each specific item. There's a whole aisle devoted just to honey and tahini, available in small peanut butter jar sizes all the way up to giant vats of the popular sesame paste. There's an olive bar and a wall of refrigerators that offer prepared foods like dips, salads, and falafel.
Unlike the other shops, Massis also allows patrons the opportunity to order sandwiches in addition to its other fresh-baked specialties, like the tomato and pepper pie, which comes in a pack of two for $2.99, and the meat boregs, which come four to a pack for $4.99.
The pie, which also comes in other varieties, is slightly doughy, and the top is rubbed with a mixture of onions, ground tomatoes, and spices. It's bright and acidic. The boreg, which is a triangular, meat-filled pastry, is lighter than one would think it'd be, with soft dough hugging a seasoned, light beef mixture. Getting back to the sandwiches, the Mediterranean cheese sandwich ($4.99) is really a wrap with a blend of halloumi and akawi cheeses that are melted into toasted pita bread before it's wrapped around chopped tomatoes, fresh mint, and briny green olives. The whole thing is wrapped up and presented warm, ready to be eaten.
It's easy to find an affordable meal on the go, and there's plenty to choose from within these three stores, all inexpensive but very satisfying in flavor.