If you ask Elena Sopt what dish you should have at Simply Delicious, you can’t finish the question before she says, “Cabbage rolls!”
That answer is just fine by me.
She and her daughter, Denisa Danciu, have run Simply Delicious for about four years. It’s technically Danciu’s business, but Sopt helps out, because, she says simply, “I really like it.”
Sopt previously operated Everyday Gourmet, another of the dozen or so food stands that constitute the international cuisine vendors on Kitchener Market’s upper level.
During the weekday, noon-hour tables are occupied primarily by students, eating the affordable and predictably narrow range of fries and pizza slices. Otherwise, Sopt says her customer base is wide.
“This is my food and my family’s,” she says, smiling with the pride one so often senses when people are talking about their food.
Everything on the menu is hearty. For breakfast, that includes an omelette or peameal bacon or sausage and two eggs and homefries, while at lunch you can get traditional eastern European comfort-food dishes like goulash, schnitzel and perogies with sautéed onions, bacon and sour cream. It’s all prepared and cooked, essentially, in a family style. For me, that adds a lot of value.
Sopt’s background is Romanian. She’s not a trained cook, she readily notes, but learned on her own and absorbed the recipes and, importantly, the techniques of her family kitchen. “In Romania, we have cabbage rolls, goulash and schnitzel, and every market there must have chevaps,” she says of the little spiced pork sausages.
Sopt’s mother is with them at the Market stand today because they have a lot of cabbage leaves to prepare: it’s a matter of all hands on deck. “They are a lot of work,” she emphasizes.
The cabbage is first fermented in large barrels (in season, they buy local cabbage at the Market). It then takes them hours and hours to prepare enough leaves for the restaurant.
Every week, the team makes about 600 cabbage rolls, Sopt estimates. “Last week, we made 2,000. Someone had a big party and placed an order,” she says, adding that they have a wedding to cater this month.
The stuffing inside the carefully prepared leaves is pork and rice with spices like paprika and some tomato paste. “It’s too dry with beef, so it has to be pork,” Sopt asserts. “This is our recipe from back home.”
The platter ($8.85 for three large cabbage rolls) is a contrast of crunchy sauerkraut and smooth mashed potatoes. “I like the Yukon Gold for mashing, but I add a few Russets to help make them fluffier,” she says. The gravy on the dish is rich and comes from the goulash pot. “We make that from scratch too.”
As I was eating, Sopt brought me a mug of light, milky fluid, cool and aromatic. It’s called “moare,” some of the liquid from the cabbage preparation. It acts, she says, as a digestive, and it’s in fact a nice if not unusual sip on a rainy day.
Simply Delicious is open Tuesday to Saturday from morning to mid-afternoon.
300 King Street East
Kitchener, ON N2G 2L3