Caravan Bazaar was not even on my radar until last week when my S53 bus whizzed by it just after descending from the Verrazano Bridge, headed to places further into the interior of Staten Island. I frantically Googled and wrote down the place immediately, now needing to return. It satisfied my curiosities with flying colors and is a very fun market to enjoy.
Just under two years old, the market does not seem to get many walk-ins being on busy, car-centric Hylan Blvd, and focuses on satisfying the demands of the Russian and Central Asian populations that live in the island. The hot food and salad bars focus on the tastes of pan-Soviet cuisine with some Korean salads, cooked by Korean immigrants who landed first in Uzbekistan. (This is not unusual, for more on this read about it here).
Unlike some of the city's restaurants with Korean chefs from Uzbekistan, the cuisine here seems to focus more on the Russian and Uzbek flavors than the Korean. They have plenty of Uzbek favorites from kebabs to samsa, but cater to their more "focused" Russian customers with chicken Kiev, kotleti, and the like.
The entire length of one wall is dedicated to providing many options, with cold salads to the left and hot dishes to the right. I got a combination of as much as I could muster and ended up paying $12 and change for the portions below, well more than one person should eat in one sitting. Each item has a different price, so you end up using a lot of different containers.
The only thing I did not like was the Korean "spicy marinated fish" ($6.99/lb, top left), which like most Korean salads takes on that red pepper character of kimchi. When I started loading up my container, the proprietor warned me "Oh, that's SPICY." Those are good words to hear, I thought, and assured him I would be fine. Weirdly, it is not spicy at all, and the fish is flimsy and odd. Head to Brighton Beach for much better hye options.
The salad olivie ($4.99/lb, above right) is always a satisfying favorite, and good here. I noticed a Russian who had come in after me fill up a cup and I followed suit jealously. Afterwards, I asked for recommendations and received pretty broad strokes. There were two specific dishes that were narrowed down on though, the kotleti ($6.49/lb, bottom left), juicy and delicious ground chicken meatballs of sorts. It is surprising to find ground meat so moist, there must be plenty of butter and cream in these. The second was "beef with sweet and sour sauce" which I immediately hoped was solyanka ($8.99/lb), a stew made sour with pickles. I was very happy when I took my first bite at home, although this version was the least soup-y I had ever had.
"Bazaar" is a lofty goal, but they do import many products from Russia and former Soviet Republics. If you suspend reality for a moment, stepping into the store from the noise of Hylan Boulevard, you can reach these goals though, possibly. The prized booty of a long camel caravan just arriving from distant lands with all manner of products from the places of one's childhood.
Many products, including some interesting beverages from the fridge, are all in cyrillic without helpful words for English speakers, so you have to go with the photos and colors. This is all part of the fun though. I chose a couple toxic-colored sodas, and would only order the tarragon flavor again. The barberry tastes like liquid bubblegum.
Caravan Bazaar also has baked breads and desserts that look very good, as well raw marinated meats to take home and grill yourself. It really is a one-stop bazaar for many of the island's Russians. The only drawback for those of us that have to travel a bit to get there is that there is no seating and Hylan Boulevard offers nothing in the way of comfortable shaded areas. A 15-minute walk north would lead you to Brady's Pond Park, which looks favorable from Google Earth for a picnic spot. Let me know.