An A to Z guide of the delicatessen

By Ellyn Peratikou

The deli is a foodie’s paradise, filled with mouthwatering produce from around the globe. Follow our A to Z guide of all the gourmet foods and wine you can buy there

They’re packed with the freshest, most vibrant ingredients. The aromas that emanate from them alone are enough to leave you salivating – we can, of course, only be talking about the vast number of delicatessens that have been popping up on high streets across Britain in recent years.

Whether you live or work near an independent deli, an established chain, or just have access to the deli counter at your local supermarket, nowadays you have the luxury of sampling some of the best and most delicious foods from all around the world, all under one roof. Whether it be a slice of Italian prosciutto ham or a slab of rich, dark chocolate that grabs your fancy, discover what the very best delis have to offer you…

A is for…Amaretti biscuits

These round, almond-flavoured macaroons originated from Saronno, Italy, in the 18th century, when a visiting bishop blessed a couple after they presented him with cookies made from apricot kernels and almonds, egg whites and sugar. They are often used in desserts and are perfect with a coffee. A biscotti is similar; it’s a long, crunchy, traditionally almond flavoured Italian cookie.

B is for…Balsamic vinegar

Produced in the Italian regions of Modena and Reggio Emilia since the Middle Ages, balsamic vinegar is darker and thicker than its malt cousin, and is traditionally made from a reduction of cooked white Trebbiano grape juice. The best kind and the original traditional product, Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale, is aged in wooden barrels for a minimum of 12 years.

C is for…Crisps

Forget a no-frills multipack, and instead, think the posher variety in fancy flavours such as Jacket Potato with Caramelised Onion, Sea Salt & Vinegar and Canadian Ham. Such offerings are available in many delis, so there’s no excuse not to have something a little tastier.

D is for…Dukkah

This Egyptian side dish is made up of a mixture of herbs, nuts and spices, traditionally served as a dip alongside freshly baked bread. Ready-made versions can be bought in a deli, or you can always buy and mix the ingredients yourself if the urge overcomes you.

E is for…Eggs

You can pick up a wide range of eggs in a deli – all free range, of course – including those laid by ducks, quails and, naturally, the humble hen. But did you know that London’s Fortnum & Mason, famous for its department store deli, claims to have invented the Scotch egg back in 1738? It also produced the biggest ever – a 7kg one made with a whole ostrich egg!

F is for…Foie gras

Literally meaning ‘fat liver’ in French, foie gras is the liver of a goose or duck that’s been specially fattened. It has a rich taste, which is either sold whole or as a mousse, parfait or pâté – exquisite on toast.

G is for…Galangal

Though this root is closely related to and resembles ginger, there is little similarity in terms of taste, as it lacks that familiar peppery heat. Widely used in both Thai and Indonesian cuisine, galangal is used to add flavour and an extra kick to soups and broths. In its raw form, it is available as a whole rhizome, cut or powdered.

H is for…Hams

Perhaps the food most people would first associate with delicatessens, it is here that you’ll find a mouthwatering range of meats from around the globe. The best known of all being Parma ham, or prosciutto – a thinly-sliced, Italian dry-cured ham that is served uncooked. It is perfect with the artisan bread you get there, too.

I is for…Italian flour

Often used to make pizza, pasta doughs and feather-light cakes, biscuits and pastries, fine Italian flours such as Tipo 00 can be hard to track down anywhere else.

J is for…Jams

Marmalades, jellies, curds and other preserves are often produced following a big harvest of a particular fruit. Expect traditional strawberry and raspberry offerings and more unusual flavours such as quince, passion fruit and tayberry.

K is for…Kalamata olives

These large black olives, sold pitted and with stones, originate from the Greek city of Kalamata. Widely served in dishes or on their own as a ‘table olive’, find them on the shelves alongside similar Italian antipasti (‘before the meal’) such as cured meats, anchovies and artichoke hearts.

L is for…Luxury chocolate

Those with a sweet tooth need not be disappointed as they can drool over a stunning array of artisan chocolate that is perfect for gifts. Imagine the dark variety that’s high in cocoa solids – the purest and also the healthiest (it is packed with antioxidants), it’s usually worth paying extra for.

M is for…Mozzarella

This is an umbrella term used for all Italian cheeses that are made using the processes known as spinning and cutting – the Italian verb ‘mozzare’ means ‘to cut’. Remember, fresh is best, as it’s traditionally served the day it has been made.

N is for…Nougat

Originating in 15th century Italy, this chewy confectionery made with sugar or honey and a blend of roasted nuts and candied fruit, is a great present. Serve as an after-dinner sweet with coffee, crumble it over ice cream or use it in desserts and puddings.

O is for…Orzo

This unusual Italian pasta shape resembles grains of rice, with a firm texture and subtle flavour. While orzo is a similar shape and size to rice, it takes far less time to cook – five to six minutes – and can be used as a rice substitute to get dishes to the table quicker.

P is for…Pâtés

From French wild boar pâté to Belgian Brussels and with several tasty variants in between, including many vegetarian options, pâté is a staple of delicatessen counters everywhere – especially when it’s served with a hot-from
-the-oven crusty loaf. Delicious!

Q is for…Quinoa

Made from the edible seeds of the goosefoot plant, quinoa is a grain that’s often served in salads and has grown in popularity over the years. Quick and easy to cook, it has a mild, slightly nutty flavour. Buy it loose or packed.

R is for…Rose water

A natural byproduct of the production of rose oil for use in perfume, rose water is used as a food flavouring. It is particularly popular in Iranian cuisine and has the distinctive flavour of loukoum, or ‘Turkish Delight’. It can be used in jellies, syrups and savoury dishes.

S is for…Sundried tomatoes

These are ripe tomatoes that have been left in the heat to remove most of their water content, and are used to add depth to sauces and one-pot dishes. Cherry tomatoes will lose 88% of their initial (fresh) weight, while larger versions can lose up to 93% during the process. Sundried are particularly tasty as an accompaniment to chicken dishes, or placed on a piece of bruschetta brushed with olive oil and garlic.

T is for…Truffles

No, not of the chocolate variety – although they are available at a lot of delis, too. Instead, the kind of food that pigs famously snuffle for. Truffles are actually the fruiting body of an underground fungus, but don’t let that description put you off. Indeed, their exquisite flavour means they are in huge demand, and you can expect to see truffles, truffle butter and truffle oil on the shelves of any self-respecting deli. They’re famously pricey, but the taste justifies it.

W is for…Wines

Track down an exciting array that might not be available in your local supermarket. Try a bottle of Marsala, and you will be opening up a wealth of culinary possibilities. This Sicilian fortified wine can be used in everything from rich sauces for meat and poultry, to adding flavour to delicately poached pears.

X is for…Xanthan gum

A driving force behind the growing popularity of delicatessens and other health-food shops has been the rise in vegan and vegetarian diets in recent years, and of course the substitute products those diets require. Xanthan gum made using soy is one such product. It is used mainly as a thickener and is often added to veggie-friendly salad dressings and sauces, too.

Y is for…Yogurt

Whether you want it filled with fruit, smooth, Greek-style, set or organic, the choice is endless. Goat’s yogurt is easy to digest, rich, sweet and creamy, but lower in calories than cow’s milk. Try it with granola or a fruit salad!

Z is for…Zabaglione

Good Italian delicatessens will sell this classic Italian frothy dessert, made from egg yolks, sugar and sweet wine. These ingredients are all whipped into a very light custard, which traditionally is then topped with fresh figs. It is usually served warm, but can be eaten cold, as a sauce, or even frozen. Either way, it is a real treat.


James Martin



at home guest editor, James Martin says… ‘A delicatessen is staffed by food-loving enthusiasts. One of my greatest pleasures is exploring, tasting and stocking items from independent producers. I look for good ,textures and singing flavours.’

Words: Emily Wright Image: Shutterstock

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