notquiteold

Gracefully Aging – With Resistance

Shopping For Kielbasa

My last two blogs are ethnically connected.

They are both rooted in New Britain, Connecticut. This is where my Polish grandparents lived, and where my doctor’s office is.

When I was a little girl, my Babci used to take me down Broad Street to all the Polish shops. Lots of little markets, and no one speaking English. Babci’s English consisted mostly of the question, “You like it?” and if I said yes, and it wasn’t expensive, there was a good chance she’d buy it for me. Coloring books, candy bars, and gum mostly. Although she had a penchant for little ankle socks–I think because they cost $0.49 back then, and which she’d measure by wrapping them around my fist. She’d buy me my little treat, paid for with dimes and pennies out of the world’s oldest coin purse, and then she’d go back to her long mysterious conversation with the shopkeeper. All those years, and I never learned more Polish than ‘Please’, ‘Thank You’, and my numbers from one to ten. I never even got to eleven.

Last week, in the hour and forty-five minutes that I sat in my new (and young) doctor’s waiting room, I read a quarter of a book. But I also eavesdropped on a lot of familiar mysterious conversations.

Polish immigrants still abound in New Britain.

So after the good news (I didn’t sever my spinal column, thank god…although now I’ve got a colonoscopy hanging over my head…which is a weird metaphor) I had a strong hankering.

For kielbasa.

I convinced my husband (in about 1.5 seconds-his mother was Polish too) to go down to Broad Street to the Polish markets.

If anything, the stores on Broad Street have become even more Polish in the last sixty years. Not only can you go to the Polish deli, you can go to the Polish hairdresser, Polish travel agency and Polish tattoo parlor. We stuck to the deli.

This Polish deli has everything. This is not your mom-and-pop hole-in-the-wall. We’re talking multiple aisles of every kind of food and a take-a-number deli counter.

The choices are marvelous.

Here’s the kielbasa:

But that may not be exactly what you want.  So here are the hanging kielbasas:

Now with this selection, you may wonder how you choose. Especially when the nice girls (there are four clerks behind the deli counter) speak a different language.

You pick out a kielbasa that looks like what your grandmother used to make (or any one… it’s a sausage after all, not a baby). And you point to it.

And we wanted prepared food too – we wanted golumpki (or golabki, galumbka, gawumpky – there are as many spellings as there are kielbasas. Stuffed cabbage. And pierogi (dumplings). I channeled my Babci and said those words with the best Polish inflection I could summon. The girl smiled. I’m sure she laughed like hell as soon as I was out of earshot.

While we waited for our turn at the deli, we watched the ads on the wall-mounted TV. They mostly were about voting for beauty queens, I think. There were girls and zodiac signs and phone numbers.  It could have been phone-sex, but there were lots of old ladies there, and they didn’t seem offended.

When I say that they have all kinds of food, I’m serious.  It’s not just Polish food. You can buy anything you want in a Polish package. They had Polish pizza and corn chips and pasta. And just in case you feel like sushi, you can do that too:

With all the cooking instructions conveniently in Polish.

We bought a Polish babka (bread) and headed to my mother’s to share the feast. (She was delighted.)

On the way out, I noticed that you can even buy Polish porn.

This is a really fine idea. What good would girly magazines be if you couldn’t read the thought-provoking articles?

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20 Comments

  1. Awesome. I’ve been in such a shop. Southwest Chicago. On Saturday mornings the line was out the door for a rye bread baked in a coffee can, can’t remember the name.

  2. I’m having a tough time processing the concept of Polish sushi.

  3. Dor

    Oh, how fascinating there is an area near you that’s still fiercely ethnic. My Dad was Hungarian so in many ways I relate to your stories, but I have never seen a Hungarian shop. I too often yearn for the dishes we so enjoyed. I can make paprikash, so that tradition has carried on through our family. Thanks for sharing. You and I are what America is about.

  4. Good one! I hope you are going to collect ‘the best of’ and publish a collection. Then we could all curl up and keep laughing, and our Christmas shopping problem would be solved

    • Thanks! That’s so sweet. (And a dream come true for me).

  5. I love ethnic markets. We have a polish deli in our local farmers market and it has all kinds of mysterious stuff (although they don’t do sushi). Yum! We are Austrian-German but many of the specialty foods are similar just with different names. There is a local Hungarian restaurant (with real live immigrant Hungarians running it!). It’s a hoot. They have Palacinkins (or crepe suzettes if you are French). Thanks for the post, now I’m hungry. I love kielbasi.

    • We used to have a Hungarian restaurant nearby. They had a pickled cucumber salad that I loved…I can’t remember what it was called. And a chicken dish with sausage. Now I’M HUNGRY too.

  6. Great last line! Yes, without the ability to read the riveting articles, would anyone really buy those magazines? I’m sure not.

  7. “I’ve got a colonoscopy hanging over my head.” – interesting choice of words. It really is true what they say: the prep is the worst part.
    (I won’t comment on the kielbasa, the Polish language or the porn, since I really know nothing about either… the colonoscopy I’m familar with.)

  8. I grew up in a Polish suburb of London – my father was Polish. How I loved kielbasa – the thin kabanos, the sliceable Krakowska, the wreath-like Wiankowa. Not to mention other good things like Paczki (Polish doughnuts – which I’m sure are knocking around new Britain somewhere). And sweet/sour dill pickles. Don’t get me started. OK, then. Polish cheesecake, hazelnut torte, choclate wafers, Krowki (little cow) caramels…
    Feeling so hungry right now…

    • Of course I know Paczki, and we’re in Paczki season right now! And I love polish pickles. And also pickled patisony (the little pillow squashes) – we ate those tonight with our hamburgers.

  9. You might want to pick up a Polish porn magazine to stash in the bathroom for your colonoscopy prep. Surely they have some that might appeal to heterosexual females?

    • Ummm.. thinking about porn as colonoscopy prep sounds a tad perverted….
      or is it me?

  10. Homemade sausage is the absolute best. Envious of your shopping adventure.

  11. Here’s a couple for you, well I believe they mean the same thing: salceson / galareta = headcheese made with pork hocks, carrots and celery. Once it set, you’d slice it, serve with rye bread and a splash of vinegar. Once I heard someone say they used lemon, instead. Gosh, that was a LONG time ago. Makes my mouth water, all this talk of Polish food.

    Nice memories..

    • Headcheese… my French grandmother (my father’s mother) used to make it – and I loved it! It was so nice and greasy!

  12. Looks like a fabulous market. I married a Ukranian, so I know all about ethnic food! His mom still makes pierogis and she’s 85, only they call them vareniki. She also makes great stuffed cabbage. I haven’t been to New Britain very often (went to the museum there), but I can picture you living there.

    • My mother grew up in New Britain. I’m now out in northwestern Connecticut. But the Polish market keeps drawing me back to New Britski (as we used to call it in our politically incorrect days).

  13. I like how you went from the colonoscopy to keilbasa. :)

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