Ranking the Cultural Foods I Grew Up With

Last weekend, I found myself stood in the Polish section of the supermarket, scanning the pierogi, kefir, pickles, until…SCORE! My eyes settled on naleśniki (or as I called them, ‘blintzes’) which I quickly snatched up to take home.

Gimme the good stuff!

As I made them (OK, heated them up) back home, it got me thinking about all the foods I grew up eating as a Polish/Italian/German-American, and so…here are my reflections on the biggest standouts, from worst to best:

9. Corned beef and cabbage

Photo Credit: Delish

My grandma would make this on St. Patrick’s Day every year. We’d begrudgingly go over (begrudgingly because we don’t like this dinner, not grandma – we love grandma) and greet her wearing a green sweater, ask her ‘are we really even Irish?’ to which she would reply, ‘yes, my great-grandmother was named Maggie McEwan,’ to which we would reply, ‘can we please eat something else?’

(btw, Grandma, if you’re reading: I’ve done some research and McEwan/McCuen/MacEwan is actually a Scottish surname) *sips tea*

8. Pork and sauerkraut with spaetzle

Photo Credit: Cook the Story

It pains me to look at that photo. This is a German one, and probably the most ‘authentic’ dish I have from my mom’s side of the family. My ancestors on that side emigrated from…somewhere at some point, but settled in New York-New Jersey so long ago that when people ask where my mom’s side of the family’s from, I say…New York-New Jersey. Let’s be real, NY-NJ is an enclave in its own right. I identify more with things like wearing animal print, cursing, and eating everything bagels more than I do with…whatever it is that German people do. But I digress…

This ranks low because I don’t eat pork (an aversion which may or may not be associated with the 1995 classic Babe). Even if I did eat it, this dish is able to get away with being so painfully bland because it’s slow-cooked with the punch of sauerkraut. It would probably go well with beer, but I couldn’t exactly have that accompaniment as a kid. That, and I was too preoccupied with running to the toilet in the hours following. Thanks, ‘kraut.

7. Soupy

Photo Credit: Aroma Italia

Short for ‘souppressata’ (which I learned…today), this is a Calabrese sausage. I have actually probably only eaten it once or twice, as I’m not a fan of sausage (pause for your immature laughter). Every once in a while my dad would make this with my uncle, Nanutz, and some other random guido cousins…you could say it was a sausage fest. Really not a fan of this one, but ranking it above the last two ‘cos it’s not terrible.

6. Mizeria

Photo credit: Winiary

Worlds collide – both of my grandmothers and my dad made this. I didn’t know the name of this one, and always knew it simply as ‘cucumbers and sour cream,’ cos that’s all it is, folks. From googling I can see it’s Polish, so it’s quite possible that my non-Polish grandma saw it in an issue of Good Housekeeping 50 years ago alongside a recipe for ambrosia salad and adopted it into her culinary repertoire. It was one those things that was always in the fridge ‘cos someone made a batch. In no way offensive but also not out-of-this-world.

5. Pizzelles

Photo credit: Just a Pinch

I love cookies, so in theory, this one should rank much higher. However, I spent many a Christmas as a young’un eating, like, 5 of these bad boys in one sitting, so a mid-level rating as a result of the tummy-aches.

4. Sausage & peppers

Photo credit: Simply Recipes

Kind of cheating by putting this one on the upper half of this list as I’d only eat the peppers, onions, and potatoes, picking around the sausage, but still….

Warming and mildly spicy, can be eaten on its own or as a sandwich-ey sort of thing if you chuck some in a roll. Think of it as Italian curry of sorts.

3. Stromboli

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

One of those things that was kind of just magically on the kitchen counter when you woke up one morning. Did it come from a local pizza-sub shop? Was it leftovers from a party or something? Did dad get it from one of his siblings? We may never know, but regardless, it’s basically rolled up pizza that you can eat hot or cold, anytime of day. Think of it as a Hot Pocket that would be a crime to compare to a Hot Pocket.

2. Blintzes/Naleśniki

Photo Credit: Meijer

Is it breakfast? A snack? Dessert? It’s whatever you want, peeps. My dad used to make the frozen boxed ones, which is why I use the Jewish word ‘blintz instead of its Polish equivalent, ‘naleśniki…but they share the same bones. It’s just a crepe stuffed with cottage cheese, topped with whatever you want – SO GOOD.

1. Gołąbki

Photo credit: Magda’s Cauldron

I used to think my Nana’s apartment smelled like old people, but it was probably just the smell of these ingredients. Meat? Pureed tomato sauce? Cabbage? Gołąbki defies the odds – it ticks the boxes for everything I don’t like, and yet still manages to rank number one. It’s an ugly-looking peasant food, but sometimes that stuff is the best. Its simple ingredients somehow harmonize to compose the most melt-in-your-mouth comfort food I can imagine.

And there you have it, folks! Honestly, these dishes are more of comfort foods and memory-joggers as opposed to my favourite world cuisines, which are Mediterranean and Japanese…but that’s OK – I married a Greek 🙂

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