Illustration and pictures by Andrew Abbott
The RestaurantCafé Polonia 611 Dorchester Ave
Boston, MA 02127 (617) 269-0110 Yelp
Café Polonia is a Polish restaurant in South Boston. The decor both inside and out strikes a nice balance between quaint and fancy, and the food is delicious, if a bit heavy.
If you’re getting off the T at the Andrew Sq stop you better either live there or need something in that area really REALLY bad. We needed blood sausage really REALLY bad and so will you hopefully after reading this weeks post! A short walk from the station itself Ché and I found Café Polonia looking rather inviting. It stands out from the rest of what could be considered drab everyday neighborhood with it’s bright yellow awning and a sign boasting “FINE POLISH CUISINE”. Inside we discovered a cozy atmosphere with unique and comfy seating arrangements. In the center of the restaurant is a cute two person table which sits under what I can only describe as your own personal Polish pagoda (pardon the alliteration…). The walls were also decorated with some great antique-y Polish artifacts that really bring everything together. It’s like being in an Applebee’s but less annoying and more interesting.
We were greeted by the friendly waitress who was really quick and attentive with everything we ordered. First out was the bread and “butter”. This butter mind you is what, for lack of a better name, I’ll call Polish butter. After tasting it and identifying that it wasn’t butter Che and I were intrigued to the point that we had to to figure out what we had just hastily ingested. Asking the waitress she quickly replied that it was a concoction made up of pork lard, bacon bits (not bac’n bitz for those counting), garlic, and secret Polish spices. YUM! While it wasn’t much to look at, in fact it’s probably better that you don’t look at it, it was actually rather tasty, and like most things it probably won’t kill you in moderation. It was salty and a bit crunchy. Mostly it tasted like a bacon flavored bread spread. Best invention ever? Quite possibly!
After Wilbur’s lipo leavings we got into the thick of it and ordered the blood sausage or kiszka (kish-ka) as it was on the menu. Before getting to that another thing to mention was that the menu was both in English and Polish which I thought was pretty cool! Back to the kiszka! It came out and to our surprise it wasn’t in sausage form at all, but rather a steaming reddish brown mound on a plate garnished with pickles and caramelized onions. They pile a pretty good helping of it onto a little plate too. Gee what if we didn’t like it? It’s a good thing we did. Tasting it we almost both came to the conclusion that they probably cook everything there in lard. It had a rich meaty flavor soaked into the grain from the blood and for me at least it ended up having a familiar flavor. Believe it or not, but it reminded me a lot of a good Philly cheese steak. Call me crazy but it had the taste of a well marbled piece of beef. The onions they cooked it with is what I think keyed me into the Philly flavor. It has a unique texture like corned beef hash meets rice pudding. While that combo might sound gross keep in mind I’m talking texture not flavor. I’m always psyched for new and interesting textures. I also came to the conclusion that blood sausage must be the Polish equivalent of great comfort food. Paring it with the pickles just seemed right. The sausage was soo rich it left a strong flavor in your mouth so the pickles served to cleanse the pallet. Although the pickles also had a strong taste they were quite delicious. If you count yourself a pickle aficionado it might be worthwhile checking it out just for them.
We should have maybe stopped there but all the food on the menu sounded great, and I’m sure there isn’t a single thing on the menu that’s not. Both Che and I ordered variations on their potato pancakes. I got what they called a Gypsy Pancake. It would be two giant pancakes the size of my head with a heaping helping of hungarian beef goulash in between them (sorry alliteration again…). It was pretty much what I’d call Polish shepherds pie. The pancakes themselves were perfectly brown and crispy on the outside with fluffy white mashed potato on the inside. It was a lot like a giant home fry or french fry. A Polish Fry, if you will. Again most likely cooked in lard. The goulash beef was so tender it fell apart in my mouth and was served in rich dark brown gravy with vegetables and mushrooms in it. I love mushrooms so I was also psyched for their sudden and unexpected appearance. I live with a lot of people who don’t really like mushrooms so I haven’t had them in quite a while. Seeing them was a lot like bumping into an old friend. A tiny gray friend covered in gravy who doesn’t mind being devoured. What a good sport!
All in all I didn’t know what to expect going into this week, but I was pleasantly surprised with the experience and would go again, and also urge anyone interested in authentic Polish food to give it a try. Also located across and down the street a little ways is a european deli where they have all the meat and produce they use in the cafe. Ché and I went to check it out afterwards and accidentally ended up buying a giant lump of blood sausage, but that’s a story for another time. So even if you just wanna try to cook it yourself or you just want the pickles they’ve got everything you need at pretty decent prices.
Oil codependence is only one of the many ways that the United States stands united with the Arab world. Blood brings these two regions together; they are the only places in the world where it’s not widely eaten. For Muslim countries, it is avoided because of dietary restrictions. The Koran forbids the consumption of blood. In the United States, the reason is not as clear cut. Our closest cultural relative, the United Kingdom, has a long standing tradition of the blood based black pudding.
Blood sausage once did have a place on the American plate. Several mentions of blood sausage recipes appear in James E. McWilliams’ colonial food history A Revolution in Eating, and in Putting Meat on the American Table, Roger Horowitz describes blood sausage in the 1800’s as a food that was “sold cheaply in urban markets ‘to the urban classes and especially the hungry laborer.’”
In the land of diseases of (food) affluence, classism then is one of the reasons that we don’t play the vampire with the rest of the world. The two other major reasons are preconceptions of what meat should be and shelf life, which translates to ease of mass-production. Like innards, blood does not fit into the American preconception of what meat should be. As recent as 2002, a British report on the safety of blood pudding points out that many butchers, who should be an expert on this type of thing, did not know whether to classify black pudding as a cooked or raw meat. (It’s a cooked meat, if you’re curious.)
However, unlike innards and ground beef, blood sausage has a notoriously short shelf-life. The same British report says that 24% of the black pudding had unacceptable grades of microbial activity. While packaged blood sausage is now available in the rest of the world, in the days when industrial taste makers where standardizing food to sell throughout United States, the unreliable nature of blood pudding meant its necessary ingredient was literally left on the killing floor. Currently, blood is thought of by the meat industry and the USDA as less of a food and more of a valuable byproduct, used in medicine and as a leather stiffener.
In the old days, like hamburger meat, blood sausage was not mass produced, but made locally by small, privately owned butcher shops, like the one that Andrew and I visited after our meal. Of course, the majority of Americans now shop at franchised super markets, where most of the meat is prepackaged, and much of the artistry of butchering has been lost. In this way, the lack of blood sausage in the United States represents not only the loss something that can be eaten, but the loss of a livelihood, a way to eat.