Guest Post By Bridget Piszczek, Founder Polska Foods
We all know that uncomfortable moment when you are traveling abroad and trying desperately to buy that ticket, order that sandwich, or talk to a relative—but no one can understand you. You sink into your shoes and hope to disappear. Maybe you hope that your brain will suddenly remember the exact words that you need to say in that language and your mouth will spout them out perfectly. Unfortunately, once panic sets in, there is a one in a million chance of that happening!
On my recent trip to Poland to visit my husband’s family for the first time, this was a common occurrence. Everything from asking for a napkin to where to hang my coat or place my shoes became embarrassing and painfully uncomfortable. But there was one time that transcended all language barriers and we could suddenly sit at the table comfortable together with laughter and cheer: through food. More specifically, my mother-in-law’s Polish pierogi, the national dish of Poland. I remember well the first time I had them.
It was on a snowy day (minus 4 degrees F outside), and we had been hiking through the thick woods outside of Jelena Gora in Poland. After building up a good appetite, we finally headed home to defrost our feet and noses. As I opened the large thick wooden front door, a waft of rich potato, herbs, mushrooms, and various seasonings filled my senses. We dropped our backpacks and my feet followed my nose to the kitchen.
As my husband and I sat at the table, drooling, his mother began to serve us different varieties of pierogi that she had slaved over all day. First was the famous potato, farmer’s cheese, and onion pierogi made with a delicate olive oil and onion sauce. As I took my first bite, my teeth sank into a soft, warm dough filled with immense flavor. Dumb-founded, I told my husband, “This redefines comfort food.” He laughed and tried to translate this to the perplexed faces in the room. He explained to his mother that “comfort food” was food that provided comfort instead of just nutrition and brought up old childhood memories of playing with friends and enjoying mom’s cooking. This was difficult to explain to them since they were used to eating is fresh, home-cooked food their entire lives. In their mind, all food is “comfort food,” who would settle for anything less?
As my husband struggled to translate “comfort food” to his family, I realized this was not a good enough explanation for what we were experiencing. When I bit into the next round of pierogi, filled with sauerkraut and mushroom, I realized that the food brought me more than just comfort. It allowed me to connect with my husband’s family during a time when words had been such a barrier. Her Polish food reminded me of how you can show someone you care by offering them the most tasty, nourishing food you can make from mother earth. Her food expressed love. This moment transcended my need to directly communicate to my new family, and we just enjoyed our new form of sharing.
When I looked up at my husband’s mother, I saw her watching us devour her incredible pierogi. She smiled from ear to ear and I even noticed a glimmer in her eye. My husband’s mother and I had a new bond from that point on, and now I even feel more comfortable trying to speak a few broken Polish words to her!
Reliving The Experience at Home Launches A New Venture
Food is the perfect way to keep the joy going from any trip, and maybe even your motivation to keep learning that language The challenge is finding that same kind of food you enjoyed in that country and bringing it home to relive the experience.
When we came home from Poland, all I could think about was how I could get more pierogi at home in California. Try as we might, not only was it hard to find, but some of it didn’t taste even close to the homemade versions my husband’s mother made in Poland. Luckily, my husband had been making his family’s pierogi his whole life so he started to make them for me. Duplicating the pierogi experience we had in Poland became a daunting task since the exact ingredients are not easy to find in the States. For good taste, we decided to use only the freshest, organic ingredients available, preferably local to maintain the flavor and nutrition of each vegetable. We found raw local sauerkraut and even a local mill that made flour using organic Old World grain. We also were adamant about adding no artificial flavorings, no MSG, no additives, no preservatives, no GMO ingredients, no dairy with growth hormones, no meat with antibiotics or hormones, and all the other things that go along with many packaged foods today, especially in the US. If we were going to truly make pierogi the authentic Polish way, every ingredient had to be carefully selected to keep the recipe clean.
We were not alone in enjoying our Polish re-creation. We received a surprising reaction from family and friends when they tried my husband’s pierogi using his family recipe. “This is delicious!” “Where can I get more?” It was then that we decided to start a business making pierogi for family and friends, and eventually to neighbors and more. We decided to call the company “Polska Foods” and started selling organic pierogi at farmer’s markets. Eventually, we started to sell to local retailers and even select Whole Foods and Safeway stores! Our pierogi even won Gourmet Retailer’s “Editor’s Pick” Award in 2014. As the word spread about our organic pierogi, we really had a delivery problem. So, starting this summer, we opened up an online retail store with a partner company who can ship our fresh, flash frozen pierogi nationwide so now anyone can enjoy our Polish pierogi across the nation!
It is truly amazing how one experience abroad in a foreign town with new family connections can suddenly change your life forever. Because of my husband’s heritage and my Polish culinary moment with his family, our focus has been clear. Our goal is not about just offering food for sale to the public, it is about offering an experience. Food should nourish your body and warm the heart. Each ingredient should be carefully selected and artfully combined, providing an array of flavor that dances on each taste bud.
Simple, good food is why we like to travel, and how we connect with loved ones when words are not available. Today, when I sit down to start studying and practicing my Polish, I do so with pierogi. And, if you ever want to enjoy a “bite” of what we experienced in Poland, or need some comfort food while you attempt to learn Polish, you too can now do so through our Polish pierogi.
Do you associate culinary traditions with your heritage? Is there a particular dish that you associate with the language you’re learning?
About Polska Foods®
Founded in 2011, Polska Foods offers award-winning, organic pierogi from their grandma’s kitchen in Lubiechowa, Poland. They offer five pierogi flavors with ancient grains, fresh vegetables, and hand-crafted farmer’s cheese (rBST free and Kosher). Their pierogi contains no preservatives, no MSG, no GMO ingredients, no Soy, and absolutely nothing artificial. Flavors include: Potato Cheese, Whole Wheat Potato Cheese, Mushroom Cabbage (vegan), Spinach Feta, and Savory Beef & Pork Pierogi. They also use only organic or expeller-pressed oils–no trans fats in any products. Polska Foods’ pierogi is made fresh and then frozen to maintain quality and freshness, not precooked. Their pierogi is certified organic by Oregon Tilth. Customers can buy pierogi from Polska Foods’ in the frozen section of Whole Foods, Central Market, Lunardi’s, Mollie Stones, Wild By Nature, select Safeway stores and many independent retailers across California, Oregon, Washington, Hawaii, Nevada, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, and Washington D.C. For a list of stores or to buy pierogi online, visit http://www.polskafoods.com/buy-polish-pierogi.