A nation’s museums and monuments, parks and restaurants aren’t the only things that interest me on vacations abroad. I also love visiting their supermarkets.
You can tell a lot about a place by how they stock their shelves and also by their shoppers’ etiquette.
For example, a Swiss supermarket is a study in politeness, no matter how busy. However, one in Italy tends to be an exercise in chaos – not necessarily the aisles filled with pasta and olive oils – but the way shoppers feel little compunction about running you over with their carts. Surreptitiously cutting in line is also something of an art form.
Polish markets seem to more closely resemble those in Switzerland than Italy. I’ve never been to Poland but I believe I can speak with some authority because I did the next best thing. I visited Hudson Polish Delicatessen. It’s an authentic Polish food store on Fairview Avenue in Hudson, New York.
I’d heard about the place, but it wasn’t really on my radar until someone sang its praises at a recent dinner party. So on a visit to Lowe’s or maybe Wal-Mart (possibly both) I decided to try to find the deli.
In fact, the trip to those big box stores only accentuated the Polish Delicatessen’s charms when I finally found it.
It’s recessed about seventy-five feet or so behind a jewelry shop, as if to rise above the strip mall fray. The location also adds to one’s sense of discovery.
And as soon as you enter you feel as if you’ve arrived at another world. It’s one of owner Margaret Golebiowski’s creation: from the imported Polish wool vests for sale to the deli case filled with half a dozen different kinds of kielbasa – kielbasa with garlic, pickled kielbasa, juniper kielbasa, Polish beer kielbasa.
There’s also Hunter’s sauerkraut, a tasty concoction that the owner makes herself and that includes almost as much sausage as sauerkraut. And golombki – stuffed cabbage – that Ms. Golebiowski (I apologize if I’m mispronouncing her name) told me is also a bestseller.
You’d have to judge a trip to any farm or food store a success if it adds a new staple to your diet. I’ve found one in the Hudson Polish deli’s veal-pork wieners. I’ve always liked weisswurt, those pale veal sausages. These links manage to blend the delicacy of weisswurst with the smokiness of frankfurters.
Our dog Wallie can also attest to the sausages delights. She snatched one off the counter while it was defrosting.
The question is whether to serve them with a simple salad or perhaps pierogis, the filled dumplings, that the store stocks in abundant variety. Sausages plus pierogis might be overkill, however.
Ms. Golebiowski, who moved to the United States with her husband Slavek in the early 1980’s, told me she’s been open for about two-and-a-half years. Business is good though she thought she’d have more Polish customers. The majority are Americans of Polish heritage.
I’m not Polish or Polish-American. Neither is Maura Rose, a shopper who came all the way from Great Barrington, Massachusetts.
Traveling to Hudson from Great Barrington – a trip of approximately 45 minutes – may not be as extreme as, saying, flying to Vienna for Sacher Torte. But it may suggest something that with gourmet food destinations such as Guido’s in her backyard, Ms. Rose thinks that the Hudson Polish deli is worth the journey.
And as enticing as the deli counter are the shelves stocked with authentic Polish products. (Forgive me if I sound like an ad, but enthusiasm in the service of my taste buds is no vice.)
For example, Polish Hellmann’s mayonnaise. Ms. Golebiowski claimed it tastes different than its American cousin. She gave me a taste. She was right.
It’s sweeter and more complex than the American version. But not too sweet. Sort of like Miracle Whip dressed up in a jacket and tie.
And you can’t beat the prices. An 11-ounce jar of cherry jam is $3.59. A large bottle of raspberry or strawberry fruit syrup goes for an affordable $6.49.
Ms. Golebiowski directed me towards other products that I might have overlooked on my own. Such as pickled celery root and shredded red beets and pepper salad.
And now I have no choice but to return, and not just to restock on veal and pork sausage. Ms. Rose, the Great Barrington customer, singled out the delights of Polish chocolate and directed me towards one of her favorites – plums covered in chocolate.
Who knew the Poles made great chocolate, too?
Ralph Gardner Jr. is a journalist who divides his time between New York City and Columbia County. More of his work can be found at ralphgardner.com
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