Monday, July 13, 2009

A Taste Of My Heritage

Wendy and I journeyed to Hamtramck this past week where our nephew's band was playing a gig. Hamtramck is a largely Polish enclave in the heart of metropolitan Detroit. I told our little entourage that I would go if we could leave early and stop at one of the locally renowned Polish restaurants there for dinner.

My family on my father's side is Polish so I thought I could indulge my ethnicity with a taste of Poland at the Polish Village Inn. It turned out to be a rather crowded and lively downstairs venue very reminiscent of some ethnic cafe you might find in a New York movie. Their Polish dinner offered the traditional pierogi (potato dumpling), golabki (cabbage roll), and kielbasa (sausage). I ordered that.

But there was something else on the menu that piqued my interest--a Polish soup that I had heard my family speak positively of since I was barely able to walk. Czarnina! I've been to a few Polish restaurants in my time but I don't remember seeing czarnina on the menu. This was my chance to sample an unusual Polish delicacy. So I ordered a cup for myself.

For those not familiar with czarnina, the broth is produced using the blood of a duck. OK, that might not sound appetizing in itself. And I'm pretty sure I had czarnina once at the family dinner table when I was barely able to see over the table from my chair. As I recall, it tasted sour and I labeled it "tar soup" because of its dark appearance.

I remember thinking that my family must have hit poverty row since the broth looked identical to pictures I had seen of those poor children in other countries whose meals consisted of some bread and a bowl of similarly colored soup.

Now that I wonder about it, why would my mother, or ANY mother, give their child soup made from the blood of a duck or any other animal? We weren't entertaining the Draculas if I recall. Then again, my mother will just accuse me of exercising my imaginitive recollection again and deny that I was served czarnina before. But I think I was.

Anyway, I figured the soup should taste better this time. Afterall, I remember my grandfather raving about how good it was, and how it was rendered into a gravy served at a wedding or party he attended. And how some gentleman who swore he would never touch czarnina had more than one helping of the "tasty gravy" without knowing what it was.

But my childhood memory was accurate, at least so far as the taste. Tar soup it was. I offered samples to those around but got no takers. It had a heavy, somewhat sour flavor. But I did finish it, dumping some over my mashed potatoes to make it slightly more palatable. Washing it down with a large goblet of Polish draft beer didn't hurt either.

Later, we stopped at a Polish market where they had some wonderful looking desserts. However, the labels on the packages were all in Polish, which I don't read at all. I bought some babuni cake. What does babuni mean? I don't know. Hopefully, it's not 'goose hair' or something like that.


Blogger TechnoBabe said...

I'm sorry, the soup does not sound like something I would care for. But the family reminiscences are more to my taste. How did you like the babuni?

8:54 PM  
Blogger Lynilu said...

The whole "duck blood" thing doesn't bother me; most broths are formed from meat, thus blood is a component. But I've never enjoyed most heavy foods as come from your Polish or my German backgrounds. I prefer the Mexican and New Mexican cuisine I grew up around. I don't eat menudo. Just so you know.

9:48 PM  
Blogger Big Dave T said...

TECHNOBABE--It wasn't too bad. It had the texture and somewhat the flavor of German chocolate cake. Definitely not too sweet.

LYNILU--Menudo being the Mexican type of soup made with tripe. Yeah, I'll pass on that one too. Mexican food used to be bigger around Ann Arbor but now you see more Asian influence in the cuisine the restaurants offer.

5:49 PM  
Blogger Carine said...

Dave, I hear you on the family memories though. once when I was a kid, we went to visit my dad's cousins in Phoenix. The mother made "potato kugel"-basically mashed potatoes, onions,eggs and chicken fat. Remember this was 1968.
My mother, who made the dish-sans the chicken fat and made it fluffy was a far cry from the solid block of grey sitting on my plate. when the woman who made it asked if I had ever had anything like this before, I said something like "oh yes, my mom makes potato kugel, but hers always comes out white and fluffy-you should ask her about her recipe"

LOL-I don't remember this, but my mom said she could hardly wait until we went back to the hotel so she could bust out laughing.

Memories are good, but sometimes the food, well, just isn't.

8:32 PM  
Blogger Tim said...

Growing up in Chicago, I've had many Polish dishes, and the babuni cake is a favorite. And czarnina is best served with very small cooked potatoes.

1:09 AM  
Anonymous bdsdad said...

I asked my Mother who is 97 if she ever heard of babuni cake, she said no.BTW czarnina is one of my favorite soup's, without the blood that is.

4:26 PM  
Anonymous bdsdad said...

How about that dave? 10 yrs. on a computer and I finally figured out how to make a comment, but I cannot find word spell. Good thing I have Webster's bad speller dictionary.

4:33 PM  
Blogger Big Dave T said...

CARINE--Never heard of potato kugel. I'll bet your mom really appreciated your cute comment though. It took a while to adjust to my wife's cooking after growing up with my mother's.

TIM--My dad says that you have to have potato noodles in a true czarnina. So babuni cake isn't unique to Hamtramck? That's a surprise.

DAD--I'm pretty sure the czarnina I had was with the blood. BTW, dad here says that czarnina literally means 'dark soup' in Polish, so it doesn't necessarily has to have duck's blood in it.

Ten years to make a comment on your computer, but your first comment on Facebook a couple weeks ago said that you were ready to throw Facebook out the window. I'm waiting for you to upload your first picture there.

3:50 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mmmmm duck blood....

4:00 PM  
Blogger Merle said...

Hello Dave ~~ The cake looks nice so I hope it was. The soup sounds awful
whether it has blood or not. Nice that you could enjoy some Polish food. I hope you got your plumbing etc all sorted out.
Thanks for your comments ~ if you want you can get a Maukie too, just click on the cat and you should be able to put one on your sidebar.
I am still getting my desk sorted out and I am glad you got a new filing cabinet. It is nice to get organized isn't it? Take care,
Regards, Merle.

5:34 AM  
Anonymous cassie-b said...

That was brave to taste the soup. It's times like that that make me glad I'm German (and Irish). Although those countries have some pretty unusual foods as well.

2:26 PM  
Blogger Big Dave T said...

ANONYMOUS--My dad says there's no difference between eating a rare steak and having a bowl of czarnina. I don't like my steaks rare myself.

MERLE--The new sink is supposed to be here next week. Then the fun begins. I tried to download Maukie's brother (sister?) but got nowhere. So I'll just have to come visit your cat there.

CASSIE--Isn't haggis Irish? No, I think it's Scotch, isn't it.

6:27 PM  
Anonymous kangurski said...

Babuni - it's a new craze in Poland, where everything that is supposed to be made in old, "traditional" way is called "babuni" (the word basically means "the way the grandma used to make it". The truth it, that the description rarely has anything to do with the way the product is made (definitely there is no 80+ old grandmas working on the production line)and it is quite surprising what else can be called "babuni", starting from scissors and ending on ceramic wall tiles.

4:28 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I had czarnina a couple of years ago at the "Polish Villa" restaurant outside Buffalo. I enjoyed it. It was a sweet & sour soup. Bright red broth, not the dark broth you describe. There were some dried red fruits in the broth as well (currants?) along with the homemade noodles.

7:37 AM  
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