Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Saved by the Sausage

We've all heard that some of our strongest links in sensory memory are made with taste and smell. I come in contact with smells almost daily that remind me of very, very specific times and places. That vaguely sweet smell wafting the storefront? Definitely chewy banana Runts candy. The scent of a room or a house visited for the first time? Easy, chicken loaf day in the school cafeteria.

For expats, the smells and tastes of home bring back a pleasing rush of nostalgia that is difficult to describe. The extended absence of these very specific foods makes the experience of eating them just that, an experience. Simple foods that were regular staples in Iowa are now rare treats for us, and we like it that way.

In the American Midwest, we grew up with the traditional foods of mixed Northern European–Americans. Not real Northern Europeans, mind you, whose foods would have been foreign and scary to a young me, but the children's children's children of Northern Europeans, whose food traditions mixed with those of other countries and the spirit of American industrialism to make the beautiful mishmash of Midwest American food.

Enter the sausage. I've written before about the American take on the European sausage. By boldly adding exotic spices, alternative meats and fillers, and appropriating completely different foods, we end up with such gems as pizza dogs, queso-and-jalapeno bratwurst, and turkey jerky.

Savor the 15 flavors of American sausage
The Iowa Gourmet

One of my childhood favorites was kielbasa – the traditional Polish favorite brought to Midwest cities like Chicago by Central and Eastern European immigrants. Love of the stuff spread, and American supermarket shelves now offer a wide selection of traditional (and not so traditional) takes on this flavorful classic. I used to enjoy it grilled, fried, or cold from the fridge at midnight with potatoes, cabbage, mustard, or sauerkraut.

In Ireland, the sausage tradition is much more monotone. For most of its history, Ireland has been a nation of emigration rather than immigration; no one ever brought new food cultures to the country. Recently, when the Celtic Tiger was roaring, the nation finally began to welcome newcomers – including a massive Polish population – to its shores. The resulting mix of cultures (and outbreeding genes) was only a good thing for mostly-homogenous Ireland, as the Polish brought with them their sausage.

Craving a taste of my childhood recently, I paid a visit to on of Dublin's Polish import supermarkets serving the Eastern European population, who miss their homeland favorites just like I do. Like an excited child, I skipped through the aisles, looking at Midwest American foods in their purest form, and in great supply and variety. Dill pickles! Sauerkraut! Sausage! To be fair, I should say that many Irish supermarkets do stock Polish foods for their customers, but the price and variety doesn't compete with the Polish importers. Also, I find it strange and funny seeing American staple foods stuck in the ethnic food aisle next to the ramen noodles and Thai fish sauce.

The jar of dill pickles barely made it into the kitchen before I had my fingers in the brine. Washed with the salty, garlicky taste, I gave up any resistance and ate the whole jar, calling it lunch for the day. I had the courtesy to save the kielbasa and jar of kraut to share with Sara.

Kielbasa and Sauerkraut
All of this Translates to "Delicious"

The kraut? Cooked with potatoes and carrots to make a mushy stew rich with the flavors of fermentation. The 'basa? Simple and no-nonsense: cut into coins and deeply browned in a skillet. The meal? Eaten before a picture could be taken.

Food memories are important, and nothing makes food taste better than a year without it. Now that I've found a reliable supplier of delicious nostalgic foods, I'm afraid I won't have the willpower to stay away for another year. Oh well, I'll always have boxed macaroni and cheese waiting for me back home.


  1. Surprised it took you so long to sniff out the Polish butchers.. Their pastrami is savage

    1. Now that I've found them, I'll be going back often!

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