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Restaurants cater to Polish takeout

Polish cuisine is the opposite of fast-food. Meats require slow-smoking and curing.

Pierogi dough must be rolled thin and stamped into circles before a cook's skillful fingers can stuff them and pinch the edges shut.

Still, in a growing number of North Jersey communities, Polish food has joined pizza and Chinese as an option for inexpensive takeout. New to America, unheard of in Poland, white containers of steaming stuffed cabbage are the product of immigrants catering to countrymen (and women) who work long hours and are hungry for homemade native foods. Enticed by the meals' low cost and generous portions, non-Poles have also caught on.

Many Polish takeout owners say their clientele is expanding beyond Poles. In general, Americans are getting more of their meals from restaurants and takeout-style eateries.

Over the past two years, new eateries have popped up in Garfield and Wallington to compete with several older establishments where the takeout business has boomed. Others, such as one in Butler, serve emerging Polish enclaves. A to-go deli opened a year ago on Market Street in Elmwood Park, and plans are in the works for a takeout spot in Clifton. The competition is aggressive, which keeps prices down for diners.

In Garfield, where more than a quarter of the city's residents claim Polish ancestry, two delis, the Golden Eagle and Piast, have established the takeout trend. The Golden Eagle market and delicatessen began serving items such as pierogi and pork chops to go in 1993.

"At the beginning, we served maybe 100 people a week," said owner Alfred Lemanski. "Now we serve 2,000."

Piast Meats and Provisions, with two locations in Garfield, is perhaps the busiest and best-known spot for Polish takeout. A billboard near its River Drive store proclaims: "We'll cook for you tonight." Martin Rybak, whose family has owned Piast since 1994, said they began serving takeout about six years ago. The store's primary sales still comes from a wide array of meats and Polish grocery items, but 25 percent to 35 percent of its walk-ins are customers looking for a meal, Rybak said.

"My father, Henry, just saw there was tremendous demand for hot prepared food," he said. "People are always rushed for time -- they never have time to cook a decent meal for their families. So why not take the meats and salads we make and incorporate them into fresh, hot foods to go? The concept just totally took off – it was a huge hit."

Other local entrepreneurs have embraced the idea. Two years ago, Barbara and Zbigniew Wisniowski opened Chefski's in Wallington. Last year, the Bobak family debuted Pod Hale Polish Delicatessen in Butler and Elmwood Park. "Hot dinners to go," reads a sign in the window.

"The whole dinner is $5," said Lidia Bobak, who said the deli's smokehouse and storefronts were the dream of her father-in-law, Wlodyslaw Bobak, a former Wallington resident who taught himself to make kielbasa at home.

"My father-in-law, he's a fanatic," Bobak said. "He is putting his heart in this kielbasa."

Even bars have gotten into the act. Garfield bar Bania U Cygana serves zapiekanka, a mushroom and cheese melt served on toasted baguette halves and covered in ketchup. (The bar menu also features chicken fingers and buffalo wings.) Customers tend to order the dish with a drink, but occasionally take orders to go, said bartender Monica Angova.

Eating habits -- her own and those of fellow emigres -- are different from those in Poland, said Angova, 19. Polish workers may report to their jobs by 7 a.m., as many do here, but the typical work day ends earlier than in the United States, leaving plenty of time to prepare dinner. Restaurants in Poland tend to be closed in the evening or on weekends, and takeout meals are uncommon. Fast food such as McDonald's is of better quality but also more expensive than in the United States, she said.

"Everybody gets out from work at 3 or 4 o'clock," she said. "People don't go to restaurants. We appreciate more the grandmother-food -- home-cooked."

Poles in North Jersey have different time pressures and priorities. Many young Polish men are in the United States temporarily, working long hours in the construction or building trades for several months before returning to Poland, where jobs are scarce.

"Guys coming back from work don't really care," Angova said. "They just want to go to sleep."

Women, more accustomed to cooking, nonetheless, work too much to cook, as well, Angova said. She's proud of her pierogi, but has made them only rarely since moving to Garfield from Poland two years ago.

"I don't have time for that. Honestly, I don't want to say it, but I eat fast food all the time," Angova said. "Pizza, subs. When I have time, I cook my native food."

The fact that many hard-working emigres are young and single make Polish takeout a sensible economical choice, said Czeslawa "Charlotte" Szurko, owner of the Polish-American Deli on Jewell Street in Garfield.

"If you have a big family, it's different. One or two people, it doesn't pay to cook. By the time you add up all the ingredients ... a lot of times you end up throwing them out. Why heat up the house?"

Szurko says her customers are a mix of Poles and non-Poles, so her deli offers items including Mexican-style pork loin along with traditional Polish staples.

For New Jersey residents of non-Polish heritage, Polish takeout offers culinary variety at a low price.

"I come here all the time," said Garfield businessman Bob Pollack, a regular at Piast. On a recent day, he brought one of his customers, Joe Donnarumma of Wayne, to introduce him to the tasty Piast fare.

"Usually those cheese ones are really good," Pollack told his companion as he pointed to cheese pancakes.

All the home cooking is hard work. At Piast, five employees are devoted to full-time pierogi making; a worker named Krystyna said she makes about 80 dozen a day. Over at Chefski's, which advertises an "everyday $6 special meal with side and soup," owners Barbara and Zbigniew Wisniowski say they are "very tired" by the time they close each evening at 8 p.m.

"It's 11 hours every day, seven days," said Zbigniew Wisniowski.

"It's from scratch," said Szurko, of the Polish-American Deli. "Stuffed cabbage, you can prepare ahead of time, but mostly you have to do everything fresh."

Despite the labor-intensive preparation, restaurant competition keeps food prices economical -- for customers, that is.

"A lot is underpriced," Szurko said.

A business adviser told her, "Your pork chops should be $6.95," she said, but she held the tab at $5 to keep her prices competitive with nearby delis. "You cannot charge too much," Szurko said. "So it's not easy."

Pod Hale's location in Butler, far from the many Polish takeouts in the Garfield area, has done much better than its Elmwood Park store, Bobak said.

"Customers save time and gas not traveling to Garfield and Wallington," she said.

Closer to Elmwood Park, "there's a Polish deli in every single town. Not everybody knows about us," Bobak added.

Nevertheless, the family keeps the store open in Elmwood Park because that's where their smokehouse and kitchen are located, and they transport dishes to Butler, Bobak said.

More than one-third of consumers, including close to 50 percent of adults 25 to 34 years old, report that purchasing takeout food is essential to the way they live, according to recent statistics from the National Restaurant Association.

Expanding their customer base may be necessary, since Polish migration to North Jersey is beginning to reflect a reverse trend. The decline of the U.S. dollar against Polish currency, coupled with the country becoming a member of the European Union, has given Polish citizens an opportunity to work across Europe.

http://www.northjersey.com

Re: Restaurants cater to Polish takeout

>>Restaurants in Poland tend to be closed in the evening or on weekends

Huh?!

>>and takeout meals are uncommon.

Oh come on, there are as many kebab houses as Churches in most Polish cities

Re: Restaurants cater to Polish takeout

>>Restaurants in Poland tend to be closed in the evening or on weekends

>>and takeout meals are uncommon.

Maybe twenty years ago. Or do they mean 'Bary Mleczny.'

Re: Restaurants cater to Polish takeout

Mmhhh, we always go out for dinner during the weekend and have never found the restaurant to be closed

I agree on the take away - it's quite difficult to obtain a nice take away meal (if any such thing exists) besides a kebab and McDonalds. Even in the supermarkets a ready meal is hard to get. Personally I think it's a good thing because this means that you have to cook your meals fresh and from scratch - much healthier and tastier!

Re: Restaurants cater to Polish takeout

Ready meals in the form of jarred bigos, packet sauces, factory made pierogi and similar are available in every Polish hypermarket. This "everyone in Poland cooks fresh food every day" is complete nonsense.

Re: Restaurants cater to Polish takeout

Eveyone in my large family in Poland cooks food from scratch using fresh ingredients. If possible they also use home grown fruit and veg or mushrooms from the forest if in season. Same stuff gets pickled for use in Winter. They turn their nose up at supermarket food. Some people obviously shop there because there is a market in Poland. Maybe it's more a city thing. I don't know anyone who makes their own bread though.

At home in the UK we would always have freshly made soup (from scratch) and a main course made from scratch. I was the one always asking for ready made meals like pizza because they were such a novelty. People are going back to this way of living in the UK.

Some brits are also becomming very anti supermarket and going back to buying directly from farmers markets, or buying only that which is in season and only buying british produce. Most brits I know these days also cook things from scratch.

Re: Restaurants cater to Polish takeout

""Eveyone in my large family in Poland cooks food from scratch using fresh ingredients.""

this my girlfriend tells me is almost unique in Poland. winiary and knorr packet soups and flavours are almost universally used in Poland instead of fresh ingredients. traditional polish food like pierogis are nearly always bought ready made from shops. bright orange coloured chemical filled soda pop is the most popular drink in Poland. mcdonalds and kebabs are hugely popular. things have changed enormously over the last ten years.

Re: Restaurants cater to Polish takeout

most families will now cook a proper dinner with fresh ingredients only for special occasions. in my girlfriend's family this is on a sunday.

Re: Restaurants cater to Polish takeout

With a ready meal I mean the meals that you can buy in the UK such as curry with rice, mash with sausages, lancashire hotpot and all these other meals that you stick in the microwave for a few minutes.
These are hard to find in Poland, at least I haven't seen them - perhaps because I haven't been looking for them. Of course I see the pizza's and pierogi in the freezer and the bigos or flaki in the jars but that was not what I was referring to.

We live in a small village and people do cook from scratch with fresh ingredients. Every family grows their own vegetables and potatoes and they only eat meat occassionally as they can't afford to eat it everyday let alone that they can afford a ready meal. Cooking from scratch and growing your own is cheaper for them.
Of course they use the occassional stock cube or knorr sauce mix but I don't consider that to be a ready meal.
And yes, for people who can afford it, Mc Donalds, Kebab, KFC and all that is very popular. Everything that hasn't been available for decades is of course very popular.

We just live the village life and also grow our own vegetables, get fresh milk of our neighbour's cows and cook from scratch. We cut our own chips, make our own makaron and it's been ages since our oven last saw a frozen pizza - we make our own from scratch.

Re: Restaurants cater to Polish takeout

Convenience foods are very popular in Poland. For those who doubt this I suggest they look at average Mareks shopping cart the next time you are shopping at Tesco. Maybe there won't be much meat, but there will be a lot of sugar, artificial soft drinks, chips, and packeted food.

Ready meals as found in England, like curries, are not generally available. Poles don't like spicy food.

Villagers do grow still lots of vegetables, but, even this is ending. A quick look at the many unused and overgrown Polish allotment gardens will confirm this.

Re: Restaurants cater to Polish takeout

"We just live the village life and also grow our own vegetables, get fresh milk of our neighbour's cows and cook from scratch. We cut our own chips, make our own makaron and it's been ages since our oven last saw a frozen pizza - we make our own from scratch."

Fine. Sounds great. But don't assume that your neighbors live as you do or as they did ten years ago. Convenience is now king in Poland. Tesco reigns supreme.

Re: Restaurants cater to Polish takeout

And the really poor buy their convenience foods at Netto. They certainly don't grow it. They spend most of their life standing on corners drinking. The only cultivating they do is of their moustache.

Re: Restaurants cater to Polish takeout

Hans, I know my neighbours very well so I also know that they don't have the money to do a big shop at Tesco's or Kaufland or whatever. These people don't even have a car to get there. They have a bicycle and that's it. The nearest village shop with a limited assortment of groceries is 7 km away.
Yes, things are changing and of course I see the other side when we visit the "big city", it's a different world.
I think my neighbours would be in shock if they visited the "big city" - they don't see or know anything else than the village shop and the weekly market.

Re: Restaurants cater to Polish takeout

OK, you might well have a point. I concede some villages are pretty isolated and many of the population of said villages are without transport. These people might not have taken on the wonders of convenience food, yet.

However, your choice of eating fresh and natural food has been made for a totally different reason.

Healthy eating isn't a huge concern to the majority of Poles. Price and convenience are.

Re: Restaurants cater to Polish takeout

Of course the major issue here is that people buy the cheapest foods available.
I think the same goes for the UK. Although organic food sales have gone up, still a lot of people choose convenience and cheap foods over healthy options with the excuse that there's no time to cook a proper meal.

It's certainly quite strange for the Polish people as I think they are always very concerned about their health and I have never seen so many Apteka's anywhere!
I work with a lady who is a true believer that drinking a cold drink can give you a sore throat or pneumonia
For every minor health issue people visit their GP and get prescribed antibiotics.
Children still wear hats and jackets in springtime and you should never ever go out without covering your head when it's windy

Re: Restaurants cater to Polish takeout

Healthy eating and cooking from scratch are not necessarily one and the same.

The town I visit in Poland isn't isolated but doesn't have a big supermarket and people don't have the choice of ready meals. If they do exist they are most likely more expensive than cooking from scratch and don't taste as good. I'm always impressed when I see my male cousins helping their wives prepare soup and main meals from scratch. In my experience there is one proper cooked meal a day, usually mid afternoon. In the morning and evening you might have a selection of cold cuts, cheese and bread with tomatoes and pickled cucumber or frankfurters. So I guess these are convenience foods of sorts but not ready meals.

I think pierogi are the only Polish food that can be truly successful as convenience meals. They are very popular but take a long time to make from scratch.

Re: Restaurants cater to Polish takeout

"It's certainly quite strange for the Polish people as I think they are always very concerned about their health and I have never seen so many Apteka's anywhere!
I work with a lady who is a true believer that drinking a cold drink can give you a sore throat or pneumonia
For every minor health issue people visit their GP and get prescribed antibiotics.
Children still wear hats and jackets in springtime and you should never ever go out without covering your head when it's windy "


Agreed . My in-laws are perfect examples. OK, they're both very fat, but, they seem healthy enough. Despite no obvious symptons they take many different pills each and every day; constantly visit the doctor; and check their own blood pressure almost daily. This health consciousness does not extend to their diet. They eat mostly junk food - white bread, pickles, sausages and meat. Very, very rarely any fresh fruit or vegetables.

Re: Restaurants cater to Polish takeout

"still a lot of people choose convenience and cheap foods over healthy options with the excuse that there's no time to cook a proper meal."

A lot of people simply don't know how to cook something like soup for example. I've met people who have only ever eaten tinned soup at home. It's a lost skill.

Speaking of making your own pasta (very impressive by the way), there was once an april fool's joke in the UK about the "spaghetti tree harvest".

Re: Restaurants cater to Polish takeout

"A lot of people simply don't know how to cook something like soup for example. I've met people who have only ever eaten tinned soup at home. It's a lost skill. "

True. Tomato soup is usually made with hugely watered down tinned tomato concentrate. Rosol with a Knorr stock cube. Barszcz is made from the powder out of a Winiary or Knorr packet in most Polish homes I've visited.

Re: Restaurants cater to Polish takeout

" Very, very rarely any fresh fruit or vegetables. "

I've found it hard to find a decent selection in the shops. I've also noticed things like oranges and bananas are really expensive compared to the UK.

Re: Restaurants cater to Polish takeout

The masses don't buy fruit and vegetables. They eat them when they can get them from a garden (either theirs or a relatives) and for the other 49 weeks of the year eat unhealthy pickled versions or no vegetables at all.

The summertime 'Polish salad' stinks, as well. Soggy lettuce leaves in mayonaisse and cream. Yuk.

Poles probably have a very low life expectancy.

Re: Restaurants cater to Polish takeout
Re: Restaurants cater to Polish takeout

Told you! Look at Russia's and Ukraine's figures though.

The only vegetables to be eaten in huge quantities in Poland are potatoes and onions.

Re: Restaurants cater to Polish takeout

The large proportion of pickled produce I've read is traditional because of the weather patterns with long winters. Poles are creatures of habit when it comes to food.

Re: Restaurants cater to Polish takeout

""
The summertime 'Polish salad' stinks, as well. Soggy lettuce leaves in mayonaisse and cream. Yuk.
""

I don't believe it includes mayo. The one I had was just lettuce and cream.

Re: Restaurants cater to Polish takeout

Salt and sugar for flavour.

Re: Restaurants cater to Polish takeout

I suspect the life expectancy table is skewed by the generation that smoked Sport and breathed Nowa Huta. It would be interesting to see the projections on the younger generation.

As to produce, berry season must be coming into full swing. Czarne jagody/bilberries/bluette/blueberries by the bucket load. Pierogi z jagodami!

Re: Restaurants cater to Polish takeout

"I don't believe it includes mayo. The one I had was just lettuce and cream."

I've had both. Depends on who makes it and how fresh ingredients are as to how tasty it is. Home made is usually best unless someone is a hopeless cook.

Polish meals are about sharing time together rather than gourmet cooking. The traditional Polish diet is not healthy. It's designed using traditionally available ingredients to stave off hunger in the cold or cool you down when its hot. It was healthier in communist times when people ate less off it because less was available. These days things have changed. Poles have always been health conscious to the point of hypochondria. Unfortunately the ingrained idea that eating more is better for you is their detriment when food is plentiful. This is a typical frame of mind in cold northern climes and people are fatter I think in the north of europe (correct me if I'm wrong).

Polish diet and people's attitudes to food will evolve over time as international influences affect this and they realise the relationship between fatty food and heart disease/diabetes.

Re: Restaurants cater to Polish takeout

>>The only vegetables to be eaten in huge quantities in Poland are potatoes and onions.

Hans, what about cucumbers and cabbage? Or tomatoes? I've eaten more tomatoes while living in Poland than anywhere else.

Re: Restaurants cater to Polish takeout

OK, pickled cucumbers and tomatoes are quite popular in season. I haven't had much cabbage in Poland.

Re: Restaurants cater to Polish takeout

Why would Hans care, he lives in the sticks, where they don't even have a restaurants?

Re: Restaurants cater to Polish takeout

How much time has Hans spent in the U.S.A. and when was this, and where?