Food is wonderful. It’s the cultural equalizer. You can live in a city your whole life, even have the same ethnic background of a dish, and never come into contact with it. But when you do find a new dish, it’s like a brave new world has opened. Or, if you have moved away from your family beginnings and miss a dish, when you find it in the diaspora of a new city, it’s like you’ve found Nirvana or a food oasis.
Such was the experience of actress/model Sherri Moon, the wife of rocker and film producer, Rob Zombie, when she visited Park + Vine in Over-the-Rhine, Cincinnati, recently, and discovered their lunch special, a dish called Hulushki or Halusky. She was super stoked and mentioned the find on her food blog, “Eat Me,” giving Park + Vine a national shout-out and saying it would certainly bring her Polish mother back to her childhood.
What’s fantastic about hulushki is that it is another peasant dish that within its group of loyal eaters, it allows them, like our local goetta, to “eat back to their proud ancestry.” It’s a simple Polish dish that consists of fried cabbage and onions, tossed with fried, sometimes carmelized, egg noodles, with a variety of spices like black pepper and caraway seeds. And, it’s vegetarian, although some recipes call for a bit of salt pork or bacon to give it a meatier slant.
Although most modern recipes use standard egg noodles, the dish harkens back to handmade variety of thick, soft noodles or dumplings, cooked in Central and Eastern European cuisines. They are kind of like the Germanic spaetzli of Eastern Europe.
In addition to Poland, the dish is also eaten in varieties in Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Serbia, Ukraine, Romania, and Hungary. It’s popular apparently in Pittsburgh, and probably other cities with Eastern European immigrant groups. It may also be found in Chicago, or other upper Midwestern cities with Polish immigrant groups. Sometimes the dish is even cooked with sauerkraut, rather than unpickled cabbage. I think it’s a perfect dish to fit into our Cincinnati Germanic cuisine.
Upon seeing the dish, the ideas for variations blew up in my head – what about using rotkraut or purple cabbage, or adding a bit of heat with smoked paprika or chili flakes. Or what about a cheesy version like the German’s have done with their kasespaetzle to compete with the American mac + cheese? What about feta cheese, with olives and sun dried tomatoes for a Mediterranean twist? Wow, the possibilities are endless.
I was surprised I had never been exposed to the dish in my family. My maternal grandmother was of Polish descent. But her ancestors came from northern, Germanic, Polish Prussia, not central Poland, near Slovak and Czech areas. We did have a vegan buttered egg noodle dish in our family’s repetoire, but it was accented with cinnamon and small apple chunks and typically served as a side, along with warm pork and sauerkraut, almost like an unbaked noodle kuegel.
Well, kudos to Park + Vine for elevating and bringing back a great ancestral Polish peasant dish to add our cultural food psyche!