Friday, May 2, 2008

This Post is NOT About Food (Really)

It's about looking for a butcher shop. Bear with me, vegetarian friends.

As I explore new recipes, some of the ingredients are getting a little more exotic, from the perspective of a simple country boy like myself (and, no, I didn't go to Harvard, though I have driven through it several times and spent some enjoyable time in its bookstore), such as Garlic pork sausage a la Languedoc. It seemed as if my choices had come to supermarkets (ugh!), a local store which does only Yuppie specialty cuts (Whole Tenderloins, anyone?), and Whole Paycheck. Tofu is looking better than it used to.

Today I ask my friend and greengrocer Mike, who used to work at Yuppie Meats years ago, and he came up with two recommendations: one general and one Polish. New Britain, where the grocer/ farm is, is a small working class (Stanley hand tools) town with a large Polish community. I've had a great meal or two with friends at local restaurants like Krakovia, , so I decided to try to find the butcher shop Mike described.

OK, I get lost a time or two and have to double back, but then I think I've found it: Polish, begins with "N", and on Broad street; I'm the only customer there who orders in English. Good so far, but it doesn't seem to fit Mike's description. With the help of another customer, I order some Kielbasa (tough, right?) but also learn the place I want is about 3-4 blocks further. When I see it, I know it's the right place as I park. It's a small store with a big L-shaped meat case, with six or seven staff behind it and a dozen customers in front. One arm of the "L" is for cured meats, the other for fresh. When my turn comes, I awkwardly apologize for speaking English, and try to describe what I want: cured ham, garlic sausage, fresh pork shoulder. The lady takes me in hand, and in thickly accented, barely discernible English, explains what many of the items are. It is rushed, and getting more so, but she shows me, and answers my questions as best she can, and gives me several samples: some of the best meats I've tasted in many a year.

I have more trouble with the fresh meat side, but one of the other staff jumps in to help, and it is solved quickly. By this time, I'm re-thinking a couple of things I passed up in cured meats the first time, and several customers pitch in to offer comments and suggestions, including the names for "black sausage" and "cured Ham" in Polish.

I basked in, and am now reflecting on, the helpfulness strangers showed, the pride they took in the ways their people had developed, not only simply to feed themselves, but to celebrate the gifts of abundance Godde had given them, and how they had used it. The counter clerk had pointed out how lean the sausage was "No Fat!", and a customer advised "we shouldn't eat this, at our age, but a little is good." and another "This one is good for the heart." "This one you saute with onions, or just slice it and eat it."

I was a stranger, and was welcomed, and taken in, to be shown the things we all delight in here.
The meat was secondary.


FranIAm said...

It is not about the meat at all- how right you are.

Lovely Johnieb, lovely.

Pagan Sphinx said...

Nice post. Reminded me of the ethnic town where I lived for 15 years. One of the biggest compliments you can give a people is to be interested in and tempted by their food.

Paul said...

Yes, yes, and yes. I remember being in Paris and the shopkeepers on the Rue St Louis en l'ile welcoming me, helping me out, bantering with me, and not treating me like a stranger but like part of their little neighborhood enclave. It was not about the shopping at all. As you put it so well: I was a stranger, and was welcomed, and taken in, to be shown the things we all delight in here.

Thanks for sharing this.

johnieb said...


this means a lot; thank you.

Grandmère Mimi said...

Johnieb, how nice that your shop welcomed a stranger. You really are a serious foodie, aren't you? I want to see a cookbook come out of your food writing, my friend. You make my mouth water when you describe your dishes. You have a gift, Johnieb. You make even me want to cook, and you surely make me long to have a bite, just a bite, of one of your creations.

johnieb said...

Well, that does it; I'm just gonna have ta move: I gotta have a place to have guests for dinner, doncha think?


Grandmère Mimi said...

In a word, yes.

johnieb said...

Well, Miss Smartie, I have an appointment with a Real Estate person to show me a place in West Hartford ( a nice neighborhood)with Hardwood floors and a Fireplace; I didn't think to ask about Miz Scarlett Tessayevna, though we did chat about new grandchildren (her's is due yesterday in NH; mine in two weeks and five days, but who's counting?) making a quick transition difficult. This is also the first time I've be entirely dependent on movers: oy.

Grandmère Mimi said...

Johnib, don't you be about changing your life because I say so, love. Folks following my advice sometimes find that things go bad

johnieb said...

I really wuzna following your advice, Mimi, as I've been studyin on this for a while, but I'd get discouraged and give up; besides, even I did take your advice, I wouldna blame ya, 'cause I took it, doncha see?

'sides, it aint much change; this place is maybe two miles from here, but I do need to get out of here.