You might or might not know that victuals is pronounced vittles.  I didn’t; I just learned it a couple of weeks ago.  When I think of vittles, I think of Granny on the Beverly Hillbillies.  Victuals, on the other hand, always makes me think of the poem “Terence, this is stupid stuff,” by A.E. Housman:

‘TERENCE, this is stupid stuff:

You eat your victuals fast enough;

There can’t be much amiss, ’tis clear,

To see the rate you drink your beer.’[1]

I’ve always pronounced victuals with both the C and the U, like actual.  It’s one of those words I’d only seen, but never heard.  Or anyway, I didn’t know I’d heard it.  I thought what I’d heard was vittles.

In any event, this post isn’t about etymology or pronunciation or anything like that.

It’s about food.  Polish food.

I really wasn’t exposed to a great many Polish dishes as I was growing up.  We made chrusti with some frequency, and also my grandmother’s traditional Christmas bread (which I have never found an even remotely equivalent recipe for anywhere, so I have no idea what its Polish name might be).  We occasionally had golabki (which is pronounced “galumpki,” and that’s also how I’ve always spelled it), and I heard many stories about “glue balls” but never had the (dis)pleasure of actually trying them, though my cousins did.

We made potato pancakes often (they’re one of my own kids’ favorite foods), and we frequently made chicken soup with my grandmother’s fat, fabulous dumplings, but though I knew both of these had Polish origins, I never knew their Polish names.  (For the dumplings, I still don’t, but the pancakes are placki ziemniaczane.)

And of course there were my mom’s pork chops, which I never knew were Polish at all.

But that’s it.  The sum total of my exposure to Polish food.

Growing up, that was fine, but as an adult, and especially since I’ve been writing this book, I’ve wanted more.

I’ve bought cookbooks, and of course I’ve browsed the Internet, so I’ve learned a little about Polish cuisine, but I’ve never really had the courage to try any of the recipes I found because I had no way of knowing how correctly (or incorrectly) I might be following them.  My one attempt at golabki several years ago was an unmitigated disaster (a story for another time, perhaps), so I was leery of trying anything completely new.

And then—

My husband and I were walking down the main drag in Wisconsin Dells last summer, just doing the tourist thing, when a little sign caught my eye.  Polish Food, it said, with a little arrow pointing down an alley.

Really?  I chugged down that alley with Tom’s futile words drifting on the wind behind me:  “But we’ve already had lunch!”

I didn’t care.  It’s no trouble at all to order food to go.

I don’t remember the name of the place.  I’m not sure I ever even saw the name of the place.  It was just a teeny little storefront with two café tables inside:

polish restaurant dells 8-31-13

What’s gofry?  I wondered.  I didn’t know.

Turns out gofry is waffles.  These people seriously know how to do waffles.  The menu offered a wealth of other possibilities, as well.  I wasn’t sure where to start.

polish menu left dells 8-31-13

Sorry that picture’s blurry.  I was literally shaking with excitement.  Here’s the other half:

polish menu right dells 8-31-13

It took me awhile, but I finally narrowed it down.  I’d heard of bigos, a hunter’s stew that’s considered pretty much the Polish national food, but had never had it.  I’d also, believe it or not, never had pierogi.  And I had to try the golabki to see what I’d done wrong with them the one time I’d tried to make them myself.

polish food dells 8-31-13

Left, bigos; center, potato & cheese pierogi; right, golabki.

It was all fabulous.  Of course it was.

But the very best thing about this unexpected pit stop was talking to the women behind the counter, who spoke with Polish accents.  They sounded just like my grandmother.

I could have listened to them all day long.

But neither of them used the word vittles.