Friday, February 6, 2009

This Is What Happens When You're No Longer Around a Whole Bunch of Polish People

This was the scene today in the local grocery store's pasta aisle:

I was stalking up and down the aisle, looking high, looking low, scouring the shelves. I was not alone. A silver-haired grandpa was stalking up and down the aisle, too, and he looked nervous, concerned, overwhelmed. It was clear he wasn't finding what he needed. Neither was I.

What I needed was kluski. I didn't know what the grandpa needed, but after four trips up and down the aisle I was beginning to suspect that he, too, needed some kluski and, like me, was becoming convinced that he was going to have to rethink that chicken soup he was planning on making this weekend.

I guess I'd never stopped to really think about kluski before. I just always assumed it was in the pasta aisle of every grocery store that ever existed, next to those other flimsy-looking egg noodles that schools everywhere roll out for the buttered noodle side on chicken cutlet day.

I knew kluski was Polish, but I didn't think it was one of those items you can find everywhere in very-Polish Buffalo but not find anywhere outside of it. It was just so available and so common that I assumed it was available and common everywhere. Everyone's mother had a bag of kluski stocked in the pantry because they are as close as you can get to homemade noodles without mixing the dough and piping it into boiling water yourself.

And today, as I stumbled through the grocery store on a comfort food bender--I had plans to make lasagna, banana bread, and chicken soup in the span of two days--I was getting irritated that I couldn't find something that should be right there, right next to the No Yolks.

I finally gave up and bent down to get the lasagna noodles I needed anyway. I sighed a heavy sigh.

The grandpa--brightening suddenly, seeing that I'd possibly found what I was looking for--came over to my side. "Excuse me," he said, "but did you happen to see the lasagna noodles?"

So he wasn't after kluski after all. He was after lasagna noodles, which were stocked in many varieties on the bottom shelf.

"Right down here," I said, gesturing to the whole wheat, the no-bake, and the regular lasagna noodles.

"Whew," he said. "Thanks."

Clearly he was running a very important errand for someone else, someone who needed lasagna noodles as much as I needed kluski. He would be able to walk out of the aisle satisfied, but I would not.

Still frustrated, I wheeled around to the small ethnic aisle and scanned the falafel mixes, the chow mein noodles, the basmati rice just to make sure kluski hadn't gotten lumped in over there. Nothing.

I had to call in reinforcements. I plucked the phone from my purse and called my mother.

"Okay," I said, "I'm sure this is going to sound like a completely bizarre question, but kluski is always in the normal pasta aisle, right? You've never seen it anywhere else, have you?"

"No," my mother said. "Kluski's always next to the egg noodles."

I sighed and shook my head. "Mother," I said, "there is no kluski in this store."

"No kluski?" she said. She sounded like she didn't quite believe me.

"No kluski," I repeated. "None. This is what happens when you don't live in Buffalo. All the good things go away. I think kluski might be considered exotic here." I sighed. "I'm going to have to drive to the big grocery store and see if it's in their giant Foods of the World section."

Which is exactly what I did. I drove from one grocery store on one side of town to the other grocery store on the opposite side of town. I made a beeline for their long (and pretty impressive, for such a small town) Foods of the World section, which is one of my favorite aisles in the whole store. It's where I can get my fix of the candy bars I would normally eat in Canada. It's where I can get my fix of cookies that are bundled behind packages featuring strange animal mascots. It's where I can get my fix of that thick peach juice that comes in tiny tin cans.

It's also were I can get my fix of kluski. There is an entire Polish section--I already knew that; I've been steadily working my way through the various Polish cookies for the last few months--but I'd never bothered to look for kluski there. It was there, but I'd never noticed it before--probably because I'd just assumed that if I ever went looking for it, I'd find it in the pasta aisle.

I snatched up a bag of kluski and then thought about taking all the bags because there were only three left, and how could I be sure that the grocery store would think to refresh its kluski stash, which was relegated to the bottom shelf in the Foods of the World aisle?

In the end, I talked myself out of stockpiling the kluski. I told myself that there was hope--that surely they had originally ordered more than four bags of kluski, and now that there were only a few left, that must mean there was someone else in town who'd grown up on chicken soup with noodles tastier than the normal fare stocked in the pasta aisle. In fact, I was so hopeful that I walked toward the registers wondering if that person was at home right that minute, stirring a big batch of borscht and cracking a palm of dill into the broth. And then I wished she'd call me up and invite me over for dinner.


Casey Sween said...

What the hell is kluski?

Casey Sween said...

Okay, so I just saw how you nicely linked it for those of us who don't know what kluski is. Hey, do stores out there have lefse? (You know, in case I desperately need some the time I come out there to visit you. It's important to know these things.)

Jess said...

There is no lefse. People here eat lobster, not lefse. And I'm okay with that. I mean, I know I like lefse and all, but come on--lobster? Doesn't. Get. Any. Better.

Anne said...

My Mom always made kluski from scratch. She'd make big batches and freeze it for later use. I never knew you could buy it! As for the closest polish restaurant to me in San Diego? That would be one and only one, and it is in LA. I'm going through major withdrawal.

Jess said...

I was dreaming about the Polish Villa today, Anne. In the middle of class. Seriously. I was thinking, "What I wouldn't give for a potato pancake or a slice of smoked sausage from The Villa."


Anne said...

I went grocery shopping. I looked for kluski. Fat chance.

Have you made anything from the polish cookbook yet?