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more on sausages, for Memorial Day

This weekend is the traditional start of backyard grilling season in the USA, with Memorial Day. (For those mired by British English, backyard = rear garden; front lawn = garden)

While I was doing the holiday shopping, I noticed that the supermarket deli cases appear to be avoiding the standard names for sausages, like kielbasa and bratwurst, and instead found packages labeled 'polish dogs' and 'garlic sausage'.
I couldn't help but wonder how a fresh-off-the-boat new American from the mountains of Colombia or rural Luzon would react to an item called 'polish dogs'. Ha.

Now, I am always quick to favor normal American English usage when it comes to foodstuffs like arugula and zucchini and eggplant and half-and-half over crazy British confusions like 'aubergine', but this sausage-naming arena is one in which I think the USA is justly deserving of some criticism. We all remember the story of 'hot dogs' vs. wieners as part of war propaganda, and how that has resurfaced periodically with things like freedom fries, but why the hesitation to call sausages by their real names? What's so trying or embarrassing about 'kielbasa'?
Here on the West Coast we notoriously whitewashed already bland-ified products like Hellmann's Mayonnaise as 'Best Foods Spread', and there are back-formations such as calling Oroweat Breads 'Arnold's' when selling it to Easterners.

Why the discomfort with acknowledging and celebrating our origins? It seems strangely at odds to be observing Memorial Day with foods whose backgrounds we are hiding by re-naming them.

Posted by
1593 posts

We all remember the story of 'hot dogs' vs. wieners as part of war
propaganda, and how that has resurfaced periodically with things like
freedom fries, but why the hesitation to call sausages by their real
names? What's so trying or embarrassing about 'kielbasa'?

Kiełbasa is just Polish for sausage. Why the hesitation to call sausages by their real names?

Posted by
3437 posts

Is it the dumbing down of Americans in general that is the cause? No one wants to learn a "foreign" language just to go shopping! ;-)

I just bought my sausages for the holiday. They are what was on sale at a good price. I did note they were "made from an enticing blend of the best cuts of beef, pork, and chicken (mechanically separated and may contain bone shards), with the finest seasonings for your enjoyment."

Through the years there has always been a fight with butchers to name various cuts of meat by a standard name. There are some rules about it from the USDA. Things like calling shrimp extra large for the 30-40 count at one shop while another called them that when they were 16-20 count. Of course the smaller ones (larger number) cost less to start with so the shop could make it seem like you were getting a better deal there compared to the advertised price at the other shop. Now, no matter what they call them, they have to include the size in the description to help reduce confusion.

I am not aware of any naming restrictions or requirements for sausages. They must include an ingredient list and some nutritional info, but that's it.

Posted by
4218 posts

We're starting to see the same 'problem' here in the UK. A particularly irksome one for me is the increasnig trend for the term 'easy peelers' when referring to clementines, satsumas or tangerines. My preference is for satsumas but half the time all I ever see for sale are nets upon nets of 'easy peelers' which means nothing!

Kielbasa is actually generic, it's not a type of sausage but simply the Polish word for sausage, kabanos, krakowska and wiejska are all popular types of kielbasa and can all be found in most British shops by their actual name.

From my times spent in the US I don't recall much variety in American sausages, I seem to remember seeing mainly 'breakfast sausages' and a variety of 'franks'.

Posted by
24660 posts

kielbasa and bratwurst, and instead found packages labeled 'polish dogs' and 'garlic sausage'.

Does bratwurst have garlic in the US?

Posted by
2883 posts

Kielbasa is actually generic, it's not a type of sausage but simply the Polish word for sausage

True, although sausages labelled "kielbasa" in the US usually follow some kind of a pattern.
I just bought a bunch of sausages made at a specialty shop not far from here; Bauernwurst, smoked Bratwurst, Debrechener, and Knockwurst. Great sausages.

Posted by
5537 posts

Does bratwurst have garlic in the US?

No, not typically. But there has been a foodie trend towards innovative bratwurst recipes, so anything goes. Things sold in packages in grocery stores as kielbasa or polish sausage, are typically the same thing as other smoked coarsely ground pork sausages sold next to them, with some garlic and sometimes filler and marjoram. Sometimes the "smoke" is smoke flavor. Authentic kielbasa is hard to find around here, but doesn't taste at all like the packaged brands.

Posted by
525 posts

Kind of related.....if I wanted to buy a sausage in the US that is the same or similar to what is used for currywurst from a stand in northern Germany, what do I look for?

Posted by
3437 posts

From my times spent in the US I don't recall much variety in American sausages

It depends on what part of the country you are in and what their interest are. I am currently in Denver, and the sausage selection here is minimal. Yes, breakfast sausages and franks or hot dogs, are easily found. Some stores have kielbasa. But that is about it. In Texas, where I grew up, you will find in many stores an extensive selection of local made sausages in addition to the basics. My family used to make various Polish and German style sausages around mid November from whatever animals were collected during the hunting season. It was a messy but fun couple of days. I miss that because no matter how good the local sausages are you can find in the shops, homemade is always better.

Posted by
5609 posts

The reverse are food items like cheese and wine that reflect their European region but are American imitations. The only Asiago cheese that I can find in America is an "asiago" style cheese made in the USA. And there are the American "burgundy" wines with a lowercase "b"....

Being served a "polish dog" may be truth in advertising in that you are not getting a kielbasa made in Poland., just an American hot dog with more garlic.

Posted by
3437 posts

if I wanted to buy a sausage in the US that is the same or similar to what is used for currywurst from a stand in northern Germany, what do I look for?

I would like to know too. The sausages in the currywursts I have eaten have mostly been close to a hot dog but not exactly. A slightly coarser texture. The internet says bratwurst is often used, but those I had were not very brat like.

Posted by
3437 posts

Amazon sells several varieties of Asiago imported from Italy. The sell only large chunks (2 to 5 pounds) and it is a fairly high price.

Posted by
2549 posts

Memory from my visit to Strasbourg:

Knack, knack! Who’s there?
I have to clear the air about Knacks and Knocks. In Europe what we North Americans consider a frankfurter, hot dog, coney or tube steak is a Knack. So don't confuse it with the Knock - the knockwurst is fatter, heavier, often garlicky and totally different than the Knack.p

Posted by
942 posts

We have a German grocery store here in the DC area that sells a wide variety of wurst/sausages. The authentic wurst will make you never go back to the generic American hot dogs. Yum.

Posted by
1512 posts

Our locally made kielbasa are 2/3rds pork to 1/3 beef and coarsely ground; bratwurst are all pork and typically have marjoram as the main spice; bockwurst are half pork half veal; a german-style frank is contrasted with a kosher-style frank -- the former is 3/4 beef and the latter is all beef.

In PA as a kid I did enjoy both knockwurst and knackwurst, but here in the Bay Area we don't necessarily have everything but we have at least something that you won't easily find elsewhere, like a whole range of non-German sausages including linguica and calabrese and hot links and andouille and various chorizo and sundry sweet italian. We also get various French sausages like merguez as part of the wide range of charcuterie. And the last few years have seen expanded Brazilian and Argentine availability - in Argentina families splurge on a weekend brunch called a parillada, or a full grilled banquet, that has a nose-to-tail variety of meats.

The growth of chicken- and turkey- based sausages, I suspect, has as much to do with scheming producers as it does with any consumer concerns about health/nutrition.

Posted by
1997 posts

The best sausages I had in Poland were not Kielbasa, but rather beautiful plump Kaszanka roasted over a campfire. It's certainly not your grandma's Bratwurst lol, Kaszanka is a blood sausage made with buckwheat, barley, and pig’s blood. Not for the faint of heart but truly deliciously, served with a little ketchup!

Growing up in Spain, we have a very strong grill/barbecue culture, we also call parrillada or a la parrilla, in Barcelona, the sausage of choice is the classic Butifarra, which is a Catalan White Sausage, with a variety of extra ingredients, like truffles. Apparently the Catalan Butifarra recipe came back all the way from the ancient Roman times, but that may just be some good marketing haha.

Posted by
1512 posts

I enjoyed a lot of butifarra in Barcelona, Carlos, for sure -- but I liked the small red sausages in Valencia even more, because they had some kick to them.

Posted by
1512 posts

That looks about right, Carlos -- the bartender just called them small chorizo, IIRC, but everyone was talking too fast for me to follow closely, maybe they said chistarras at first. This was at the same local bar where I discovered muslitos de cangrejo, which has since become one of my all-time favorite tapas items. They also had short dark beer bottles that I don't often see.
If my Spanish was better, I would have asked more about the lottery tickets that were stuck all over the mirror and TV screens...

Posted by
1997 posts

Ah yes everyone has their favorite tapa, chistorras are a classic in tapas bars all across Spain, all though they come from the north part in Aragon/Pais Vasco. If you are looking for a taste of Spain in California, I discovered an excellent importer and wholesaler of Spanish food close to Los Angeles. La Española Meats (https://www.laespanolameats.com/en/), all of the Spanish expats in Los Angeles buy direct from there and they ship it to your house. They also make pretty authentic Spanish sausages on-site, to grill at home - (https://www.laespanolameats.com/en/meats/dona-juana/cooking-sausages)

Posted by
4388 posts

Carlos, we lived in Poland for several years, and I could never work up any enthusiasm for kaszanka. There were a number of sausages that were just wonderful however. Myśliwska? Can that be right?

And biała kiełbasa, served at Christmas. Wonderful! And parówki, which were very finely ground and delicious.

And speaking of Spanish treats, good jamon puts prosciutto to shame. No comparison.

Posted by
1997 posts

Hi Jane you are beginning to make my mouth water! For me Kaszanka was love at first sight haha, but it was homemade I ate at a barbecue with some Polish friends. I know there are a number of cold-cut or smoked sausages that are eaten as part of the substantial Polish breakfasts, but their names escape me.

As for Jamon, in Spain we have a bit of a terrible joke that the best Italian Prosciutto di Parma is merely a mediocre Jamon Serrano in Spain lol! And that's not even talking about the top-notch stuff - Jamon Ibérico de Bellota

Posted by
4388 posts

Most people in or near Northeast Oklahoma probably know about Siegi's Sausage factory. https://siegis.com/ Siegi is from Austria, and has been making and selling sausages in Tulsa for 40 years. Some of them are traditional, others not so much.

Note: Webmaster, is this too commercial?

I also have a comment about "authenticity." When we first lived in Poland, we lived in Poznań, and loved the local sausages. "Aha" we thought; "finally, authentic kiełbasa!" And we loved it. Then we were transferred to Łódż, and were surprised at how different the regular everyday kiełbasa was. (And we didn't like it as well, either.)

We also noticed a difference in the bread, although we liked the Łódż bread better. So what does authentic mean? Here in the States we talk about regional differences in barbecue; each region insists its version is the "real" one.

Posted by
4218 posts

So what does authentic mean? Here in the States we talk about regional differences in barbecue; each region insists its version is the "real" one.

All Polish kielbasa is authentic as it's simply the name for sausage, there are hundreds of varieties of sausage made in Poland so there isn't an "everyday kielbasa". There are regional varieties much like other places. For example a Lincolnshire sauasage made by a butcher in Boston might be better or more 'authentic' than one made in Plymouth or there might be better ones made elsewhere. Sausages made in Poland were highly regulated during the communist era and they were are all made in accordance to lengthy, strict guidelines. These days the control has been relaxed but many producers still stick to the guidelines. Meat is graded by type and recipes are precise with the ratio of different meat types, prime lean cuts such as loin would be labelled class one, with the fattier cuts being labelled lower down. Of course, raw ingredients and techniques vary. The meat from a free range pig tastes far better than one reared intensively. The breed also affects the taste. The production of the sausage, how much the meat is emulsified, how long and what wood it is smoked with will have a bearing on the end product. It is why you will find a Wiejska from one place tasting different to one from another despite both sausages being made to the same recipe. Both are authentic, they'll just taste different.

Posted by
4388 posts

JC, you're right, of course, that "kiełbasa" is the word in Polish for sausage. I should have been more specific. I was referring to what the folks in the butcher store simply called "zwykła kiełbasa," meaning ordinary, regular, everyday, plain old sausage; similar to what we here in the States call "Polish sausage."

As to my question about authenticity, I was thinking of folks who turn up their noses at things they don't consider authentic, because it's not the way they're made in Warsaw or Rome or Philadelphia or Kansas City. You made my point much better than I did.

We once went to a Mexican restaurant in a small town in Oklahoma, which had been recommended to us because the owner/operators were "real Mexicans." I don't remember what we ordered - probably tacos and enchiladas - but the filling was Spam. Stan laughed at that, because his dad, who lives on the US-Mexico border and is married to a woman of Mexican heritage, always makes tacos with Spam.

Edit to add: For language purists, I screwed up here. The kind of sausage I remember from Poland was called zwyczajna, not zwykła. Rusty memory. See my post further down the thread.

Posted by
1512 posts

"Authenticity" gets complicated, so in this case it might be better to talk about a kielbasa or a sausage that isn't authentic.
Consider a parallel example -- if you're visiting San Francisco and there's a bus decorated like a cable car then it isn't an authentic cable car -- even if it follows the same route as a cable car, and is run by a local businessperson who is native to the area, and has been providing good service for decades. It might be a great intro to the area, like some hop-on/hop-off tour buses (plenty of double-decker versions of those prowling SF), but it is not an authentic cable car.

What's the kielbasa equivalent?

My go-to example for teasing out some of the issues surrounding 'authenticity' is the Harlem Globetrotters.
For ease of communication, we call what they are doing basketball, but it is not really basketball in the sense that the Cleveland Cavaliers playing a regular season scheduled game in the NBA is basketball, is it?
Same goes for the LDS Church -- officials in the LDS call themselves Christians, but no other denomination of Christianity agrees that what LDS people profess, believe, and practice is within the bounds of Christianity. So who gets to decide if Mormons are Christians? It happens on a basketball court and involves a ball and a basket and squeaky shoes - does that make it basketball?

How many of the people making kielbasa have to be Polish for it to be authentic? :-P

Posted by
1503 posts

Mark in Highlands Ranch - Have you tried Sara’s Sausage? Safeway has it here in Greeley. My favorite bratwurst - beating out anything I’ve had in Germany!

Posted by
5537 posts

So what does authentic mean?

I don't know, but I know when I taste it.

Posted by
3437 posts

stephen,

I have not tried it. I will look for some next time I am in my neighborhood Safeway. Thanks for the recommendation. I will let you know what I think of it.

Posted by
4388 posts

JC, I owe you an apology. I was doing absolutely nothing relevant to this discussion earlier today, when the word "zwyczajna" popped into my head. Not zwykła kiełbasa, zwyczajna kiełbasa. Of course, it comes from the same root (usual, regular) but my only excuse is that it's been almost 40 years since I've had to speak Polish.

And I just googled "zwyczajna kiełbasa" and up popped "typical, regular Polish sausage." :-)

So I was in the ballpark, just trusted my (aging) memory without checking my facts.

It's funny how words you used to know just suddenly appear... Like song lyrics...

Posted by
4218 posts

No need to apologise Jane, I'm not really that much of a stickler for the correct terminology when it comes to Polish sausages ; )

Posted by
5537 posts

Hmmm. Well most of the time I saw the typical smoked kielbasa (usually in Chicago Polish delis) on the menu as Wiejska which I believe means something like "country style".

Posted by
4218 posts

According to my copy of 'Polish Sausages -Authentic Recipes and Instructions' by Stanley and Adam Marianski (a widely considered authority on Polish sausages) Kielbasa Wiejska translates as Village Sausage. Made primarily of prime pork with a smaller amount of prime beef and hard fat trimmings, seasoned with salt, cure#1, sugar, pepper and garlic. It's one of my favourite Polish sausages but doesn't top Krakowska.

There are 121 distinct Polish sausages as outlined in the Polish Government Archives between 1945 and 1989. (the book provides recipes for them all!)