Hamtramck, Michigan, is bloodthirsty. Historically a Polish community, blood sausages – or kiszka – hang from rails and slither on racks. Containers of dark duck blood soup – or czernina – lurk in creaky freezers, awaiting the next victim. Old-timers say the original Polish names for these delicacies with a special reverence at the local meat market. They want blood.
It was all enough to turn Hamtramck’s Polish mayor, Karen Majewski, vegetarian. But not me. Srodek’s Campau Quality Sausage on Joseph Campau is my idea of heaven, a sanguine paradise where the butchered remains of animals are extruded into ideal forms. Kiszka sells for a paltry $2.99 a pound here. And it’s not just the krizka that sends my heart aflutter. Srodek’s also offers over 30 pierogi, from traditional sauerkraut pierogi to the bizarrely American cheeseburger pierogi. If you’re at least one-seventh Polish, like me, it’s too much to resist.
Srodek’s is a market first and foremost, though, so you’ll have to do a little home cookin’ to get to the good stuff. Of course, you could eat the kiszka cold, but that’s just wrong in my book. Pig blood, pig offal, and buckwheat groats stuffed inside pig intestines is a dish, I think, best served warm and preferably fried in butter or oil with chopped onions. Typically seasoned with salt, pepper, and marjoram by the butcher, there’s not much left to do after that point but enjoy.
Describing how kiszka tastes isn’t as simple. It’s meaty and not as porky as ham, and as you’d expect, there’s a hint of blood. But to just say the blood adds a mineral or iron flavor is somewhat dishonest. In good kiszka, the blood complements the spices, and the result is unique enough that it truly has to be eaten to be understood. There’s something in it that comforts people – that spans the generations and oceans – and it deserves respect.
The buckwheat improves the texture by making it a bit more tender, I guess, but that’s about it. The blood really is the star here. You can drown the pinkish gray slop in ketchup or mustard, but that’s still what you’re eating it for. Blood, delicious blood, mixed with spices.
Thankfully for those less adventurous, Srodek’s pierogi aren’t nearly as challenging – not even the traditional meat and kraut pierogi I snap up at Srodek’s with the frenzied ferocity of a German panzer division. It’s probably best to think of pierogi as Poland’s answer to ravioli, traditional fillings wrapped in lumpy, half-moon shaped loving wombs of unleavened dough. You can fry or boil pierogi – my Babcia [Grandma] Zarzynski always boiled her homemade pierogi, so now I do, too.
The best compliment I can give Srodek’s pierogi is that it reminds me of my Babcia’s pierogi. The meat, a combination of pork and veal, is mushy and satisfying in that way only quality inexpensive meat can be, and the kraut isn’t too sour – hell, you can actually tell it used to be cabbage! It’s the kind of pierogi you shovel into your mouth one doughy dumpling after another.
So, if you want to know what early 20th century America or original Polish American cuisine was like, a trip to Srodek’s is as close as you’re gonna come. Hamtramck, for better or worse, is a town that has kept it real. There aren’t many driveways or parking lots and the people eat blood. Think of the smoke stains on the buildings like tattoos, the litter strewn about a treasure trove of history.
Like a Buddha, observe.