Sikora’s Polish Market in Northeast Minneapolis is a true Polish market: Not Eastern European. Not Ukrainian with an offering of a few superb sausage varieties. True Polish.
“We get our food directly from a distributor in Chicago, where there are almost a million Polish-Americans. They know how to do it right,” says owner Maciek Sikora. “You can’t fool the old Poles.” But the young Poles know quality and authenticity, too. “Look at the coarseness of the grind for this sausage,” says deli manager Alina Jambor, who is many decades short of being an old Pole. She holds up a wonderfully garlicky slice of sausage with discernible chunks of meat and fat. “You don’t want meat that is all the same color, like a hot dog. A fine grind like that allows you to put in fillers. Good sausage doesn’t have filler.”
The Moscow ham is another example of identifiable food. A cross section reveals large cloves of garlic that were pushed into the meat before processing. It is then garnished generously with even more garlic. It’s moist, rich, and centerpiece worthy.
Another sign of Sikora’s being a truly Polish market is the remarkable selection of pierogi, nineteen in all including plum and blueberry. To Northeast resident and Sikora’s customer Diana Rajchel, it’s this variety that marks the store as “a real Polish place.” Diana puts a lot of care into her selection of food: “While I love Kramarczuk’s, there are differences between Ukrainian and Polish fare, especially when it comes to pierogi versus varenyky,” she says. “It was nice to find a place where I get exactly the right type. For me this distinction is important because it’s an act of ancestral connection: pierogi is a Lenten dish and must be vegetarian; there is a lot of folklore around Polish food and it’s important to me to see that honored.”
People unfamiliar with fruit pierogi may be hesitant to try them. But you need only add a little sugar to the sour cream, and then prepare and serve as you would the savory variety. Cooking and serving advice comes free at Sikora’s. If Maciek, his wife Jacie, or Alina can’t help you, Maciek advises, “Ask a customer with an accent and you’re set.” Customers readily share advice and recipes and there is no shortage of strong opinions, including those on how to use the nine varieties of flour carried at Sikora’s. “Polish bakers want specific flours for specific recipes,” Maciek says.
The frozen pierogi and dumplings have received the ultimate seal of approval: The grandmother test. After sampling the uszka from Sikora’s, a venerable customer — and the cook for multigenerational holiday dinners — resigned as the family’s maker of uszka (the savory mushroom dumpling that goes in barszcz, a beet soup served on Christmas Eve). She declared that all future Christmas-Eve dumplings will come from the store. (Anyone from the generation that invariably received The Vegetarian Epicure by Anna Thomas as a wedding present will recognize uszka as the two-page recipe that even Thomas calls “a long trip.” So who can blame Grandma?)
Sikora’s has been open since March and already has a devoted following. “We have people who come from other parts of the state with coolers so they can stock up,” Alina says. Sunday is a busy day, with many customers stopping by after mass at Holy Cross Catholic Church. The days before Easter were really bustling for Sikora’s; be prepared to rub elbows with other customers crowding into the store before a holiday.
Weekdays are quieter and a good time to visit if you want to find the perfect sauerkraut — the selection is impressive — or a good stock for your borscht. Take advantage of the deli manager’s knowledge of her products. Alina is happy to give samples and explain the differences between the bacons, sausages, hams, and cheeses in the cases. “Gypsy bacon is smoked twice. Any meat called ‘gypsy’ is moist, smoky, and very dark. It was developed to be stored safely and travel well,” she says. It is also a technique that intensifies the flavor, making a little bit of the gypsy bacon feel like a decadent treat.
Leisurely browsing leads to the chocolate section. The vodka-filled chocolates are hard to miss, and the idea of a bit of actual vodka, rather than vodka-flavored cream, as a filling immediately brings Ogden Nash’s “Candy is dandy, but liquor is quicker” to mind. Now you can have both, and in sparkly packaging. Sikora’s stocks a full selection of E. Wedel chocolates, a brand well known in Poland, including hefty bars with whole hazelnuts.
For those who want immediate food gratification at the market, a lunch of a kielbasa with Polish mustard and sauerkraut is $4. For $5, you also receive a Kinder Bueno chocolate bar, all to be enjoyed at a sidewalk table under an awning adorned with a Polish eagle. Grandmother would approve.
Sikora’s Polish Market, 1625 Washington St NE, Minneapolis, MN 55418;