Thursday, December 16, 2021

The Food Less Eaten


Our travels are not over yet. Less than twenty four hours after landing at the San Francisco International Airport, we were back to pick up another traveler. During rush hour. Wonderful.

Anyone who has been stuck on the road during the commute hour knows the only way to avoid stop-and-go traffic woes is to pull off the road and enjoy an early dinner. So we did. 

On the menu was something so pedestrian, a lesser man might have passed over the suggestion, but not my husband. He noticed a slight twist to the usually-mundane details of a pepperoni pizza, and asked: is it any good? Our waitress, a jovial and energetic spokesperson for her enterprise, had no idea, so the only option was to give this less usual option a try.

There wasn't much to be said for the proposed addition of "hot honey" to a flatbread rendition of a pepperoni pizza. The honey wasn't hot by virtue of spices, just due to a warming process. It didn't seem to detract from the dough—nor, for that matter, for dipping the pepperoni slices directly into the honey—but let's say it didn't really augment the experience, either. I'd wager this will become one of the foods less eaten on that restaurant's unique menu offerings.

The experience served to shove my mind down a rabbit trail of thoughts about food and family. After all, it is the holiday season, a time rich with regional food traditions. I couldn't help but recall author Gena Philibert-Ortega's comments that we can often discern our family's roots simply by observing some of the traditional foods served during holidays.

While that may be helpful advice for some, it certainly does no good for someone in my shoes. One of our family's favorite treats for Christmas is a pastry known as struffoli. Hint: unlike our family, those sweet honey balls don't come from Poland. They don't even come from Ireland, the place my paternal grandfather tried to convince everyone was his family's homeland. But they did come from my neighbor's kitchen during the Christmas season. At least I can guess where her family originated.

Now that I do know where my patriline once resided, I thought I'd review some articles on just what might have shown up on the dining room table during the Christmas season in Poland. Thankfully, there are some helpful online resources out there to fill me in on just what I've been missing for dinner that my Polish distant cousins still get to enjoy. Clue: other than Pierogi—a dish with a name recognized by many in North America, whether Polish or not—none of those recipes sounded familiar to me.

I did pick up the article's hint that not everyone in Poland ate exactly the same traditional foods. Aha! I thought: maybe the reason those dishes don't sound familiar to me is that my grandfather didn't just come from Poland, he came from Pomerania. Maybe the Christmas treats were different up north.

Nope. Nothing from at least this one overview of Pomeranian Christmas traditions rang a bell—at least, not a dinner bell. All it did was remind me of how much I'd love to find a shop close by that sold struffoli, but the closest store I could find was located—as you may have guessed—in New York City

True, I know my sister will take on the labor-intensive job of mixing up a batch for her Cuban-born husband and their family and friends. And maybe two or three decades from now, the fallout from that annual venture will be descendants and kids of family friends who will wonder why the pastries of Naples feature more prominently in their holiday traditions than do the treats of their own ancestors' homeland. 

Maybe it will be that the foods less eaten in that special season turn out to be the cabbage rolls of family food history's cluster genealogy, and the new favorites will be the ones we adopt from the "Neighbors" part of the genealogical F.A.N. Club. If I don't know anything else about why my paternal family chose to ditch their Polish holiday food traditions, at least I can now tell you what part of Italy my neighbor's grandparents once called home.


  1. Love it! I worked in an office with a co-worker who brought similar leftovers for lunch. We compared notes. Her dad was a dairy farmer and my grandmother grew up on her grandparent's dairy farm.

    1. Interesting, Miss Merry! Those telltale signs of connection can show up in unusual ways--until we learn to read them.


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