Living in the land of southern comfort food like shrimp and grits, fried green tomatoes and she-crab soup, you might assume there is not much I long for in the way of Indiana cuisine. South Bend, a place I called home for many years, has more than its fair share of great local fare.
However, there is one native food that I often crave, and that is northern Indiana’s infamous polish style buffet. This local favorite can be discovered almost anywhere in the Michiana area, but is nowhere to be found on the coast of North Carolina.
After growing up in St. Joseph Michigan, I went to my first Indiana wedding having never been exposed to the popular polish dinner. Overwhelmed by the huge display of chicken, kluski noodles, potatoes, kielbasa, sauerkraut, homemade biscuits and fresh vegetables, I did not even know where to begin.This meal was carbohydrates as far as the eye could see.
After several glasses of wine, I finally succumbed to those tantalizing smells. I overcame my trepidation and fervently dug in to the delicious smorgasbord of home style cooking. The sight, the smell, the taste and the texture of all these scrumptious dishes was sensory overload at its finest.
Because of South Bend and Elkhart’s large Polish populations, this buffet is a staple at many celebrations. While the flavor of this food is amazing, it is more than just delicious food. It is the taste of weddings, Christmas gatherings, football tailgates and graduation parties all rolled into one. That flavor combination of savory sausage and sweet cabbage brings memories of friends, family and laughter.
For me, every bite of that crispy chicken, the buttery noodles, or those creamy mashed potatoes is equal to a sweet slow dance, a best man’s heartfelt toast, a lazy Christmas afternoon, a spirited game of corn hole, or that exciting last minute touchdown.
It is the ultimate comfort food that pairs perfectly with that expensive glass of wine, a low-key toasted lager, or your favorite pair of sweatpants. It is good times and memories that last a lifetime. It is home…and while there are a plethora of delectable food choices here in Wilmington, N.C., there is truly nothing like the taste of home.
Rasonda is a former resident of South Bend and Elkhart, and a graduate of Indiana University. She currently lives with her husband and three children in coastal Wilmington, N.C., where she works in public relations.
This is the fourth installment of Savoring Home, a Flavor 574 series that asks readers to submit stories about local foods and spots that hold special memories for them. If you have a story to share, whether you live here still or have moved away, email editor Gwen Ragno at firstname.lastname@example.org.