Immigrant Food

Polish Culture: S&D Polish Deli and the Polish Falcons of America Building

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The bustling Strip District street is a pantheon of diversity, hosting cultures and cuisines ranging from West Coast fish tacos to Italian biscotti.  As I approach the locally famous S&D Polish Deli, the white storefront festooned with Polish emblems beckons customers from all backgrounds inside.  Within the store, an array of Kielbasy, or sausages, and Haluszki, or noodle dishes are on display under a glass countertop, and hundreds of specialty ethnic foods crowd the shelves in the store’s back.

The Polish Delikatesy is popular for its “slow food”; its ingredients are fresh and cooked in the store, following traditional recipes.  Testifying to the rich history of Pittsburgh immigrants, there are three varieties of the Haluszki: Pittsburgh, Polish, and Slovak (“About Us.”).  These simple, filling dishes provide a shared cultural narrative.  Like Pittsburgh itself, Polish cuisine is a mix of different culinary traditions, incorporating Slavic, Turkic, Germanic, and Jewish customs and ingredients into its recipes (“Polish Cuisine.”).

As I walk through Pittsburgh’s Sidney Street, I almost miss the nondescript red and white stucco exterior of the Polish Falcons of America building.  The organization has its roots in a group opposing Czarist Russia the January Uprising of 1863, dedicating itself to the motto “A sound mind in a sound body”.  In 1917, the Polish Falcons of America trained 25,000 young men for an expeditionary force in World War One, fighting for both Polish independence and American interests, later serving as a standing army for the new country of Poland (“Our History.”).

The group today serves as a fraternal benefit society providing “Physical, social, and financial welfare” for its 23,000 members, offering cultural and recreational programs and preserving Polish tradition.  Through perpetuating these core values, the Falcons continue to serve America’s Polish community to this day (“Our History”).

1- “Polish Cuisine.” Polish American Deli. Polish American Deli, 2006. Web. 04 May 2014.

2- “About Us.” S&D Polish Deli. S&D Polish Deli, n.d. Web. 4 May 2014.

3- “Our History.” Polish Falcons of America History. Polish Falcons of America, 2013. Web. 04 May 2014.

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German Food: Max’s Allegheny Tavern

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Max’s Allegheny Tavern resides on a quiet, unassuming street, nestled between brick churches and two-story houses.  The interior of the bar is dim and quiet, with occasional customers sitting down on brown leather seats or wandering into the dining hall.  This room is bright and sunny, decorated with old photographs and paintings of Pittsburgh, serving as a cultural and historic repository.  Because the bar is closed at the time, the bartender is kind enough to show me the party room, a former rathskeller.  This cool, large basement, originally used for chilling beer, became a famous speakeasy during Prohibition years, allowing the restaurant to continue to turn a profit (“About Max’s Allegheny Tavern.”).

The tavern was founded by George Rahn, who sold his saloon on East Ohio street in the early 1900s and built the Hotel Rahn, operating a bar and restaurant with his wife on the first floor.  George, a descendant of immigrants, served traditional German foods and local Pittsburgh beer. This allowed the local German immigrant community to meet, keeping culture and traditions alive.  Although Prohibition exacted a heavy toll on the tavern and bar industry, speakeasies like Max’s thrived, providing an enjoyable, albeit illegal, form of entertainment among the poverty and difficulties of the Great Depression.  Allegheny County was hit hard by Prohibition, with one third of all workers unemployed. In this environment, illegal gangs flourished, some founded by immigrant Mafias who had moved to America, expanding their empires.  However, Max’s Allegheny Tavern did not import alcohol, so its owners and patrons were spared from the violence and illicit actions that other bars faced (Mellon, Steve.).

Upon glancing at the menu, I notice that the food described is a collage of the traditional and the modern.  Between Knackwurst with Kraut and Bavarian Nachos, the intermixing of cultures embodied by Pittsburgh is obvious.  The food is rich and heavy, and is deemed authentic by many of the Tavern’s patrons.  The rich, smoky aroma of the sausages and reubens pervade the cold air, and drift along the tranquil Pittsburgh street.

1- “About Max’s Allegheny Tavern.” About Max’s Allegheny Tavern. Max’s Allegheny Tavern, n.d. Web. 03 May 2014.

2-“German – Building Institutions, Shaping Tastes – Immigration…- Classroom Presentation | Teacher Resources – Library of Congress.” German – Building Institutions, Shaping Tastes – Immigration…- Classroom Presentation | Teacher Resources – Library of Congress. Library of Congress, n.d. Web. 02 May 2014.

3- Mellon, Steve. “Pittsburgh: The Dark Years.” Pittsburgh: The Dark Years. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, n.d. Web. 04 May 2014.

Italian Food: Del’s Bar and Ristorante DelPizzo

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The homogenous colors of concrete and brick blend together in the Bloomfield neighborhood, only accentuated by occasional advertisements and signs.  As I walk further along the cracking sidewalks, I notice a multitude of murals embellishing the walls surrounding me; the area becomes progressively more vibrant.  Upon entering Del’s Ristorante DelPizzo, the atmosphere changes dramatically.  The dim lighting is juxtaposed with the colorful wallpaper and floor, and the aroma of marinara sauce pervades the air.

Del’s was founded in 1949 by Mary and Benny DelPizzo, the grandparents of the current owners; siblings John and Marianne (“About Us.”).  They were gracious enough to allow me into their kitchen, a world of escaping steam and constant activity.  Here, a diverse group of local workers fry, sear, and boil the food ordered by the customers in the dining area.  My family orders a plate of “1949” lasagna, fried zucchini, and a large pizza, which proves to be satisfyingly cheesy and tasty.  Italian-American food is a true composite, a new, unique cuisine.  Italian immigrants like Mary and Benny DelPizzo, who arrived in 1908, adapted traditional recipes to a new market, creating famous foods like round pizza and spaghetti with meatballs (Mancuso, Janice Therese.).  Because of the new popularity of Italian foods in America, the production of foods like olive oil and tomato products increased dramatically in cities like Sicily and Naples (Gabbaccia, Donna R.).

The lasagna is rich, smothered in ground beef and mozzarella cheese.  When I ordered it from the menu, it was advertised as a “1949” recipe.  Within the 20 years prior to the founding of Del’s, Italian food gained increasing popularity, despite the decrease in imports from Italy due to Mussolini’s “battle for grain” and high depression-era tariffs.  Because of the low supply of traditional food, many American companies began attempting to replicate ingredients like aged cheese, tomato sauce, and pasta (Gabaccia, Donna R.).  This became a thriving industry, fueling the Italian-American food industry for years to come.

 

1- “About Us.” Del’s Restaurant Pittsburgh. Del’s Restaurant, n.d. Web. 30 Apr. 2014.

2-Mancuso, Janice Therese. “A Brief History of Italian Food in America.” A Brief History of Italian Food in America. La Gazzetta Italiana, n.d. Web. 01 May 2014.

3. Gabaccia, Donna R. “History in Focus.” Pizza, Pasta and Red Sauce: Italian or American?, an Article from. History in Focus, Autumn 2006. Web. 02 May 2014.

4. Mariani, John. “Italian America | SAVEUR.” SAVEUR.com. Saveur, 11 Nov. 2011. Web. 02 May 2014.