Stuffed Cabbages


By Richard A. Slowik

The other day, while shopping at Kroger's, I saw something new in the frozen foods department that really whetted my appetite. It was a box of stuffed cabbage or golabki as I learned to call it. The picture on the front of the box captured my attention.

As soon as I got home, I followed the directions, opened the container it was in, and heated it in the microwave. When it was ready, I was more than willing to give it a go. How did I like it? Why, not much at all. The cabbage was very thin and somewhat dried out. The stuffing consisted of beef, pork, rice, etc., but had very little taste. I was expecting something spicy, zesty, or at least flavorful. Instead, it was flat and I'll never try it again. On the box they depict a sauce chock full of vegetables. Not so with the contents of the box I had. Also, they show a lot of sauce, which was not the way my box was after I heated the contents. Definitely not what your mother or grandmother used to make.

Golabki as served in Warsaw.

The best golabki I ever ate was at a restaurant called Arkadia on the rynek (town square) in Warsaw. It just "melted in my mouth" as the saying goes. I enjoyed each and every morsel I put in my mouth. Along with it, I had a leaf of lettuce, fried potatoes, and some shredded beets. Naturally, it was fresh and had not been previously frozen, at least as far as I was able to tell. So, my standards have been set very high, as a result. I consider myself somewhat a fancier of the dish. In fact, I try to eat it as often as I can. The best stuffed cabbage I ever ate - in Warsaw, Poland.

The author with golabki at Arkadia in Warsaw.

This I have done in many places and many times. Once, in Debrecen, Hungary, I was visiting with a high school friend of mine and we had traveled there to see a college friend of mine. Afterwards, we went to a restaurant and lo and behold, they had stuffed cabbage on the menu. I did not hesitate. It was better than most Polish restaurants I have eaten in. I heard that they use more pork than we do. The name and location of this place, I forget; however, it was very close to the John Bull Pub, in which we had all enjoyed some wonderful tasting beer earlier. If I am ever back there, I will pay a return visit.

Of course, my mother and grandmother made some very fine tasting golabki. Being poor, we had to use catsup as a condiment. Unfortunately, it does little to enhance this dish. In Detroit, I go the Under the Eagle located in Hamtramck. They serve a great dish of my favorite meal. Unfortunately, it has been frozen and the taste is just not there anymore. My uncle insists on eating there, however. When I am in Chicago, I go to the Red Apple and enjoy their offering. My preference is for the tomato sauce. They serve it with the white sauce - definitely not my favorite. Probably my least favorite place is Yudyta's - a Ukrainian restaurant I visited in The Forks Shopping Mall in Winnipeg, Manitoba, not long ago. After waiting around a half-hour for the pressure cooker to perform its magic, I was very hungry. Two were placed atop a paper plate and handed to me. Using my plastic fork, I stabbed one of them to hold it in place, while I sawed away at it with my plastic knife. To my utter amazement, there was little if any meat inside. It was almost all rolled cabbage, stuffed with a few pieces of meat and rice. After burning the roof of my mouth, I was greatly disappointed with the offering.

So, in my quest for the perfect golabki, I know I found it in Warsaw. Now if only I could find it someplace closer.

Editor's Comments: Golabek (singular) and golabki (plural) are pronounced go-woom-bek and go-woom-ky respectively. They are commonly known as stuffed cabbages and are fequently misspelled as golomki, golumpki, galobki, and gowoomki. The Russian name for them is golubtsy while Slovaks call them holubky.

Their Polish name stems from the word golab which means dove or pigeon. This has nothing to do with the ingedients but only with the shape.

It has been said that the Polish Army defeated the Teutonic knights near Malbork in the 15th Century because the soldiers of the Polish Army were fed copious amounts of hearty golabki. And an army travels on its stomach, you know.

If you marry a German girl, you'll likely get stuffed green peppers instead of stuffed cabbages. Believe me, I am experienced in this matter. Alas, it's just not the same.

For Grace Skowron's recipe for golabki, click here.
For other recipes from Grace Skowron, click here.


Text and photos by Dick Slowik
Dennis Benarz & Karen Wisniewski, USA 2009