When I was eighteen years old I packed up my belongings and headed to Germany to live as an au pair. Though I was introduced to many new things that year, the idea of a national cuisine took me by storm and to this day has never let me go. Food speaks volumes and, for me, it worked wonders as a cultural navigator when I was abroad.
Once I returned to the states, I began to long for a national cuisine of my own. America has diversity, yes, but the lack of an American cuisine left me searching for cultural identification through food ever since my trip to Germany years ago. Nowadays, I tend to satisfy my desire for heritage in cuisine by enjoying that which is provided by the food of other countries, both here and abroad.
Philadelphia is home to pockets of various cultures’ culinary delights. Many of the eateries I frequent have both the comfort of eating in someone’s kitchen and the cost of cooking it myself.
Today, while visiting a friend in the Port Richmond section of Philadelphia, I decided to stop into a place I have driven by many times but never had a chance to try due to their strictly lunchtime hours (even on Saturdays they close at 6pm).
Syrenka Restaurant is situated in the heart of Port Richmond, a historically Polish neighborhood. As you walk through the front door you immediately notice the decor; it’s as though time has stood still since 1972. On the wall hangs many flower paintings and three photographs of Robin Williams taken during a visit to the restaurant, which appears to have occurred sometime in the 80’s.
A woman named Krystyna greets us from behind the buffet table and asks us if we would like to dine in or take our food to go. Half of our party decides to take a dozen pierogies to go ($6.00 for a dozen frozen pierogies). My friend Sochi and I decide to sit down and we each order one plate – I order cheese and potato pierogies, and Sochi orders potato pancakes with applesauce. I tell the woman behind the counter I am also interested in ordering a kielbasa and she urges me to come back another time, as that is “way too much food”. I appreciate her honesty. After ordering we sit down at a table with a plastic table-cloth and a fresh daisy in a vase.
As we sit at the table several other patrons walk in. Each grabbed a green tray on their way in and slid it down the metal rack in front of the buffet before taking their food and sitting at separate tables. We all ate in complete silence, only the sounds of forks hitting plates could be heard. Although the restaurant was itself slightly drab, it felt warm and homey, a nice refuge from the dreary day. Syrenka had a fairly extensive menu and Krystyna was very receptive to all of our questions. This restaurant is definitely worth a stop on your way through Port Richmond. Such a historic cultural establishment deserves more patrons.
Syrenka Restaurant- 3173 Richmond Street, Philadelphia, PA 19134