"Traditionally it can be done with venison, any kind of meats, but the joke was always if the men went out hunting and they didn't bag anything, the women had the hunter's stew ready for them, just so they were all happy about it," said Bartlomiej Kolatek, owner of the Bakery and Deli.
The bigos at Kolatek's is loaded with pork. From the smoked bacon to the thick, juicy kielbasa - smoked in-house of course - they're chopped and added to beef broth in a giant pot. Flavorings like Polish curry powder, red wine and tomato paste give the stew some body, and there really is no measuring of any kind.
"Different recipes, different families, different regions of Poland; just like chili, thousands of recipes. Everybody's got their own slant on it," he said.
The sauerkraut is made in-house as well, and it's added by the handful to the stew, giving it its characteristic texture.
"Long time ago, there was no citrus during the wintertime or fruit. It was either things you stored in the cellar. So apples stayed - you had the winter apples - and sauerkraut; sauerkraut is very high in vitamin C. So that's why it became a winter thing," said Kolatek.
Another favorite in the winter is borscht. They make both white and red, the latter with a ton of beets. First, they need to ferment them for a few days, so they combine red beets with peppercorns, bay leaves and salt, plus pieces of sourdough bread, to jump start the fermentation process. After a few days, the liquid is strained and poured into a stock pot, heated with some garlic powder, then ladled over beef dumplings and sometimes served with giant beef croquettes, which resemble egg rolls.
"You could dumplings, you could do the croquette, you could do, there's a Ukrainian borscht which you could put beans into it, potatoes," he said.
Now few things go better with homemade soups and stews than homemade bread, and Kolatek's makes about 40 different types of bread here, from hearty ryes and dark sourdoughs; lots of different ways to soak up all those flavorful juices.
The deli usually sells three or four soups a day, with one of the more unusual and delicious versions containing pickles.
Kolatek's Super Bakery & Deli
2445 N. Harlem Ave.