What Nik Ate: Bologna

It’s been one year since we have been in the pandemic, and I’ve eaten everything. It’s been my pleasure to support any and everyone in the restaurant industry that I can. We know it’s been hard for restaurants.  1 in 6 have permanently shut their doors due to COVID-related issues.  We also know that restaurant workers have been hit pretty hard. Most don’t get any sick pay if they need to take off work due to illness, and many were unable to collect unemployment.  As an industry veteran, not only do I exercise an extreme amount of grace, I was overly excited to EAT!!

I’ve carried out. I’ve dined in where I could. I’ve been to fancy pop-ups all over the city. I’ve had pasta, rice, tons of pizza. Lamb chops, fish, and then I went on a mission for bologna sandwiches.

As a child, no one could ever convince me to eat bologna.  It was cold, pink, and often cut way too thick for my liking. I’d opt to go hungry when presented with a bologna sandwich. 

As an adult, I’m obsessed with bologna sandwiches.  The looks that people give when I share this information is always interesting.  Bologna, like most food, is nostalgic, but bologna is also very historical.

This delicious meat has origins in Bologna, Italy. And while no one really knows when it made its debut, many people say it came with German immigration and is found heavily in regions where Germans settled.  In each region, new forms of bologna were formed.  Some smoked it, some pickled it, some fried it.

It’s also associated with poverty, thus its negative reputation.  It was quite accessible in the early 20th century. It kept well, and it was cheap, which was important during the great depression.  It was cheaper than ham and salami.  It started being sold at the deli with slices of bread, and thus the bologna sandwich was born.  Soon after, packaged meats were sold, and bologna became available on a mass scale.  When Oscar Mayer introduced their vacuum-sealed packages, they were able to dominate the bologna market.

Because bologna was so cheap and accessible, bologna was served everywhere, including in schools, and didn’t start getting backlash until the 1980s and 1990s when conversations started about its sodium and saturated fat content. 

It was also served in prisons and jails.  Sometimes for all three meals. In 1980, Ohio inmates went on a 4-day hunger strike to protest bologna sandwiches in exchange for a hot meal.

Today though, if you like this emulsified meat made of ground chicken, pork, beef, and/or turkey, you’ll be pleased to know that some diners are doing it in such cool ways. 

Before the pandemic, I use to pop in the Bronx Bar for a fried bologna sandwich and a beer.  Nothing fancy, just delicious.  The Mercury bar has a great bologna sandwich on an onion roll with grilled onions and potato chips on the sandwich! My favorite so far has to be from Stache, located in Eastern Market.  The beef bologna is served on Texas toast, and I always ask for an egg. It’s perfect!

While the pandemic hasn’t exactly been great, my obsession with bologna sandwiches and knowing where to grab one has made it a little brighter.  Knowing that bologna is such a cheap eat and a historical icon at the same time makes me love it even more.

NIK RENEE’ COLE is the creator and Chef of What Nik Ate, Co-Founder of Fried Chicken and Caviar, Founder of The SpeakEasy Detroit, and current Head Chef at The Kitchen by Cooking with Que

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