The smell of paczki in the air is one of the first signs that spring is around the corner in Chicago. And while everyone loves the classic versions of these sweet treats, if you’re looking for a bit more of a tropical flavor this time of year, Polombia is the place to go.
We met married couple and Polombia owners Cynthia Orobio and Phillipe Sobon in the demo kitchen in the Time Out Market, where they were putting the finishing touches on their version of the Fat Tuesday tradition.
“So paczki essentially is this beautiful fried or baked dough, right, doughnut pretty much,” said Chicago native Sobon. “And then you would have a filling that consists of either marmalade, custard, sometimes chocolate, and usually the secret ingredient that a lot of people put in, which people don’t realize why it’s so soft and not heavy — it’s the vodka. There’s actually vodka that’s put in a lot of the secret recipes.”
With a great dough, it then was a test of how to combine the two cultures.
“Polish desserts are not very very sweet, Colombian [desserts] are. But I came to realize that what we can do to go ahead and make sure that both of them are resonating with each other is add those tropical fillings like guava, pineapple, wildberry, different things like that. Especially caramel as well, it’s a very big component in what is Colombian dessert.”
Why would anyone make the most famed of Polish pastries taste Colombian? The answer to that question got its start at a party, where Houston native and nutritionist Cynthia Orobio met Phillipe Sobon, a self-trained chef, in 2019.
“It was love at first sight as Cynthia will probably tell you,” Sobon said.
“I … beg to differ,” Orobio laughed.
Not long after their relationship blossomed, the pandemic hit.
“I got laid off from my job, we just both started cooking a lot from home, just like everybody else during the pandemic.”
The seed of culinary collaboration was planted when Sobon added Colombian toppings to a Polish zapiekanka, a pizza-like snack.
“I thought that this would be a really cool concept, the Polish-Colombian fusion,” said Orobio.
They named the new concept – what else? – Polombia. Starting with pop-ups, they offered fusion foods like the “emparogi,” a pierogi stuffed with Colombian flavors.
“What we’ve done is meld the two where the inside is going to be much like a Colombian empanada, where you’ll find that farmer’s cheese, caramelized onion, coffee-braised short rib beef, and that potato in there and the outside looks like a pierogi.”
Now, two years and one baby boy later, Polombia is going strong inside the Time Out market. And as pandemic restrictions begin to lift, Orobio and Sobon say they’re looking forward to seeing customers’ faces when they pick up this year’s paczki – and they say they’ll be bringing their own little Polombian – 6-month-old Nicolás – to say hello too.