Known for its medieval architecture and Jewish heritage, Poland in Eastern Europe boasts of a food scene that can lure even the most contained eaters. Melt-in-the-mouth meat dishes, butter-fried dumplings, warming spiced wine, mushrooms galore and, not-to-forget, the juiciest apples in the world
They often say – to get to know the history, culture and tradition of a country, you must sample its cuisine. And if the country would be Poland, you’d never want to book a return ticket back home. Yes, there is so much to eat and explore.
The soul of Poland lies in its food. The main meal of the day is dinner, eaten in early afternoon. Sunday dinner, prepared at home, belongs to family tradition and usually involves inviting family and close friends. What lies on most Polish dining tables is pork, but there is no shortage of beef, poultry and fish. Hearty soups are also popular. To prepare some of the tastiest local dishes, Poles often use seasonal vegetables and horseradish together with Mediterranean garlic and dill, exotic pepper, paprika, marjoram and oriental pink spice and cinnamon. But at the core of Polish taste are sweets: apple pies, poppy-seed cakes, Papel cake, cheesecakes, gingerbread etc. An obligatory addition to every Easter meal are mazurka (sweet cakes made with honey and filled with nuts and fruit) – a confection entirely unknown outside Poland.
PIEROGI – POLISH DUMPLINGS
If you thought it were the Chinese who had their copyright over delicious dumplings, you’ll be glad to know that the Poles too have their own buttery version of this light treat. Similar to Japanese gyoza or the Italian ravioli, Polish pierogi are made of thinly-rolled dough, boiled or fried and stuffed with various fillings, both sweet and spicy. There’s a lot to choose from – white cheese, meat, potatoes, cottage cheese and onions, spinach, mushrooms, groat, lentils, fruits and more. Another speciality is uszka (small, twisted version of pierogi) filled with dried wild mushrooms, dished up in clear borscht (beetroot soup of Ukrainian origin).
ALL THINGS MUSHROOM
Poles are inseparable from their mushrooms and hence they have numerous dishes with mushrooms as a main ingredient. A cream of mushroom soup served in homemade bread bowl is a must have. This version is very thick, a bit sour, with a lot of wild mushroom chunks and tastes finger-licking good. Another delectable option would be butter-fried porcini mushrooms often eaten with a slice of herbed garlic bread. Polish cuisine does not use white mushrooms; they instead use raw varieties – chanterelle, boletus and parasol – directly after picking them (during autumn time). During winter, dried mushrooms are used.
POPE’S FAVOURITE PAPAL CREAM CAKE
Something as simple as a white cream cake was shot to stardom in 1999 when Pope John Paul II visited his home town of Wadowice and spoke about the cream cake called kremówka which he and his schoolmates used to buy in a pastry shop in the market square. On the very next day, kremówka became the order of the day in all local tea-rooms! And ever since, the cake has been known as “Papal kremówka” which is a thick layer of cream and custard filling sandwiched between two squares of delicate French puff pastry, with a sprinkle of powdered sugar (sometimes with a whiff of brandy or rum to taste). The town square of Wadowice, near John Paul II’s museum, features numerous cafes selling this confection.
MULLED WINE & VODKA
Nothing says winter like having your mitts wrapped around a steaming mug of spiced wine. Not many people know that winemaking has a thousand-year tradition in Poland. Traditional Polish mulled wine consists almonds, raisins and a slice of fresh orange. The heavenly aroma of ginger, cloves and cinnamon makes it irresistible. Wine drinkers may have outstripped vodka drinkers in Poland, but the country still falls within the vodka belt with some blends dating back centuries. Poland boasts of a wide variety of clear vodkas as well as a fair share of flavoured ones like cherry, rowan berry and lemon. Zubrówka, a dry herb-flavoured vodka in yellowish colour, has been produced for more than 600 years and makes for a great souvenir to take back home. Another unique liquor would be Goldwasser – a unique multi-layered vodka containing flakes of real gold. Cheers!
SAUERKRAUT AND PICKLED CUCUMBERS
While we have aam ka achar and pickled onions in balsamic vinegar, Poles have Sauerkraut ie. pickled cabbage. To make it, cabbage is shredded, salted and left to ferment in a de-oxygenated environment for 4-6 weeks. Eat it as a salad with fried fish or sample items with Sauerkraut as a central ingredient – Bigos (Poland’s national dish made with boiled sauerkraut, sausages, spare ribs and ingredients like mushrooms, apples and beef), Sauerkraut soup (winter soup with ribs, mushrooms and onions) etc. Pickled cucumbers are another pungent treat Poles can’t do without.
DECODING POLISH MENU
Since one of the main things you’re likely to be doing while in Poland is eating, here are a few words you’ll encounter on almost every restaurant menu. Smacznego! (Enjoy your meal)
Dania główne Main dishes
Dodatki Side dishes