Polish cuisine is has three main ingredients pork, potatoes and cabbage, and most main meals will feature all three. There is not much provision for vegetarians as meat creeps into almost every dish in one form or another. Fried lard is used extensively and is placed on the table with bread to be used as a spread, this actually goes very well with beer. Polish fare is hearty food with it’s roots as fuel for hard working people needing nourishing food to keep them going. Many of Poland‘s dishes take a lot of preparation but are well worth the effort, festive meals can take days to prepare, and in the past most housewives would pickle their own vegetables at home to see their families through the harsh winters. Most homes would have the large barrels needed to preserve the sauerkraut although these days most people rely on the shops and market stalls to provide them with their needs as modern houses no longer have the space to house all the equipment needed. Polish cooking is not for the faint hearted and certainly if you are watching the pounds then Poland is not for you, but you will be missing out on many an enjoyable experience. Cream and eggs are used in abundance in many of Poland’s dishes and especially the sauces, and shredded salads accompany many main meals adding even more flavours and textures to the meal. All in all if you enjoy your food then Poland should be high on your list of places to visit. Most of the dishes found in Poland have stayed true to their roots of local food lovingly prepared, but there have been a few influences from other nations over history and the Polish people have adapted them and made them their own. The main meal of the day is taken at about 2 pm and normally comprises of three courses.
Bread is highly respected and treated almost with reverence in Poland and it remains one of the most important foods to the polish people. Many of the old traditions surrounding bread still exist today, especially in rural areas, guests will be offered bread and salt as a greeting and a symbol of hospitality and affection. Another tradition is that a piece of bread that is dropped should be picked up and kissed. Newly married couples are welcomed into their new home with a loaf of bread and some salt, and many people baking bread at home will mark the top of the loaf with a sign of the cross. At family meals the bread will not be sliced with a knife but everyone will just tear off a piece and share it around. Bread is not thrown away in Polish households as it could bring bad luck and hunger, instead it will be used or something else even if just to make breadcrumbs for the coating on pork chops (kotlet schabowy). There are many sorts of excellent breads available in Polish bakeries, besides the white and dark breads there are small breads, rogaliks, sweet and savoury rolls, and many of the breads are coated in poppy seeds or contain herbs, various grains and cereals, dried fruits or honey. Traditional Polish bread is made from a ‘sourdough’ starter and contains either rye or wheat or a mixture of the two. The crust is crunchy and the soft texture inside gives off a wonderful aroma when cut, it also will last very well.
Soup recipes tend to be local recipes and of course every family have their own special soup recipe, but there are some that are known all over Poland such as the Beetroot soup ‘Barszcz’ with it’s strong distinctive colour and a blob of sour cream floating on the top, sometimes it will also contain a few dumplings. ‘Barszcz’ has many regional varieties but the basis is the same, it is made with rye bread and through Lent will be a very simple soup, but outside of this time will become a very rich soup and will often contain herbs, mushrooms, garlic, potatoes, sausages, bacon and even hard boiled eggs, it is the perfect soup to have if you have over-indulged in drinking the night before! Chicken soup (rosó? z kury) is a typical soup served at festive occasions, weddings and family get- togethers, a good strong chicken soup served with noodles, small dumplings, potatoes, carrots, rice or barley. ‘Zupa Grzybowa’ wild mushroom soup, this soup is one of only a few dishes that does not contain meat and is therefore ideal through Lent but it is often found on the table for Christmas eve (Wigilia) when it is traditional to serve twelve different dishes to represent the twelve apostles. Another well known Polish soup is ‘flaki‘ tripe soup, it is a thick soup that is almost a stew and it takes quite a lot of preparation but is well worth it , Flaki is also traditionally served at polish weddings
There are many varieties of Polish sausages and they are a staple food of Poland and included in many of the national dishes as well being the perfect quick snack meal. Sausages are made from a whole number of different meats such as pork, beef, turkey, horse, lamb and veal and have always been off consistent quality. Under the communist goverment the meat industry was heavily regulated and they enforced rigid standards to which sausage making had to adhere to, this is no longer the case in Poland but they still work to the very high standards and still consistently produce high quality sausages, although some people do prefer to make them at home in the age old traditional way. The most well known Polish sausage is the ‘Kabanosy‘ a thin, hot smoked sausage made mostly from pork and flavoured with caraway seeds, these sausages are now found in shops all over the world. From the city of Krakow comes the ‘kralowska‘ sausage a thick sausage flavoured with pepper and garlic. ‘Weselna’ is a ‘u’-shaped sausage and is a traditional sausage eaten at weddings, ‘Wiejska‘ is a rural sausage made from pork and veal. There are just too many sausages to mention here so the best thing to do is go and try them out, there are hot-smoked sausages and air-dried, baked and cold smoked, fresh sausages, liver sausage, offal sausage and blood sausage and the range of foods added to the various meats is also vast. Sausages are often added to soups to make them more of a substantial meal or chopped into salads, or used instead of fresh meat in any of the main meals.
There are a variety of cheeses (Salceson) made in Poland the most famous being ‘Oscypek’ a smoked cheese made with salted sheep’s milk and is then formed in traditional, decorative wooden shapes, another sheep’s milk cheese is ‘bundz’ which comes from the mountain regions of Poland it is a mild cheese not unlike cottage cheese also ‘Bryndza’ which has a spicy taste and is similar in texture to the bundz. ‘Damski‘ comes from the north-east of Poland which is noted for it’s many farms and dairy produce, it is a semi-soft cheese with a sweet flavour present in many smoked cheeses. ‘Koldamer‘ is a mild, pale yellow cheese with a slighty nutty flavour. ‘Kurpianka‘ is formed into a sausage shape and has a mellow, smokey flavour it is great in salads,on a sandwich or melted and finally a staple in most Polish households is ‘Morski’, a semi-hard cheese, it is extremely versatile and can be used in cooking, with wine or in salads and sandwiches.
Starters offered at the beginning of a meal or just as a snack alongside a glass of beer will always include a bowl of fried lard ‘smalec’, sometimes flavoured up with some onion, marjoram or even apple and prune, this delicacy is then spread on slices of good wholesome bread, ‘?ledzie w ?mietanie‘ herrings in soured cream, ‘Boczek ze ?liwk?’ bacon filled with prunes and ‘Tatar’ raw minced beef and onion with a raw egg on the top.
One of the most popular foods in Poland is the ‘Pierogi’,Pierogies are made from thinly rolled out dough filled with a variety oftasty fillings, some savoury and also some sweet ones. Fillings include minced meat, potato, mushrooms, soft cheeses and sauerkraut and there are many regional variations, they resemble large ravioli. Another similar dish is ‘Uszka’, literally meaning’ little ears’ these are a more complicated shape and are normally filled with meat and mushrooms and served as one of the twelve courses on Christmas eve. ‘Bigos’ or Hunters Stew was once the perfect dish for using up any left-overs, nowadays it is a main dish in it’s own right and one of the most eaten dishes of Poland. There is no one original recipe for Bigos but it is basically
a stew made up of white cabbage, sauerkraut, and a variety of meats and sausage, other ingredients may include tomatoes, apples, honey and mushrooms, this is all seasoned with pepper, caraway, juniper berries, bay leaves, marjoram and any other ‘secret’ ingredients that the cook wishes to add. The stew is cooked for a long time and then refrigerated and heated the following day, some pots of Bigos can be kept going for at least a week. This dish is a welcome sight on a cold winters day, and it is a traditional dish to eat for good luck on New Year’s Day. ‘Kotlet schabowy’ is a similar dish to the Austrian Wiener Schnitzel, but unlike the more delicate Austrian version made traditionally from veal, the Poles use a thicker pork chop and then breadcrumb and fry it, it is normally served with boiled potatoes and cabbage. ‘Golonka‘ Polish Ham Hocks are very similar to the Bavarian ‘Schweinshaxe‘, Golonka are considered to be a Polish national dish and are normally served with a generous helping of sauerkraut and boiled potatoes or dumplings. They are first boiled, then cooking water retained for soup, and then glazed in the oven to finish them off a very tasty and filling dish. You will also find ‘Gulasz’ goulash, in polish cuisine although it is a traditional Hungarian dish and is found in many other countries. ‘Golabki’ translates as ‘pigeon’, this refers to their size and shape not to their filling, they are stuffed cabbage leaves filled with a mixtue of minced meats and rice, rolled into little parcels covered in a tomato based sauce and slow cooked in the oven are absolutely delicious! and the cabbage leaf just melts into a thin veil over the parcel of meat and rice, there are other countries around Europe with similar dishes, just slight variations on this theme. Other delicious dishes to look out for are ‘pyzy‘ potato dumplings, ‘nale?niki‘ filled pancakes, normally with
sweet white cheese, sugar, sour cream and fruits,‘mizeria’ sliced cucumber and sour cream, ‘kaszanka‘ Polish blood sausage, ‘kotlet mielony’ meat with eggs, bread crumbs, garlic, and salt and pepper rolled into a ball and fried in onion butter and ‘placek po w?giersku‘ a potato pancake with a Hungarian sauce poured over it with meat and onions and sour cream.
‘Makowiec’ is a poppy seed roll similar in shape to a strudel. This classic is always baked at Christmas and at Easter time, but luckily throughout the rest of the year as well. The dough is filled with poppy seeds, honey, orange zest and raisins and once baked and cooled, it is glazed with a thin drizzle of icing. There are also a variety of different shapes this cake can take. ‘P?czek’ are rich, deep-fried doughnuts with a sweet jam filling and a covering of icing. ‘Pierniki’ a gingerbread spiced cake is very popular around Christmas time. Another Christmas time cake is ‘Cwibak’ and is a dome shaped fruit cake the name means ‘Christmas Eve Bread’. Cheesecakes are always popular and there are various recipes in Poland but come under the collective name of ‘Sernik’. ‘Cha?ka’ is a sweet, white wheat bread of Jewish origin. ‘Budy?’ is the name for pudding, these puddings come in a variety of flavours such as sweet vanilla cream, chocolate and even cherry, and look out for ‘krówki’ Polish fudge. And finally we have ‘Szarlotka’ apple cake delicious served with fresh whipped cream.
Christmas Eve is a most significant time for the Polish people and the evening meal is traditionally held in every Polish household. In the past there were always twelve dishes prepared for this evening, but many families have now scaled this down. Traditionally the Christmas Eve meal contains no meat and so fish is the main ingredient, the main course is normally a Carp, starters will include beetroot soup and ‘uszka’ (little ears), pickled herrings, and of course ‘pierogi’ filled with sauerkraut and mushrooms. The traditional desserts will include the poppyseed cake, gingerbread spice cake and cheesecake. Before dinner everyone present will share their wishes for the Christmas and New Year and also a Christmas wafer ‘Oplatek‘ will be shared out to stress the religious significance of this special occasion.
Holy Saturday will see families hurrying to church with small, decorated baskets filled with food to be blessed (Swieconka) at the Holy Saturday service. The food contained within these baskets will be eaten at breakfast on Easter Sunday morning. The baskets will contain symbolic foods ‘Pisanki’ easter eggs, coloured and beautifully decorated, symbolise new life, salt-protection, bread whose religious significance is quite clear, horseradish, hams, sausages, cakes, and most importantly a sweet sugar lamb to represent the risen Christ . All the food in the baskets will remain untouched until Easter Sunday morning. Unlike Christmas Eve, Easter fare includes meat dishes and duck or goose are very popular choices for the Easter table. After mass families return home for their Easter breakfast and it is tradition to share the hard-boiled Easter eggs with each other and wish every one good health and happiness for the remainder of the year. Easter Breakfast is a happy tradition in Poland and it combines the religious meaning of Easter with the joy of good food and the beginning of Springtime.
Wet Monday – ‘Lany Poniedzialek’
Easter Monday is a major holiday in Poland, it is a ancient tradition to sprinkle everyone with water, this is done with great enthusiasum, and is believed to bring good luck throughout the year.
‘Nalewka‘ is a national, Polish speciality made from a variety of fruits and spices soaked in vodka and then aged for at least three years in wooden barrels. Mead (Miód pitny) dates back to pre-historic times and was a great favourite of the Polish nobility. It is served chilled in the summer and can be heated to make a warming winter drink. Vodka is the best known alcoholic drink of Poland and there are several different varieties to be had, ‘Sliwowica‘ made from plums, Zoladkowo-Gorzka‘ a slightly sweet bitter herb vodka with a brownish colour, ‘Luksusowa‘ potato vodka, ‘Zubrowka‘ a clear vodka with the addition of ‘bison grass’ , ‘Wyborowa is one of the most well known Polish Vodkas the name translates as superb.
Beer (Piwo) has always been an important part of Polish life. There are 70 breweries in Poland most of them are named after the city they are from. Three of the breweries control 80% of the market, they are Okocim, Królewskie, and ?ywiec. Many of the beers produced are lager-type beers but dark, porter type beers are also very popular. Beers are often served with a shot of raspberry or blackcurrant juice (piwo z sokiem) and during the cold winter months hot beer is served with the addition of cloves, cinnamon and honey (piwo grzane).