Explore the Richness of Polish Cuisine

In the run-up to World Youth Day, we take a look at what’s on offer for hungry pilgrims during their stay in Poland.

Friends eating at a Polish restaurant (Photo: Westminster Youth Ministry)
Friends eating at a Polish restaurant (Photo: Westminster Youth Ministry)

We already touched on the glorious subject of Food in the blogs on Kraków and Łódź. Being one of the tastiest topics though, inciting excitement in almost everyone, it’s only right that we delve a little further. Make sure you’ve got something to snack on after reading!

It’s common knowledge that the traditional Polish diet is a hearty one. Consisting daily of meat, potatoes, eggs, sausages, dumplings, bread, pastries (and cabbage too), it’s one of the heavier styles of eating, and especially useful when battling those long winter months. What is perhaps lesser known is that the Poles enjoy a second breakfast, drugie śniadanie. It’s essentially a slight variation on their first breakfast, which might consist of toast, jam, a sandwich, eggs, fruit and coffee or tea. J.R.R. Tolkien must have been thinking of this custom when he came up with the eating habits of Hobbits. Either way it sounds like a great way to keep your energy levels up while exploring the cities.

And now for some favourites to be sure to try while you’re visiting.

A bowl of pierogi (Photo: magdascauldron.com)
A bowl of pierogi (Photo: magdascauldron.com)

Let’s start with the one we’ve all heard about – pierogi. The classic Polish dumpling might be filled with anything from sauerkraut to cherries, is served throughout the year and especially at Christmas.

If you’re ever feeling down, order yourself a gołąbki, or better yet, get one of your Polish friends to teach you how to make a homemade batch. Made with minced pork, rice, mushroom and onion, and wrapped in white cabbage leaves, before being fried in fat, this dish is sure to lift your spirits. Oh, and don’t forget to lather them in homemade tomato sauce!

Kotlet schabowy is a breaded pork cutlet served with mashed potatoes and cabbage. This meal dates back to the 19th century, so fear not, it has stood the test of time. It is delicious, simple to make, and you’ll like it.

And let’s not forget zapiekanki, the Polish mash-up between a pizza and a baguette. No, that’s not a misprint. These are usually topped with mushrooms, cheese, garlic and ketchup, but the world is your zapiekanki so feel free to top it however you see fit.

A slice of delicious szarlotka (Photo: magdascauldron.com)
A slice of delicious szarlotka (Photo: magdascauldron.com)

When it comes to having something sweet, the Poles are masters of cakes, pastries, crepes… basically anything you can think of. Be sure to try a slice of szarlotka which is a delicious type of Polish apple pie. It’s traditionally less sweet than the American version, relying rather on the natural sweetness of the apples. Then there’s sernik, a cheesecake that’s made with a dry curd cheese (twaróg), and found in practically any Polish restaurant. Kremówka papieska is a must, especially as a treat during WYD. It’s a puff pastry with a cream filling, and got its name (Papal Cream Cake in English) once Pope John Paul II announced that it was his favourite Polish dessert.

Kremówka papieska or Papal Cream Cake in English (Photo: europeancuisines.com)
Kremówka papieska or Papal Cream Cake in English (Photo: europeancuisines.com)

It has to be said that there are a number of dishes that should only be tackled by those more adventurous. Czernina for example, is a duck blood soup with vinegar. Another tricky one is nóżki w galarecie, which is jellied calves’ trotters, just one of many jellied dishes on offer. Smalec is pork fat that has been fried and turned into lard and is literally 99% fat. It’s served with sour gherkins and bread. Yeah, it’s not necessarily for everyone but the brave meat-lovers will be rewarded.

Any vegetarians out there might be starting to get worried right about now. Fear not though! In reality the Polish diet is as veggie as it is meaty, with most meals involving a combination of the two, and several salads and soups. For those who want to forgo the meat completely, there’s always an option. It’s 2016 after all. The Salad Bar Chimera and Spoldzielnia Organic Resto & Revolution are two good veggie restaurants in Kraków, the latter being exclusively vegan and a new type of Milk Bar (so you know what that says about the price – cheap as chips).

Poland has its customs as does every country, and it’s best to get a handle of the basics. The locals are known for being friendly and helpful, and if you manage to sprinkle a few Polish words into the conversation, you’re golden. So, it’s na zdrowie (pronounced na zd-ro-vi-a) for cheers and smacznego (sma-ch-ne-go) for tuck in. If you’re not a drinker and someone offers you a drink, or if you’re vegetarian and someone offers you flaki (tripe) just politely saying no will not do. Your host will take it as a challenge to offer said beverage/dish until you take it. You’ll need to explain yourself clearly, and possible emphasise that you would however love another oscypek (smoked cheese from the mountains).

If after your trip you do decide that you simply can’t go on living in London without being able to chow down on some pierogi, don’t worry, you don’t have to! There’s Baltic near Waterloo, Ognisko Polskie in South Kensington and Łowiczanka at POSK (Polish Social & Cultural Association) in Hammersmith. And if you don’t feel like going to a proper restaurant, then there’s also London’s own Milk Bars: Café Maja (again at POSK) and Mamuśka! in Elephant and Castle. That’s right, Milk Bars in London!

Na zdrowie and smacznego!

This article was kindly provided by our wonderful friends at the Polish Cultural Institute in London. Click here to learn more about them.