A bit of a guide to Polish food
Just a few things to try while you’re in Poland. Hopefully our list will help you choose something “easy” when you’re faced with a menu, though most places have made the effort to translate.
We’ve given some of these dishes stars, because John likes them. He’s still adapting to Polish food – especially the more rustic elements. But most of the following get our seal of approval. We’ll add dishes and stars as we go, and photos next time we make our favourites. As we can, we’ll also add some restaurant recommendations.
Wódka – no prizes for guessing this is vodka
Piwo – beer
Wino – wine
Woda – water
Oranżada – any kind of soft drink
Herbata/Herbatka – tea
Kawa – coffee
**** Barszcz – or, as the Russians would have it, bortsch. Beetroot soup. Delicious, especially if you like purple food. You’ll often find it served with little pierogi or ravioli afloat or mashed potatoes on the side; also, with sour cream. A fully vegetarian version is served at Xmas, made with vegetable stock and using cheese, sauerkraut or mushroom pierogi.
Word of warning. Polish food is generally pretty hearty stuff – northern-European peasant food, if you will. So expect to put on weight. Also, remember this is Poland – land of beetroot, potatoes and cabbage. Salad does not feature big on most menus.
Barszcz biały – not a variation on the above, but a sauerkraut and pork broth with cubed boiled pork, kielbasa (Polish sausage), ham, hard-boiled egg, and dried bread (usually either rye or pumpernickel). FYI, the little supermarket packs of pumpernickel with plums are excellent!
Another word… Sauerkraut is almost unavoidable. It does NOT get John’s star. And yes, you often get hard-boiled eggs in your soup
Kartoflanka – this is potato soup
** Krupnik – a barley soup with chicken, beef, carrots or vegetable broth – generally, think Scotch Broth
Kwaśnica – sauerkraut soup, a tradition in the south of Poland. OK if you like sauerkraut
** Rosół – clear chicken soup, or rosół z makaronem (chicken noodle soup) ***
Zupa borowikowa – boletus mushroom soup. Zupa grzybowa/pieczarkowa will contain mushrooms of several species
Zupa buraczkowa – basically barszcz with potatoes
** Zupa jarzynowa – clear chicken and vegetable broth
Zupa pomidorowa – tomato soup usually served with pasta or rice (pomidory = tomatoes)
Żur – is soured rye flour soup with white sausage and/or hard-boiled egg. A more filling version is żurek (or żurek starowiejski) which contains potatoes and often mushrooms. Depending on the part of Poland it came from, it may contain mushrooms as well. In some restaurants, zurek is served in a carved-out loaf of bread (with the top back on).
Not recommended : we’d generally steer clear of chłodnik – cold soup made from soured milk, young beet leaves, beets, cucumbers and chopped fresh dill; czernina – duck blood soup; flaczki – beef or pork tripe stew with marjoram; Grochówka Kapusniak – cabbage/sauerkraut soup; and John will not touch Zupa Ogórkowa soup of sour, salted cucumbers, often with pork (“dill pickle soup”)
A word on dill. John hates dill. Really, really hates it. Poles love it – it appears above, and usually on or in mashed potatoes. If you’re like John, the words you need are “Proszę nie koperek”.
Bigos – a stew of sauerkraut and meat, mainly Kiełbasa
***** Gołąbki – (pronounced gowompki) are cabbage leaves stuffed with spiced minced meat and rice or with mushrooms and rice served with sour cream or tomato sauce. They are so much more delicious than they sound
Golonka – stewed pork knuckle or hock
Gulasz – goulash. A stew of meat, noodles and vegetables (especially potato), seasoned with paprika and other spices and often served with potato pancakes
Kiełbasa – sausage, and very much a staple of Polish cuisine. It comes in dozens of varieties, smoked or fresh, made with pork, beef, turkey, lamb, or veal with every region having its own specialty. Served in soup (of course); with potatoes, like a Cumberland sausage loop; and any other way the cook can think of. Kiszka ziemniaczana is a type of roasted sausage made of minced potatoes
Klopsiki – meatloaf, often with tomato sauce
*** Kotlet schabowy – is a breaded pork cutlet prepared like wiener schnitzel. It’s hugely popular in Poland; made of pork tenderloin, or of pork chop. Kotlet z piersi Kurczaka version made with chicken, while Kotlet z Indyka uses turkey. Kotlet mielony – is the same thing, rolled into a ball
Kurczak pieczony po wiejsku – Polish village style roasted chicken with onion, garlic and smoked bacon
Łosoś – salmon, often baked or boiled in a dill sauce. Say “wossosh”
Pieczeń cielęca – marinated and roast veal. Pieczeń wieprzowa z winem is pork marinated in wine, then roast, while Pieczeń z mięsa mielonego is ground meat roast – meatloaf, if you will
** Pierogi – probably Poland’s number one food. These big ravioli come filled with sauerkraut and/or mushrooms, meat, potato and/or savoury cheese, sweet curd cheese with a touch of vanilla, or blueberries or other fruits, such as cherries or strawberries, and sometimes even apples – optionally topped with sour cream, and sugar for the sweet versions.
Although John thinks savoury pierogi are sadly lacking a good tomato-based sauce, he eats them Polish-style … either in his barszcz (he makes our own, from scratch) or boiled, then fried in butter with chopped onion
*** Placki kartoflane/ziemniaczane – are the potato pancakes we mentioned earlier, usually served with sour cream. In the home, these are made in bulk – Marguerite, our neighbour’s daughter sometimes brings us spares
Polędwiczki wołowe – beef sirloin, often served with mushroom sauce
*** Pulpety – Poland’s answer to the meatball and, when flattened and, flattened and fried, to the burger. Often served in a tomato or mushroom sauce, with mashed potatoes and cabbage
Pyzy – potato dumplings served by themselves or stuffed with minced meat or cottage cheese
Rolada z kurczakiem i pieczarkami – is a roulade of chicken and mushrooms, while rolada z mięsa mielonego z pieczarkami is made with ground meat. Zrazy is another variation – the standard dish of rolled up beef is stuffed with vegetables, mushrooms, eggs, and potato; Zrazy zawijane is stuffed with bacon, gherkin and onion
Ryba Smażona – fried, breaded fish fillet. Just don’t forget we’re a long way from the sea, and fish is not that common a food in Poland
A word on carp. The traditional Polish Xmas Eve dinner would not be complete without carp. Carp live in the mud of rivers, and that’s pretty much what they taste like. At Xmas, carp are sold live so Polish housewives can fill up the bath and let them live there for a few days, while the water is changed and the muddy taste gradually reduces. This is not always terribly successful. It can also have unfortunate consequences vis a vis the body odour of the whole family! John once made the mistake of ordering “river fish” in Agra – Rajmund had to eat it.
Schab Faszerowany – is stuffed pork loin
Wołowina Pieczona – is good old roast beef (you probably know the French call the British “les rosbifs”). Karkówka – is (usually) roast tenderloin. Baranina is roasted or grilled lamb
Żeberka wędzone – ribs – smoked, roasted or grilled
A couple you might rather avoid are Kasza gryczana ze skwarkami – buckwheat cereal with chopped, fried lard and onions – and Kaszanka – Polish bllod sausage, made of pork blood, liver, lungs and fat with kasza, spiced with onion, pepper and marjoram
Budyń – think “pudding”. This is a kind of set custardy gloop (made with a starch instead of egg yolk) and like the similar gloopy dessert pots you buy in the UK you can buy pots of it at the supermarket – strawberry, vanilla, chocolate, banana, etc
**** Naleśniki – sweet pancakes, thicker than crepes, folded or rolled after filling with sweetened cheese, sour cream, fruit or – a favourite of Rajmund – whipped egg whites. Kept in the fridge, the leftovers can be re-heated or eaten cold next day (Rajmund again)
***** Pączek- doughnut filled with rose petal jam (yes, really. It’s delicious) or other fruit conserves
**** Pierniki – gingerbread
*** Sernik – baked cheesecake is one of the most popular desserts in Poland. You see it everywhere
Matter of interest – you buy puddings in the supermarket but often the cakes are sold by a separate stall in the supermarket’s mall. That takes the place of a rushed counter in the supermarket, and means they can handle special orders, often do a “coffee, cake and sit down” for the weary shopper and some of them are REALLY good. At Real in Nowy Sącz, the cake stall sells the most wonderful light sponge cake with a creamy coconut topping and siding … which reminds me – must visit Real soon!
Ice cream is very popular in Poland, too. In most towns you’ll find a shop or kiosk selling many flavours. Koral is the area’s Walls – makers of ice cream, choc bars and ice lollies – and is based in Nowy Sącz (you passed the factory if you crossed the bridge over the Dunajec).
Off at a tangent – if you DID cross the Dunajec, you might have noticed two things:
– The bases and towers of the old truss bridge which was replaced by the one you drove over
– The gates of the canoe slalom course, downstream of the bridge
Polish pizza – do you make or remember French bread pizza? That’s Zapiekanka. Sold by the mile in town squares (rynek) throughout Poland and very simply the cheapest warm snack you’re likely to find
Polish tea and coffee – coffee is fine, though you do not see the huge numbers of branded coffee shops you do in the UK. See above re cake stalls. Tea is more often drunk black or with lemon, and the Poles are fans of Earl Grey, and in cities you may find a shop specialising in teas.
Polish bread – if you’ve read our post on home cooking, you’ll know we have a fairly low opinion on Polish bread. You don’t get the big, cut loaves of cotton-wool bread we all pretend to hate (but nothing else is good enough for a bacon butty) but you can get sliced bread – either small loaves of slightly sweet bread, like French sliced loaves, or bread baked today and sliced by the store. For other fresh bread, think supermarket, but not as good. For sure, we do buy it, but none of it is as good as even the supermarket “artisan” loaves you can buy in the UK. When the mood takes us we (usually John) make our own bread-type things – soda bread or, big favourite and *****, US-style “biscuits” … big, fluffy, scones. Plain or cheesy, they’re always delicious.
Real in Nowy Sącz http://www.real.pl/markety/malopolskie/nowy-sacz/
Tesco in Nowy Sącz http://www.tesco.pl/sklepy/nowy-sacz-ul-prazmowskiego-11/