Polish cuisine is a style of cooking and food preparation originating from Poland but being strongly influenced by the cooking traditions of the many national groups that lived in the country for centuries, notably the Jews, Ukrainians, Belarussians and Lithuanians.
Polish cuisine has evolved over centuries. Some may say that typical Polish dish consists of breaded pork cutlet (kotlet schabowy – on the photo below) with potatoes and the cabbage while it appeared on the Polish table only in 19th century. In the old Poland it was venison and cereal (kasza) the most popular food components on the table. In the period of People’s Republic of Poland the cuisine was very monotonous and poor and consisted mostly of typical Polish components, with an abundance of fat, cream and dressing. Presently in Poland you can notice a big influence of Mediterranean cuisine as Poles eat definitely more raw vegetables and their dishes are more diversified. Not without significance is a big choice of culinary programs on Polish TV. (On the other side, when you travel across Poland, you can see plenty of small restaurants advertising themselves by “obiady domowe” [home made dishes], where you can find few all over the same, most typical Polish dishes, prepared in “mother’s way”, what demonstrates some culinary conservatism of the average Pole.)
Although traditional dishes are often demanding in preparation and require time, many Poles like to prepare them by themselves. Especially when having guests it is common to serve them (and be proud of it) the homemade dishes. And nobody can imagine serving food from the supermarket during Easter or Christmas time, although no one woman takes 60 eggs for the traditional Easter yeast dough anymore! Many older women still like to prepare all kind of fruit and vegatable preparations, like jams, pickled cucumbers (very popular) or fruit juices.
Typical Polish meal consists of breakfast (early in the morning), dinner (served between 1 pm – 4 pm) and supper (evening).
BREAKFAST & SUPPER
The basis of those meals is bread with addition of sausage, cheese (all kinds), jam, eggs and so on, according to personal taste (there is no special rule in this matter). Some like to have bread with smalec (dripping), melted with pork scratchings, chunks of meat and onion, seasoned with salt, pepper and often aromatic herbs.
Polish bread requires few words of recommendation. The main ingredient for Polish bread is wheat or rye but it can be baked of other cereals, with a nice addition of extra ingredients, such as onion, sun-flower seed, lard, raisins, prunes, sesame seeds, poppy seed or honey. And you can choose between white or brown bread. The best comes from traditional small bakeries which still exist but can not compete well with cheaper (worse) bread from supermarket chains.
Breakfasts and suppers are usually served with tea or coffee.
The most essential components of typical Polish dinner is soup and so called “second dish” of meat or fish, potatoes and vegetables. Potatoes can be replaced by cereal or noodles.
Some say: there are no soups like Polish soups and there is a large array to choose from. Here are the most popular:
- rosół (bullion) – poultry or beef (or mixed) bouillon served with noodles, typically served on Sunday
- barszcz – beetroot soup, typically served with beans or “uszka” (ears) – ravioli-type pastries stuffed with meat or mushrooms
pomidorowa – tomato soup usually served with noodle, potato or rice.
- kapuśniak – sauerkraut soup with some meat.
- grochówka – made from peas, lentils and potato with addition of a sausage, thick and nutritious; often served in the army.
żur (żurek)– made of rye-flour and cooked with mushrooms, served with potatoes, diced sausages and hard-boiled eggs; it was a soup of poor people, also served durring the time of Lent.
- grzybowa – mushroom soup made of various species of mushrooms, served with noodle.
- ogórkowa – dill pickle soup of sour, salted cucumbers, often with pork.
- krupnik – barley soup based on rich chicken stock with vegetables and chunks of meat (don’t miss with a sweet, made by old vodka recipes!).
Polish meat is prepared in a variety of ways: roasted, stewed, fried or grilled, often with some dressing. Here are few examples:
- kotlet schabowy – fried pork loin chop coated in breadcrumbs and served with potatoes and cabbage.
- roast pork loin stuffed with prunes.
pork loin with prunes
- zrazy – beef dish served as stewed rolls stuffed with a pickled cucumber, a piece of sausage and mushrooms, and served with buckwheat groats.
- roasted or boiled golonka (pork knuckle) – the best served with beer.
and for very special occasions:
- roast duck stuffed with buckwheat groats or apples with majoram.
Typical drink for dinner is compote: a cold drink composed of season fruits cooked in water with sugar. The most popular is compote made of strawberries, cherries and plums. In the summer it is often used instead of Coca-Cola or Sprite (for instance). Every good Polish cook prepares many jars of this drink in summer and autumn season.
Meat & vegetables
Another famous and popular (although laborious) Polish dish is bigos, worthy of mention. A savory stew of sauerkraut, cabbage and meat, there is no standard recipe. Typical ingredients include fresh and fermented white cabbage (sauerkraut), whole or puréed tomatoes, various cuts of meat and sausages, honey and mushrooms. The meats may include pork (often smoked), ham, bacon, beef, veal, sausage, and, as bigos is considered a hunters’ stew, venison or other game; leftover cuts find their way into the pot as well. It may be seasoned with pepper, caraway, bay leaf, marjoram, pimento, dried or smoked plums, red wine, and other ingredients.
Bigos is usually eaten with rye bread or potatoes, often accompanied by vodka. As with many stews, bigos can be reheated few times – its taste actually intensifies when reheated. A common practice is to keep a pot of bigos going for a week or more, replenishing ingredients as necessary (cf. perpetual stew). The seasonal availability of cabbage and its richness in vitamin C makes bigos a traditional part of the winter diet.
Another specialty of this kind is gołąbki (pigeons) – cabbage leaves stuffed with minced meat and rice or groats, served with tomato or mushroom sauce.
Nobody knows the Polish cuisine well without trying pierogi, which are made from noodle dough, stuffed in two ways.
1 – With minced meat, chopped brined cabbage mixed with mushrooms or with a stuffing of cheese, potatoes and fried onion. You boil them and eat with fried onion and fat. Some leftovers (previously boiled) can be fried and it makes an excellent supper!
2 – With cottage cheese (sweet) or fruit, and boiled. This sweet version is served with a butter & sugar, sour cream or with fruit yoghurt.
Other Polish delicacies
Poland has always been known for a profusion of excellent smoked meats, especially kiełbasa (sausage), made after traditional recipes and smoked over juniper or fruit-tree twigs. The best examples is “kiełbasa myśliwska” (a hunter sausage) with juniper berries. Other specialties are various cured and smoked hams, poultry, pork and beef fillets, bacons and pâtés made from a variety of meats including game. The most quality products can be available in delicatessen shops.
The most typical Polish desserts are: szarlotka (apple cake), which is often served with an ice cream or whipped cream, sernik (cheesecake), piernik (ginger-breads), rolada makowa (poppy seed-swirl cake with raisins and/or nuts), and all kinds of yeast dough. Traditional Easter cake is mazurek – a square or round shape cake covered with sweet dressing and dried fruits, nuts and other delicacies. On the photo: szarlotka –apple pie with ice and whipped cream.
At Christmas time it is very popular to serve a poppy cake, at carnival – faworki (light fried pastry covered with powdered sugar).
Any time you feel hungry you can satisfy yourself with pączek (donut – on the photo), a ball shape cake made of yeast, flour and eggs and filled with rose marmalade or other fruit conserves. Polish pączki are different than so called donuts or similar sweets made in other countries. There is one special day in Poland when everybody has to try at least one – Fat Thursday, connected with a Catholic feast celebrated on the last Thursday before the Lent. As it is estimated, an average Pole eats 2,5 of donuts on Fat Thursday while the whole nation eats almost 100 million of them.
Poland is a renowned producer of high quality vodka. In the old days Poland almost every noble house had its own distillery, producing alcohol according to traditional family recipe, which was kept in deep secret. Polish vodka is produced from grain or potatoes. The most popular ones are Wyborowa, Sobieski and Luksusowa. Among flavoured brands the best known is Żubrówka (“Bison vodka”) with a grass blade from the Bialowieza Forest. In 2011 the best exported Polish vodka was Czysta de Luxe (number 7 on the world list).
As Polish men may prefer just clear, white vodka, Polish ladies can have a good choice of sweet alcohol and liquors. One of the most popular drink of this kind is Żołądkowa Gorzka – the name means “bitter stomach vodka” but it is a sweet, amber-coloured vodka with a unique spiced aroma and herbal flavor. Another good choice is Krupnik, with honey and herbs, one of the oldest drinks of all Slavonic nations. Very uniqe for its ingredient is sweet Goldwasser, which contains flakes of real gold. Another delicious drink is beverage mead (see pic), which was served at the royal courts of the Piast and Jagiellonian dynasties and in nobles or wealthier homes and monasteries. In Poland, famous for its honey production, its manufacturing tradition is dating back a thousand years. Most popular today are Dwójniak and Trójniak (14-17% alc.).
Another Polish speciality is nalewka (see photo) – a home made alcohol similar to medicinal tinctures. It is produced of high percentage spirit and normal vodka with addition of fruits, herbs, spice, sugar or molasses. Most nalewkas have their proper name derived either from their main ingredient or from the name of their traditional place of production. Here are some of those ingredients: anise, apricots, blackcurrants, cherries, common hawthorn, cornus alba, Green Persian walnuts, juniper, wormwood, aronia or quince. Some are drink one glass only for a health reason, some other are so delicious it is not possible to stay with one glass!
Weaker alcohol lovers will find in Poland a quite big choice of Polish beer. Among the recommendable brands are Żywiec, Tyskie, Okocim, Lech, Heweliusz and Tatra. Polish ladies like to drink them with an addition of a raspberry juice. In winter time it is nice to taste so called “grzaniec” – hot beer with cloves and cinnamon, sweetened with honey.
Renata’s favourite food
Cereal with onion and fried bacon and sour milk. Very healthy!
Photo: Katarzyna Olczak, Renata Głuszek, Vikipedia