We have spent the past two weeks eating our way through Poland. If you had asked me about Polish food before arriving, I would have said “well they eat pierogi and drink vodka!” I think many Americans know only this as well. But as much as I love the pierogi, I have learned all about the food of Poland – pierogi and so much more.
Poland’s tumultuous history is identifiable in their foods (history blog coming soon). Over the millennia the region we know as Poland was controlled by Prussia, Austro-Hungarian Empire, Hapsburg Dynasty, Russia, Sweden, Lithuania, Germany, Soviet Union and others. Watch this short video to understand how fluid the borders of this area have been. It’s fascinating.
Poland’s Changing Borders
So, of course that means for more than two thousand years the region has been influenced by the surrounding kingdoms and countries. But also, and perhaps more importantly, Poland has endured a great deal of economic hardship, which means developing simple foods with simple ingredients seasonally available or what ever is on hand.
And you will see that in the comfort foods of Poland.
Soups and Meats
In Poznan I had one of my favorite traditionally Polish foods, a soup called zurek. I really need to learn to make this delicious, bright, flavorful soup. Often called Sour Soup because of the fermented rye used, it’s very difficult to describe but definitely not difficult to eat. Want to try it? Check out this recipe.
Soups are very popular in Poland, particularly in the long dark winter, and in addition to zurek we had tomato soup, seafood soup, beet soup (borscht) and another sour soup with fermented rye and dill called zalewajka. I loved that one too. Want to try it? Check out this recipe.
In Poznan and in Wroclaw we also enjoyed wonderfully prepared duck, traditionally served with beets and yeast dumplings. We also had deliciously hand-made sausages and pickles served with mustard. Another favorite was a beetroot and strawberry salad served with warm goat cheese. A remarkable combination of simple ingredients.
Pierogi and Cooking Class
We stayed the longest in the remarkable city of Krakow, where we had time to really dive into the culture and food scene. Here is where we ate the most pierogi, taste testing traditional favorites as well as a few new creations. The Pierogi Ruskie is the favorite amongst the Poles, and I have to say that is my favorite too. Simple ingredients of potato, cheese, and onion burst in your mouth, full of home cooked goodness. Another favorite we enjoyed was duck pierogi – a more modern take on
the traditional food. We also had mushroom and cabbage, spinach and cheese, blueberry, and raspberry.
So much pierogi so little time!
In Krakow I had a wonderful pleasure of spending half a day with Olga of Urban Adventures in her tiny communist era apartment, where we created some delicious pierogi, learning the nuances of preparation. The dough for pierogi is as simple as pasta dough, just flour, egg, water and a little salt. Hand mixing and hand forming is important to keep it traditional. Pierogi is always boiled, but left over pierogi is often pan-fried the next day for another delicious way to enjoy it. And since you can’t just make a few pierogi, there are always leftovers. There are many ways to enjoy Pierogi. Click on this link for a recipes for several of the most traditional ones, including Ruskie. I have also attached a pdf here with the recipe Olga so kindly provide.Pierogi receipe
While spending the day with Olga we also visited the local Polish market where we learned to order the items we needed – in Polish – while the local merchants smiled and indulged our broken mispronunciation. At the market we also learned not only about fresh meat and produce, but about the many kinds of popular pickles, pastries, cheese and, surprisingly, lard. We ate bacon lard spread like butter
on delicious fresh bread. Who knew that could be so good?
Our visit to Krakow also included spending four hours one evening with Delicious Poland, walking around the city and tasting so many delicious polish specialties. Seriously I thought I was going to explode. If you come to Krakow definitely do a food walking tour – but DO NOT eat lunch before hand. So much delicious food. Here is what we ate:
Pierogi of course, at one of the city’s most loved family owned pierogi restaurants called Przystanek. We learned that sometimes fruit filled pierogi is served as a main dish, and the mushroom and cabbage pierogi is always served on Christmas
Christmas Eve is a major holiday and the family gathers to make the pierogi together. A traditional Polish Christmas Eve meal includes 12 courses, symbolizing riches, the 12 apostles and the 12 months of the year. The feast begins with the breaking of a wafer and is followed by; red borscht, mushroom soup, carp, herring, mushroom and cabbage pierogi, sauerkraut, cabbage rolls, kutia (grain and candied fruit mixture), gingerbread, dried fruit compote, poppy seed cake.
Another wonderful Christmas Eve tradition in Poland is that every table is set with one extra seat. Traditionally set for anyone who may be alone or needing a meal on Christmas Eve.
Walking Food Tour Krakow
Our food tour continued at Zalewajke in the Jewish Quarter, where we enjoyed the zalewajke soup and the borscht (mentioned above). We continued to the Jewish Market square to try a more recent addition to the polish food scene, zapiekanka. This open face sandwich is the favorite fast food in Krakow, developed in the communist era when burgers were not allowed because they were too “American”.
Trying local vodka at Hevre (a converted Jewish Prayer Hall) I realized I actually like vodka, if it’s the good stuff! My favorite was the Bison Grass; so subtle and smooth. Next we visited a very popular local brewery called Ursa Major with a woman brew master! Here we enjoyed sausage and cheese with two beers – a no hop(!) summer ale (interesting) and a
session IPA. Unlike most places we’ve been, American-style IPAs are very popular here.
So we are thinking we probably just have dessert left but no! We continued on to Kuchina u Doroty where we ate more! Two of my favorites of my time in Poland I had here – a delicious potato pancake covered in goulash called place ziemniaczane z gulaszem (try it) and a cabbage and sausage stew called bigos (try it) . In addition we had golabki (cabbage rolls), beetroot salad, kompot (juice) and racuchy, a fried dough dessert that tasted a lot like french toast, covered with yogurt and fresh berries.
About this time Arne plopped me in a wheelbarrow and wheeled me home.
Our time in Poland has been incredibly delicious and that has been incredibly surprising. Poland is an underrated tourism destination, and now I know the Polish cuisine is also misunderstood and underrated. I will take everything I learned about the food and culture of this incredible country and refer to it often.
And someday, I will return. To eat, to enjoy and to savor all this country has to offer.
Dziekuje Poland! Fantastyczny!
Note – Traveling and eating in Poland is very inexpensive. Some of our nicest meals with appetizers, main course, dessert, wine and beer only cost around $40. As of this writing the exchange rate is 4 zloty to one USD.
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