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Eating in Poland

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Floydm's picture
Floydm

Eating in Poland

This is my last post about my trip before returning to posts about managing the site and baking, I promise! -Floyd

As far as I can recall, we ate Polish food exclusive on this trip.  Not out of necessity, mind you: at least in cities like Warszawa and Kraków you can dine on sushi, burgers, Italian food, phó, pretty much anything you like now. Chains like Starbucks, McDonalds, Hard Rock Cafe, and KFC are about as common as in the rest of Europe.  We didn’t take this trip to eat American or Italian or Japanese though, we went to eat Polish.

Polish food is very good.  My wife’s comment was “When I came here when I was twenty, it was the night life and the drinking that were the big temptations.  This time, it is the food!”  I agree and could go on and on about the cuisine there, though I’m going to limit myself to this one (admittedly fairly long) post, first discussing the meals and then some particular foods of interest.

The spices in Polish cuisine are mild. Very mild: think dill and marjoram, often with cream. 

One of the strongest flavours?  Smoke.

Curing, pickling, and fermenting meats and vegetables was an important way of preserving food in the days before reliable refrigeration and still plays an important part in many of the traditional dishes.

And, yes, to get the question out of the way, the kełbasa (sausage) really is all that.

The first meal of the day is śniadania.  

A traditional spread at śniadania is likely to include bułki or chleb (rolls or bread), szinka (ham) and wędliny (cold cuts), cottage or farmers cheeses - sometimes with radishes and chives mixed in or to be eaten with it on bread, sliced pomidory and ogórki (tomatos and cucumbers), masło (butter) and ser (cheese - usually a white or yellow one - the familiar orange cheddar that Americans usually eat is still a rare sight there). Herbata (tea) is drunk more often than coffee, with lemon and honey or sugar rather than milk.  Soft boiled eggs, scrambled eggs, or omelet with chopped ham or kełbasa are also not uncommon. Another common dish is parówki (a kind of hot dog - usually pork or chicken), sometimes served with cheese.

The largest meal of the day, obiad, is eaten in the early afternoon.  At my grandmother-in-law’s house, obiad was usually a three course affair.  First soup such as barszcz (based on beets), zurek (a rye sourdough soup pictured below that I’ve mentioned previously and which I’m trying again to make at home), zupa pomidorowy (tomato soup), or a chicken broth.  

The main dish was usually a meat + starch + vegetables affair, something like some sort of schab (pork roast) or kotlety (cutlets) with ziemniaki (potatoes) or kluski (either noodles or dumplings depending on the type) or ryż (rice), and a chopped salad or some type of cooked/fermented mushrooms or cabbage.

 Another common meal is to have one of many kinds of pierogi. Pierogi come stuffed with meat, potatoes, mushrooms, cheese, cabbage, or even fruits and berries.

And no meal was complete without dessert, typically some sort of fruit in gelatin, a slice of cake, and more herbata.

To wrap it all up, almost every obiad was closed with some sort of sweet liqueur or flavoured vodka, often times homemade.

After that we’d often try to go to go back out and do something, but usually the most I could manage was to read a book or watch TV for a bit and try not to fall asleep.  Light eating it is not!

The evening meal, kolacja, is typically smaller and happens later in the evening than in North America.  More bread and cold cuts, for example, or some slices of whatever roast was made for obiad.  Just enough to tide you over until morning.

Not everyone eats like this, of course.  I’m sure busy folks who work in offices eat desk lunches the way many of the rest of us do.  When we asked a waiter who we were chatting with what he had for śniadania, he told us “today, cereal.” 

A few specific items worth mentioning:

Pączki

As I blogged about earlier, one of the things I most anticipated eating on this trip were pączki, the jelly doughnut-like treats found in Polish bakeries around Easter.

 I tried four or five different bakery’s versions of them.  The worst were simply plain, not unlike grocery store jelly doughnuts.  The best, either those from A. Blikle Bakery in Warszawa or one of the bakeries I tried near the rynek in Kraków, were outstanding: sweet but not too sweet, soft, rich, and distinctly floral from the rose petal jam filling.  They are definitely something you should try if you have an opportunity to.    

Ciasto i sernik

Polish cakes and pastries are excellent.  Napoleonki (aka mille feuille) and Wuzetki (usually marked "W-Z") are two of the best known, and there are innumerable delicous varieties of cheesecake (sernik) to be tasted. If you have an opportunity to visit, be sure to stop when you see a cukiernia, which is like a Polish pâtisserie.  You won’t regret it!

Naleśniki

Naleśniki are the Polish equivalent of crêpes.  Like crêpes you can order them for any meal and will find them served sweet or savory, containing sweet white cheese, berries, ham, or mushrooms.  They are very good.  I'm already trying my hand at making them at home, using sweetened ricotta cheese to try to recreate the white cheese that the fruit ones are usually stuffed with.

Chleb

The bread (chleb) we had in Poland was consistently fresh and consistently good, similar to the breads I’ve had in other Northern and Eastern European countries.

The white rolls (bułki) we had for śnadanie were light and crackly, and the darker breads heavier and excellent with things like pasztet, a baked Polish pâté.  

I didn’t come home with any particular loaves that I felt like I had to reproduce, more just a general sense that I should branch out and try a few more formulas with nuts, grains, or more spelt and rye in them.  I don’t think I’ll regret it!

Wódka

No profile of Polish food and drink would be complete without mentioning wódka (vodka).  We actually didn’t have any straight wódka on this trip or witness any heavy drinking, though we did notice a number of 24 hour liquor stores. Rather we had many toasts and after-dinner cordials, some homemade such as a red current and a nut one, and others purchased such as Soplica flavoured with hazelnut or cherries, Krupnik flavoured with honey and which I had with hot water and lemon, or my wife’s favourite “old lady vodka” Avocaat, which I gather is actually of Dutch origin but which is popular with ladies of a certain age in Poland as well.  Kogel mogel is another name for a thick, sweet egg cordial (which can be made with or without the liquor) like this too.  

A couple of regional foods worth noting.

Obwarzanki Krakowskie

Obwarzanki Krakowskie are a close relative of, some say precursor of, the bagel.  Sold by street vendors all over Kraków, they are reputed to go back nearly 700 years.   Priced at 1.5 złoty (about 50 cents) a piece, they are a great snack to be able to grab when you are on the go.

Oscypki

During our stay in Kraków there was an Easter market happening in the main square.  We tried a bunch of regional sausages and breads there, but by far our favourite snack were the grilled oscypki, a smoked sheep’s milk cheese made in the Tatra mountains, served hot with lingonberry jam. The oscypki are a regional specialty found year-round in Zakopane - a hard cheese with a salty flavor something like a cross between gouda and mozzarella, only smokier. They are usually pressed into lovely decorated moulds giving them a distinctive appearance though we also had them in strings which are sometimes braided or even pressed into animal shapes. The grilled version appears to be a fairly new invention which was particularly tasty given the cold weather we were experiencing.

Zapiekanki

Zapiekanki are like Polish French bread pizzas and are a very common late night street (drinking) food.  Our favorite and the most popular kind is topped with mushrooms, cheese, and ketchup, and sometimes with chopped leeks and chives. There are other varieties to be found also, such as the “Hawaiian” ham and cheese and pineapple, or salami, or the Greek with olives and feta, and other versions that include red bell peppers, sausage, yellow cheese, and pickles.

Bar Mleczny

Bar Mleczny are milk bars that spread around Poland back in the Communist era.  Subsidized by the government, Bar Mleczny were inexpensive cafeteria that serve Polish standards like barszcz and pierogi at extraordinarily low price.  Originally created to distribute excess milk products, they expanded to include standard regional dishes and have a reputation for being one of the better places outside of local “homes” to find traditional dumplings and pancake style dishes.

I gather Bar Mleczny can be hit-or-miss, with some being downright nasty and the service being notoriously bad, but the one we ate in a bunch of times was very good and the staff, while perhaps not friendly by Western “Hi, I’m Tammy and I’ll be your server this evening” standards, was courteous and friendly enough.  One day they even made a special batch of the kluski śląskie my wife had been asking about, which was pretty nice of them.

Privately I harbour the dream of someday opening a restaurant called Bar Mleczny here. It probably wouldn't last long without the subsidies and what with people's expectation of customer service, but... man, are they good.

I could go on and on but I'll spare you.  But one final thing worth knowing: Smacznego!  That is the Polish equivalent of “Bon appetit.”

Smacznego!

Comments

Song Of The Baker's picture
Song Of The Baker

Great photos and story Floyd!  Reminds me of former Yugoslavia.  We share muchof the same cuisine methods and  some dishes.  Your photos remind me of home and thank you for that.

talk soon.

John

Floydm's picture
Floydm

My pleasure!  Yes, certainly there are similarities.  A hundred years ago Poland and parts of the former Yugoslavia were part of the same nation, Austria-Hungary, I believe. What they share, and what remains distinctive, is fascinating.

-F

MANNA's picture
MANNA

Song ot Baker, you are from Yugoslavia? SUPER DOBRO! I so enjoyed my time there I wanted to stay longer but they didnt let me.

Song Of The Baker's picture
Song Of The Baker

Hi Manna.

I was born in Vancouver BC but all my family was born there.  They didn't let you stay??  I have been there 3 times.  last time was in 1987 when the country was still intact.  My parents have been there many times in the last few years but they do not enjoy the visits with our family there.  It is quite a sad situation for the country economically and socially.  Sad actually.

John

isand66's picture
isand66

Wow...what a great post.  Thanks so much Floyd for sharing your culinary adventures in Poland.  I didn't see anything I wouldn't want to try!  I'm now starving after reading this post.

All of the food looks so enticing especially that grilled cheese street food dish.

Regards,
Ian

Floydm's picture
Floydm

I have to admit, after we got back to Vancouver we went to one of the Polish delis here and spent something like 75 bucks, mostly on sausages.  We are trying to get a few more fresh vegetables -- and lighter fare like sushi -- back into our diets, but it is hard after eating like that for three weeks!

-Floyd

isand66's picture
isand66

Yes...it doesn't look like the healthiest diets and it is hard to go back to eating like before when you gorge yourself on so many great foods....everythin in moderation they say!  You want to make sure you're alive to go back again :)

gmagmabaking2's picture
gmagmabaking2

I feel like I have been there now... interesting the foods of Europe... I would love to taste many, many of those goodies.

Great pictures and documentary... very interesting!

Happy Eating!

Diane

Floydm's picture
Floydm

Thanks, Diane!

grind's picture
grind

Mouthwatering goodness.

Floydm's picture
Floydm

:)

rossnroller's picture
rossnroller

And great pics. Not easy to summarise a cuisine after a travelling stint - I've been doing something similar post our recent travels in Thailand.  I think you've done an excellent job of it.

Brought back memories of my time in Germany, actually. As you've mentioned above, seems to be a lot of commonality between middle-Euro cuisines, which is hardly surprising given the history.

Cheers!
Ross

Floydm's picture
Floydm

Thanks, Ross!

Wingnut's picture
Wingnut

What a whirlwind of a report! Great pics, love the snow on the head in the park. What a great experience for you and your family!

Cheers,

Wingnut

Floydm's picture
Floydm

Thanks, Wingnut!

Janetcook's picture
Janetcook

Floyd,

I have so enjoyed your photos and writings about your trip.  I agree with all that has been said but do have to add in a mom kinda thing.....I am very impressed by your kids hanging in there for so long eating foreign foods and living in places not their own.  Shows quite a bit of fortitude on their part - especially at the ages they are.  No small feat to be out of ones comfort zone for that length of time.  What memories they will have because of how you truly immersed them in the culture rather than touring the touristy places while staying in Western type hotels eating Western food....

My hat goes off to you and your wife too.  As parents I know what you did wasn't easy either!

Thanks soooo much for sharing.

Take Care,

Janet

Floydm's picture
Floydm

Thank you, Janet!  Agreed, our kids are very good travellers, and I do think these will be memorable experiences for them.  

It is funny, we actually discussed a number of vacation options that were more conventionally kid-friendly, destinations like Hawaii or Disneyland, but they decided they wanted to see Poland and their great grandmother who lives there this year. I admit that, as a parent, I am pretty proud of them for that. :)    

-Floyd

bakingbadly's picture
bakingbadly

I shouldn't have viewed this post while hungry... I've no regrets.

Thank you for sharing your photos and comments about your trip. Much appreciated. It's always fascinating to learn about cuisines (especially breads) that I'm not familiar with.

Zita 

Floydm's picture
Floydm

My pleasure, Zita.

-F

chouette22's picture
chouette22

I am so glad I was there just two years ago, otherwise I would be so impatient to travel to that region. And I am with Ian, I didn't see anything I don't feel like eating. The pastry shops would be my downfall, if I had one like that in my neighborhood, I might as well just give up! :)
The bagel-type street vendors: when I traveled to Krakov with my students, our bus stopped right in front of one at some point and when my students saw how incredibly cheap the bread was, they begged our driver to let them out. They DESCENDED upon the vendor and basically just bought up his stock!

Your milk bar looks exactly like the one we ate at in Krakov, I bet it's the same. We had a great meal there.

How lucky to chance upon the Easter market in the main plaza! 

Floydm's picture
Floydm

I'm sure it is the same Bar Mleczny. It is in a high profile location halfway between the square and Wawel on Ulica Grodzka. 

If you want to bring back more memories, I found this video shot there too.  This guy's comments are a bit harsh, but I agree with him that everyone should try eating there if they have a chance.

I noticed this video is part of a series made for the "In Your Pocket" guidebooks.  I picked up both the Kraków and Waszawa editions while travelling. They were really good. Cheeky, but chock-full of useful information. 

PeterS's picture
PeterS

Your travelog was a great treat to wake up to this morning. 

Floydm's picture
Floydm

Thanks, Peter!

Thaichef's picture
Thaichef

Hello Floyd:

  After looking and reading your post plus licking the screen to quench my hunger, I gained 10 pound.( My husband is cursing out loud because he had gain 20 lb.) Ha, Ha.

  I hope that I could post some wonderful food pictures also after I get back from Italy and France trip in May. Thank you very much for sharing.

Mantana

Floydm's picture
Floydm

Thanks, Mantana!  I hope your trip goes well too.  I'd love it if you'd share some of your pictures with us!

Best,

-Floyd

JimZ's picture
JimZ

You just stirred the blood of a 3rd generation Pole. I am hungry for every thing in your photos. I do make my own pierogi and fresh Kielbasa. Lucky for me here in New Orleans we have a bakery called "Maple Street Patisserie".  Ziggy Cichowski is from Poland and is a Master Pastry Chef and half owner. His breads and pastries are so good.

 

Thanks for the photos Floyd, I am inspired to make some Babka today-JimZ

isand66's picture
isand66

Who made this incredible lizzard or dragon bread???  That's so cool!

Floydm's picture
Floydm

That lizard is pretty cool, Jim.  Thanks for sharing!

-Floyd 

JimZ's picture
JimZ

Thanks Floyd for the comment, and thanks for your great photographs. How many pounds did you gaine,LOL-JimZ

M2's picture
M2

I think your post is much more effective in promoting Poland tourism than a typical travel ads :)

The smoke meat photos are unbelievable, so as the rest of the photos.  I like to learn about social history when I travel, and the milk bar that you mentioned sounds very interesting.  If you're ever going to open one in Vancouver, I'll be your regular patron!

I see that there are Polish and English on the menu, I guess the place must be quite popular among tourists?

Thanks again for such wonderful writeup.  I enjoy reading it.

Michele

 

Floydm's picture
Floydm

Yes, this Bar Mleczny is right on the main tourist drag in Kraków, so I'm sure they get more than their share of tourists in there.

Best,

-Floyd

Mebake's picture
Mebake

Great food, Floyd!

Love the cured meats, pastries, and breads.

Thanks for sharing, and welcome back.

 

Floydm's picture
Floydm

Thanks!

-Floyd

hanseata's picture
hanseata

reading your post and looking at the appetizing pictures. It reminded me of my own trip to Poland 1967, as a student. Those were, of course, the communist times, and the food was not bad, but definitely nothing like those goodies you got. I fondly remember the pastry, though.

Much of the foods resemble what you get in Germany, especially your description of the breakfast with rolls and cold cuts. That is what you get in hotels, in most families they will have a lighter breakfast like the waiter you asked about it.

The white fresh cheese in the pastry filling will have been quark, ricotta is not the best substitute with its bland taste and grainy texture. The best substitute (in pastries) is cream cheese with a bit of lemon juice, as I use it in my German cheesecake. And, if there are eggs in the filling, whisk the whites and fold them in for a lighter structure.

Karin

Floydm's picture
Floydm

Thanks for the tips, Karin.  

-Floyd