An Introduction to Polish Cuisine

If nothing else in my Poland series has convinced you to consider putting Poland on the bucket list, maybe some food will do the trick!  I love the blogging friendships I have due to bonding over trips to Poland, which is how I got to know Anna from Slightly Astray. As part of my Poland series wrap-up, I asked her to write a little about her experience in this country. Looking at all the wonderful things she tried makes me want to revisit Poland and be more adventurous! I somehow stuck to mostly eating pierogi because, well, it's pierogi. And they're absolutely delicious. But let me allow Anna to show you what else to experience in the Polish cuisine scene! 

Hi there! I'm Anna over at Slightly Astray. I'm a long term traveler who blogs about life on a road with my boyfriend. We are kind of complete opposites, but the one thing we share is a love for food! Our absolute favorite travel activity is trying the local cuisine. So when I became friends with Sara over our love for Poland and she invited me to guest blog, it was a no brainer that I would talk about food!

I didn't know too much about Polish cuisine before visiting Poland last summer. I'm from Southern California, and even with our impressive mix of cultures, Polish restaurants are pretty much non-existent. Luckily, I wasn't a complete stranger to it as my boyfriend's dad's side of the family is Polish and celebrate every Christmas with a traditional Wigilia dinner. I've attended two of them, and from the two, I learned: 1) stay away from the fishy jelly, and 2) eat ALL OF THE PIEROGIS.

So thus were my preliminary impressions of Polish cuisine. While the majority of the food was strange to say the least, the pierogis were an instant love. Perhaps because they are so similar to the Chinese dumplings of my homeland. I love that pierogis are the perfect meeting point of east and west.

When we decided to go to Europe over the summer, we knew that we had to add Poland to our itinerary (because... pierogis!!). We decided on a two-week trip through Poland. For part of it, we were fortunate enough to stay with some of D's relatives. They taught us so much about Polish history, current events, and of course, the cuisine.

Curious what Polish cuisine is like? Here are some of the most popular dishes, starting with the soups!

Cold borscht soup (chlodnik)

Cold borscht soup (chlodnik): Is this not the prettiest bowl of soup?! This pink soup is almost too bizarre looking to eat, but the color is just from beetroot. This soup is made from a sour cream base and is served cold which is a little odd to me (I think of soups as hot, steamy bowls of comfort!). But what's really weird is that it tastes just like yogurt. Yogurt with egg and chicken in it. This is a real mind wrap.

Red borscht soup (barszcz czerwony)

Red borscht soup (barszcz czerwony): This one looks kind of scary, doesn't it? But no worries! Again, the color is just from beetroot and this time, the soup is hot. It's a little bit sweet as you would expect beets to be. Traditionally, this soup is served with stuffed dumplings.

Sour rye soup (zur aka zurek)

Sour rye soup (zur aka zurek): This is one of the most popular Polish soups and my favorite! The slightly sour taste (kind of like sour dough, which I am a huge fan of) is from fermented rye flour. Traditionally, there will be white sausage added in the soup. This is a delicious and surprisingly filling meal when paired with fresh bread!

Cucumber soup (zupa ogorkowa)

Cucumber soup (zupa ogorkowa): Another sour soup! But this one may be an acquired taste. This soup is made with shredded pickled cucumbers. D loves it. I don't so much, but that's because I can't stand the taste of pickles!

Pickled herring (sledzie)

Pickled herring (sledzie): You've gotta get used to this since I've seen this on the table of every Polish feast! The herring is soaked beforehand in vinegar & seasoning and then served with fresh lemon slices and raw onions. It looks a little scary, but it's actually really good.

Polish charcuterie plate

Polish charcuterie plate: D and I both agree that this is the best charcuterie plate we've ever had! This platter has various roast meats, a big block of pate, cornichon pickles, and chanterelle mushrooms. What makes this very Polish is the horseradish and mustard spreads that perfectly complement the meats. (This particular plate is from the very famous The Red Hog restaurant in Warsaw. I would definitely recommend it!)

Sauerkraut stew (bigos)

Sauerkraut stew (bigos): How can you pass up anything served in a bread bowl?! Bigos, also known as hunter's stew, is a Polish national dish. Made with sauerkraut, pork, and sausage, it's slightly sour and very hearty. This particular version is served in a rye bread bowl. Basically, this is a huge bowl of YES!

Stuffed cabbage rolls (golabki)

Stuffed cabbage rolls (golabki): This is another very popular dish that can be seen in just about in Polish eatery. Cooked cabbage is wrapped around a minced meat and rice filling, and then topped with a tomato sauce. Polish food can be quite heavy. This was one of my favorites for when I needed a lighter meal.

Jellied pork (galaretka)

Jellied pork (galaretka): Yuck, this will never be my favorite! Traditionally, this is a peasant's dish made using pig trotters in an attempt to use all parts of the animal. The jelly is made from gelatin mixed into the stew and then completely cooled in molds. D likes this while I gag at the jelly texture. I'm not the only one though. I have at least one piece of proof that even some Polish locals don't care for this! Even D's Polish uncle has this message for this dish: "don't tremble, I won't eat you anyway." (Note: best eaten with a shot of vodka.)

Potato pancakes (placki ziemniaczane)

Potato pancakes (placki ziemniaczane): you can't go wrong with a bed of fried crispy potatoes! We've had a few variations of the potato pancake, but this one pictured here was my favorite (eaten at a cafe in the Jewish Quarter of Krakow). The potatos were super crispy and the mushroom topping was so savory.

Poppy seed cake (makowiec)

Poppy seed cake (makowiec): This is one of the most popular Polish desserts! Traditionally, it was eaten mainly on Christmas Eve, and was believed to bring good luck. This cake is made by rolling a layer of poppy seeds filling (the black part) inside a yeast dough, and often topped with glazed icing. It's not your typical soft airy cake, but it's definitely worth a try!

And finally, I saved the best food for last: PIEROGIS!

Pierogis are no doubt the star of Polish cuisine! They come in a variety of meat and vegetable fillings, but the most popular are potato & cheese, and sauerkraut & mushroom. The most common dipping sauces are just plain melted butter (my favorite!) or sour cream. And you can get them either boiled or pan fried. Both are absolutely delicious!

But that's not all! Pierogies even come in dessert versions!

These are made from a chocolate dough with a raspberry filling. And of course, we got it with a side of chocolate sauce. I think I've died and gone to heaven!

Note: we ate pierogis at a dozen or so eateries across three Polish cities. The absolute BEST pierogies are from Pierogarnia in Wroclaw, one of my favorite restaurants in the WORLD. I mean, just look at those pictures! Nowhere else has even come close for comparison!

I hope you enjoyed this brief introduction on Polish cuisine. Have you been to Poland or tried Polish food? What is your favorite? Which of these do you think you would try?