“Smacznego” – Polish for enjoy yer grub.
This will hopefully be the first of many of these food posts in my much neglected Smaczne Środy series. I’ve had the ideas on paper for about two years but as you might have read recently I have been madly busy lately. So I haven’t written all the articles I want to (this means 1000+ unwritten articles on Poland ALONE, and a further 3,000 unwritten global backpacking article for the Don’t Stop Living site) but I want to get more posts on here, so apologies for that. I’ve always aimed to be the best and most relentless travel writer on planet earth. First is everything. Seventh is nothing. 5,000 articles deep into this career and I’m still just starting.
“It feels just like we just got started” – Louise Wener.
I am now in into my sixth calendar year in Poland so you’d think by now I know the food well. But I am still a tourist everyday. I still don’t know every item on every menu and I am always learning and trying new cuisines. I hate cooking though, or perhaps I see myself as too busy to enjoy cooking these days. I’ll save it for later in life. If God spares us.
“In your head, they are dying” – Dolores O’Riordan.
Because of all this, it means I frequent Bar Mlecznys, Pierogarnias and Restaurants in Poland sampling the finest local Polish food on offer. These are my current picks and therefore 10 Polish foods you need to try, this is a general overview for today and to be honest probably my personal top 10 foods in Poland.
“The violence causes silence, who are we mistaken?” – Dolores O’Riordan.
1. Pierogi Ruskie
Life as a person eating food doesn’t ever get much better than this. If you’ve never tried it, welcome to the world of Pierogi Ruskie. Your life may never be the same again. These are small semi circular “dumplings” (gosh I hate that word!) made of dough which contain potato and onion inside them. They are enclosed. To top it all off I usually eat Pierogi Ruskie with Smietana (Polish sour cream) on the side to dip them in and little bits of crispy dried pork on the top. I eat this at least once a week. I am hopelessly addicted. As my Polish friend Kasia once told me “Smacznego!”. Pierogi Ruskie baby, Pierogi Ruskie ooohhh!
2. Kapusta Czerwona
Again I am lazy so I buy the ready made stuff. Kapusta Czerwona is basically chopped red cabbage in mayonnaise. I eat it sometimes on its own as a quick salad but mostly to accompany a main meal. It is delicious and it seems healthy too so a great choice to munch at least once a week.
3. “Polish” Kebabs
You’re an idiot Sir! What do you mean “Polish Kebabs”?? Please don’t go mad at me Poland – this is a compliment – I love the “Polish” kebab”! I thought kebabs were from Iran or Turkey or the Middle East. Yes, yes they are but have you ever heard of “tailoring a product for a market”? And that’s exactly what happened here. Polish guys are big and strong and they needed a tasty big kebab so the Middle Eastern kebab houses made it happen. My personal favourite kebab house to frequent is the ever so slightly commercial Kebab King. No apologies though – I love them.
Don’t get too confused when a Polish person tells you they are going for pancakes. You are never sure if they mean crepes, pancakes or indeed the much cooler naleśniki. These are Polish pancakes and you can buy them at Biedronka (my favourite Polish supermarket) or even better in a Nalesnikarnia. A custom made restaurant only for naleśniki. Oh what should you have in them? Cottage cheese. Or just about anything. I also buy them in Bar Mlecznys.
Poland’s take on a Steak Tartare continues to surprise me mostly due to the price and the fact it’s a much nicer version than any I ever tried before. While such dishes in France and Northern Ireland are reserved for a special night out, a first date or a swankaday restaurant, here your local pub will whip you up a great Tatar for under 20 złotych. As well as the raw mince beef, it comes with other raw food such as a raw egg, onion and garlic and I especially like it with Polish bread and ogorki. Mix the shebang all in together and spread it on top notch Polish bread and you’re in heaven. Well if you have a decent ciemne piwo to wash it down with! For a recommendation, head to the quite excellent Hotel Ren in Starogard Gdański and order the Tatar and Dark Beer in their Brewery, known as Browar Kociewski, delicious!
These are kind of Cabbage rolls. My cool Polish friend Ania introduced me to Goląbki in 2015 and over time I have also warmed to them. Meat fillings are optional and they are usually accompanied by potatoes, kapusta and vegetables. Top notch food, love a bit of Goląbki.
Like a little girl from Wales, Szarlotka is scrumptious and it is not Charlotte Church. It’s Poland’s answer to Apple Pie and includes cinnamon and of course that local ingredient – Polish apples. Having eaten English Apple Pie for years, I have to admit, the Polish version is nicer – probably because it is sweeter, I love the crumby layer on top.
Often translated into English as Hunters Stew and whether rightly or wrongly, a decent drop of Bigos certainly fills you up and keeps you happy. What’s in it? I never really had a clue – I used to just eat it. But apparently inside Bigos is chopped meat of various kinds stewed with sauerkraut and shredded fresh cabbage. I have also eaten it in Ukraine.
9. Placki Ziemniaczanie (Polish Potato Pancakes)
When my friend Karolina Kokosz told me of a potato restaurant in Gdansk called Pyra Bar I made a beeline for it. As a true Northern Irishman I love some spuds in my grub and this restaurant hits the spot big time! They have potatoes in so many dishes, I went in regularly when I lived in Gdansk as it was next door (basically) to my Polish language school.
Last but not least and probably a new entry is my new favourite street food in Poland – Zapiekanki! I always hated mushrooms, until 2016 when a chance encounter with the Polish long bread meal with cheese and mushrooms Zapiekanka smelt out to me in the port city of Gdańsk. I had to try it and since reneged my hate for mushrooms, now becoming one of my favourite foods. It’s cheap to buy Zapiekanki in Poland and I have a new favourite venue, called Zapiekanki itself in downtown Warsaw.
As I said, this is an overview of my favourite ten Polish food types and ten that you must try in my opinion when you backpack this country. I hope to do more of these Smaczne Środy (Tasty Wednesdays) and will therefore try and give you separate lists of:
Don’t lie to your friends, stay healthy and happy, and…