THE FOOD IN POLAND IS FANTASTIC! Traditional Polish food is typically made of simple ingredients, cooked a long time with deep wonderful flavor in every bite. I have mentioned a few classics in other posts already, such as the first Pierogis, (we would go on to have a plate at the beginning of every meal!) There was also the Polish donut, the Paczki’s, and I wrote about dinner with Radek’s family, enjoying our first galumpki.
We ate almost exclusively Polish food. We hadnt come this far for pizza, but Radek mentioned a couple times that Poles didn’t eat this food everyday! It wasn’t hard to find either. In big cities we found sushi restaurants, Italian restaurants, and even a few American fast food chains, but mostly it was Polish restaurants.
Our first day in Czestochowa was cold and rainy and we ducked into a Polish bistro that had clear French influence. I got a classic Polish soup, Zurek. This soup has a sour flavor, reminiscent of sauerkraut. It can be created using vinegar and buttermilk, but we learned from Radek’s mother that the proper way to make it is with soured rye flour, in much the same way that one would use sourdough bread starter. It is hearty and delicious and served with ham, Polish sausage (kielbasa), and slices of hard boiled egg.
It was in Czestochowa that I tried my first Galonka! OMG this was so amazingly good! We saw it variously listed as a “ham hock”, a “pig’s knee”, but mostly as a “pork knuckle”–in other words, it’s a small ham! While none of these descriptions sounds particularly appetizing, the pork knuckle was the same as the German Schwein Haxe; but where the Schwein Haxe is roasted crispy and seals in all the fat, the Galonka is braised all day and renders much of the fat.
It’s also a really fun word, “Galonka” became our word for someone who eats too much or for feeling fat from a big meal (which happened three times a day) so you would hear, “Oh I have been such a galonka today!”
This became our standard “starter” when we got to a restaurant.
I mean, c’mon! If you could start a meal off with dumplings wouldn’t you? They were most frequently stuffed with potato and cheese, or sauerkraut and sausage; but I also found some delicious mushroom dumplings, stuffed with dark ground porcini mushrooms. We even got to try blueberry pierogi’s! These are only made when blueberries are in season, which in Poland is July. They were hard to find but we were there at the perfect season of the year!
Bigos is known as “Hunter’s Stew” and is made from cabbage, sauerkraut, mushrooms, various meats, sausage, and flavors like honey, juniper, and pepper. It is served with hearty Polish rye bread…and always, with a shot of vodka! While it sounds heavy and wintery, I got this on the first night there and after everyone tried it, we all sought it out at every restaurant!
For some reason, maybe from watching too much Hogan’s Heroes, I always thought borscht was some sort of gruel from the Russian Front. It is a fantastic cold soup made from beets. The beets are chopped, cooked with their greens, and then flavored with sour cream. They add chopped hard boiled eggs, and some raw vegetables such as radishes. The result is refreshing and beautiful to the eye.
Galumpki is the Polish food I ate most growing up and I have posted in the past on how I make it. It is, however, a very personal food. Ask any Italian about what makes a good marinara sauce, or anyone at all about chicken soup, and you will find hard requirements about certain ingredients, techniques, consistencies, etc. Often it comes down to how their grandmother made it. I will say this, I have eaten a lot of galumpki and some reminds me of my Babka, and some is less impressive, but I’ve never had a bad one!
Polish meats are significantly more interesting than the standard American menu. Every Polish menu had duck, rabbit, wild boar, venison, and a variety of kielbasa. Breakfast buffets always included a selection of cold cuts as pictured above, and however they cooked it, the food was fantastic!
My next post will be on the restaurants of Poland with some less traditional dishes. We ate fantastic food for nearly two weeks and in the coming months I plan to try and recreate some of these and share my recipes.