The French have baguettes, stinky cheese, and champagne that costs more than your college education. The Italians have pasta so good you’ll be ashamed you ever stepped foot in an Olive Garden. It’s no secret that these countries know how to eat, but what about a lesser-known European country? A country like Poland.
Believe it or not, there’s more to Polish cuisine than vodka and sausage, which I quickly learned when I moved from the US to Poland at age 12. Sure, you’ll definitely find 672345 billion types of sausage at the local butcher shop, but you’ll also find some of the best dumplings and doughnuts around. And I don’t know about you, but I’ll take doughnuts over stinky cheese any day of the week.
Arguably the most famous of all Polish foods, pierogi are dumplings traditionally filled with mashed potatoes, meat, sauerkraut, or mushrooms, but fruit fillings are also popular during the summer months. In my experience, pierogi are kinda like Pringles — it’s impossible to eat just one.
Borscht, a popular Polish soup, gets its vibrant hue and mild flavor from beets and is the perfect thing to warm you up on a cold winter day. Just don’t even think about wearing white while eating it. Bright red borscht + a white shirt = a recipe for disaster.
A photo posted by Happiness Is Homemade (@sylviahappiness) on Apr 15, 2015 at 8:17am PDT
Walk around any Polish city and you’re pretty much guaranteed to see people carrying around a zapiekanka, a cheap street food especially popular among college kids. These open-faced sandwiches consist of a halved baguette that’s typically topped with mushrooms and cheese, broiled until everything is toasted and bubbly, then garnished with the pièce de résistance — a squiggly line of ketchup.
Naleśniki are basically a Polish crêpe, paper thin and just begging to be filled with jam and topped with a dusting of powdered sugar. Or, you can wrap the pancakes around a sweet cheese filling to make blintzes. They’re super easy to make, but they’re even better if you can bribe a Polish babcia (grandma) to make them for you. Trust me, I’m speaking from experience here.
You knew it was gonna pop up on this list eventually, and here it is — good ‘ol kiełbasa. Except if you walk into any given Polish butcher shop and ask for a pound of kiełbasa, they’ll look at you like you’re nuts.
That’s because kiełbasa literally translates to “sausage” in Polish, and considering that the Poles make approximately 6.7 billion varieties of sausage, you’re gonna have to be a tad more specific. That being said, kiełbasa is delicious and I look forward to finally sampling all the varieties (hopefully by the year 3000).
6. Kotlet Schabowy
Much like schnitzel, this dish consists of pork that’s been pounded super thin, coated in breadcrumbs, then fried to a crispy golden brown. Serve it with some potatoes and you’ve got comfort food that will rival anything you’ve eaten in the States.
7. Prince Polo
With crisp wafers layered with creamy chocolate, these candy bars are kind of like a supersized Kit Kat, only better. There are a few different varieties, but for Nutella lovers like myself, the hazelnut-chocolate version is basically heaven. Gimme a break of that Prince Polo bar, ya feel?
A photo posted by Spoon University – FAU (@spoonuniversity_fau) on Jul 9, 2015 at 5:35pm PDT
Remember those doughnuts I was talking about earlier? They’re called pączki (“pawnch-ki”) and they put your chocolate glazed doughnut to some serious shame. Pączki come filled with everything from custard to jam and they’re so amazing there’s an entire day dedicated to eating them. Oh yes, Pączki Day (Fat Tuesday in the US) is a real thing. But let’s be honest, everyday can be Pączki Day if you try hard enough.
Did you really think I could write about Poland without mentioning vodka? Poland’s most famous vodka is Żubrówka aka Bison Grass Vodka. Flavored with the grass that bison graze on in the Białowieża Forest, this stuff was actually banned from the US up until a few years ago because it contains coumarin, a naturally-occurring chemical that may be toxic in large doses.
Thankfully, Americans can now buy coumarin-free Żubrówka that supposedly tastes just as good as its Polish counterpart, but it doesn’t include the characteristic blade of grass that Polish bottles have. How’d I get my hands on this authentic Żubrówka for the photo, you ask? Let’s just say I know a guy.