When you think of Poland, three things probably come to mind: pierogies, Lewandowski, and beatboxing. While the world is grateful for these Polish contributions, it’s truly a shame that we don’t know more about the amazing cuisine that your neighborhood babcia (grandma) has been cooking up for years.
A recent trip to the motherland awakened my love of Polish food. My parents are both Polish immigrants, but after 30 years in the states they’re American AF. My brothers and I were little brats when we were kids, and always got our mom to make burgers or order pizza, anything but Polish food. Because of this, we’ve strayed a bit from our roots. But the prodigal daughter has returned, and I’m here to let the world know that Poland has so much to offer.
Let’s start with a Polish staple. Rosol (pronouced ruh-soo, roll your tongue on the r) is pretty much chicken noodle soup, but everything is made from scratch—no cans allowed! The ingredients are so fresh, I wouldn’t be surprised if the chicken in my soup had been alive two hours earlier.
#SpoonTip: a warm cup of rosol can cure anything from a runny nose to the worst kaça (hangover).
2. Red Barszcz
Sticking with soups, barszcz is a red beet broth typically served as an appetizer on Christmas Eve. Add some body to your barszcz by dropping in a few minced meat or mushroom mini-dumplings (uszki). But remember, no meat on Christmas Eve.
If you hate your current cucumber salad recipe, look no further than this creamy concoction. First, you slice and salt some cucumbers to draw out the water. While your cucumber slices drain, chop up some onion, dill (an herb I personally find unpleasant, but let’s stick to tradition), or both.
Mix it all together with some sour cream and you have a delicious salad, without the unhealthy fat-free dressing. Go one step further in the healthy direction and use plain yogurt instead of sour cream.
Pronounced goh-wom-kee, or better known in English as stuffed cabbage. In this recipe, cabbage leaves are cooked and filled with rice, sautéed onions, and some assortment of ground meat (turkey, beef, etc.) If you’re not a fan of cabbage, take a trip to Poland and prepare to be converted. There are a million variations (including this stuffed version), that will make your tastebuds and your digestive track very happy.
Another cabbage dish, but this one is truly essential to the Polish culture and to your tastebuds. I’m aware that this looks like dog food, but just trust me. Fried and stewed fresh cabbage, sauerkraut, assorted meats (kielbasa, bacon, and stewed pork are the best combo), and mushrooms combine to warm your soul on a cold, central European day.
I like to add a few dashes of hot sauce for heat and extra flavor. This dish only gets better with age, so prepare it a day or two in advance for the best results.
6. Salatka Jarzynowa
Don’t even bother with the pronunciation on this one, just eat it! To make this sweet and tangy salad, dice up some boiled carrots, turnips, and potatoes, pickles, peas, hard-boiled eggs, and a sweet apple.
Mix these together with a nice helping of mayo and a squirt of mustard, season to taste, and serve with a slice of rye bread. I realize this recipe may sound like an unappetizing compilation of random foods, which is why I force my friends to try it before I tell them what’s in it.
After all this food (and we’re not even halfway through the list), you may find yourself in need of a beverage. Quench your thirst with some homemade fruit juice.
Make kompot yourself by boiling fruits such as apples, plums, cherries, and berries (anything really, sometimes my mom throws in a stalk of rhubarb) in a vat of water and sugar. The more sugar the better, but you’re in control here. This is a good way to use up overripe produce. Once the juice has cooled, sit back and sip on the literal fruits of your labor.
I’d describe this one as the Polish Slim Jim. Kabanosy are a thin, smokier kielbasa that taste a bit like pepperoni. They taste great straight from the deli, but I also like them dried. You know the drill by now—best served with a slice of rye bread, but feel free to add cheese and tomatoes for a complete sandwich.
Also known as the ‘White Barszcz.’ The Poles must have hatched this clever recipe in order to use up all their leftover Easter eggs. People usually eat this soup for breakfast, and they always eat it on Easter morning. Zurek is a soup made of sour rye flour, sprinkled with chunks of kielbasa and hard-boiled eggs. You know the Lord has risen when that first bite hits your lips.
A Polish gnocchi, if you will. The kopytka is a little potato-y lump of goodness. I was picky as a child, and I mostly ate sweets. In order to enjoy this dish, I shoveled sugar onto the kopytki by the spoonful. I still eat them this way, but normal people eat them with a sprinkle of sugar and melted butter, or with fried onions.
Nalesniki (nah-lesh-nee-kee) are a better version of the crepe, which is why the French stole our recipe.* You can eat these with the standard fruit or Nutella filling, but they are best when stuffed with a sweet cheese mixture and sprinkled with powdered sugar.
* I have no proof of this.
If you have an aversion to sweets, you can take a plain nalesnika, stuff it with minced meat, mushrooms, or cabbage, roll it up, coat it with egg wash and bread crumbs, and fry that baby for a delicious krokiet (croquette). These crunchy meat rolls are my absolute favorite.
13. Pickle Soup
I thought Americans had an obsession with pickles, but then I went to Poland and discovered who the real fiends are. If you lived in Poland, you would probably have a garden, grow cucumbers, and make pickles. Pickle soup provides a practical and delicious use for all those pickles from your personal garden, also known as aisle 12 at the supermarket.
14. Liver and Onions
This is a joke, that’s f*cking gross.
No, not a shish-kebab. This kebab doesn’t come on a stick, but on a roll. Kebabs are so popular, you can locate a kebab hut within 5 miles of your location in Poland.* A kebab is loaded with meat that has been shaved off of a larger, rotating hunk of meat, and is topped with delicious salads of red and white cabbage, pickles, lettuce, tomato, and sauces (white, hot, etc.) It’s pretty much a big ass salad bursting out of a roll.
*Not a fact, but kebab huts are abundant.
16. Fasolka po Bretonsku
Fasolka po bretonsku translates to baked beans, but our tricky Polish friends actually stew these beans. White beans, tomato paste, bacon, kielbasa, onion, and spices combine to create a gas-tastic dish. In this single dish you get your daily serving of protein, fiber, and happiness. Wash it down with a beer for extra happiness.
17. Ryba po Grecku
Roughly translated, this is Greek-style fish. My mom serves this dish cold and I despise it (I’d rather eat the liver and onions). But when I tried it warm with freshly fried fish, it had to be one of the tastiest Polish meals I’d eaten.
In this dish, the fish sits under a medley of veggies, usually carrots and onions, tomato paste, and some spices—think of it as a chunky sauce. Even though I’m not too sure where this dish stands ethnically, I can tell you flavor-wise it’s very good.
Also known as Torun gingerbread, these are cakey gingerbread cookies that can be covered in chocolate, iced, or filled with various-flavored jellies. They often come in the shape of a heart. Aw. Fun fact: Torun, Poland is the home of both Pierniki and Nicolas Copernicus, that guy who said the Earth isn’t the center of the universe.
Sernik is a drier version of American Cheesecake, so don’t expect to find this version at the Cheesecake Factory. Instead of using creamy Philadelphia-style cream cheese, Poles use a dry farmer’s cheese called twarog. Its texture is similar to that of feta cheese. Many recipes call for a layer of chocolate on top, which makes any dish taste better.
Pronounced char-loht-ka, this is a Polish apple pie, but better, of course. The szarlotka consists of three to four layers, starting from the bottom:
- Vanilla cake
- Grated apples or applesauce & cinnamon
- Foamy meringue (some recipes omit this layer)
- Crumbly shortbread topping, dusted with powdered sugar
Now we’re here, wishing we were eating this right now instead of reading about it. This cake can be served hot or cold, and it doesn’t even need a scoop of ice cream to feel complete.
Pronounced pOHnch-kee. You’ll never go back to Dunkin’ after you try a Polish donut. The only downfall is that you can’t buy a box of paczki holes for your bday, because these donuts are filled and bursting at the seams with various flavors of jam, pudding, sweet cheese, or nutella. My favorite filling is rose jam.
Before, you probably thought Polish cuisine was meat, potatoes, and pierogi—well, it mostly is. How else would we win all those World’s Strongest Man competitions? Try these dishes and you’ll win World’s Happiest Wanna-Be Polska.