The 25 Best Polish Foods You Need to Try
Polish food is more than just pierogies. While Polish dishes are often described as heavy, hearty, and filling, the Central European cuisine is quite complex, with a variety of influences dating back to the Middle Ages. From fermented favorites to comforting cuisine, there are so many underrated Polish foods worth sampling.
Many of Poland’s traditional dishes relied on hunted game; cold-water fish such as herring; grains that were made into everything from porridge to soups; and lots of cream, butter, and cheese. Regional Polish cuisines offer depths of sour, sweet-and-sour, or pickled flavors, such as sauerkraut, borscht, mizeria, gołąbki. And, of course, pickled cucumbers are very Polish indeed.
A recent trip to the motherland awakened my love of Polish food. My parents both immigrated from Poland, but after 30 years in the States, they’ve adopted an American lifestyle. It didn’t help that my brothers and I 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 (pronounced ruh-soo, roll your tongue on the r) is like 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, but enjoyable year-round.
Add some depth to your barszcz by dropping in a few pieces of mushroom mini-dumplings (uszki).
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 or plain yogurt and you have a delicious salad, without the typical dressing.
Pronounced goh-wom-kee, Golabki is better known in English as stuffed cabbage. In this recipe, cabbage leaves are first boiled and then baked after being 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.
Kielbasa refers to any type of meat sausage from Poland and a staple of Polish cuisine; in American, Kielbasa typically refers to a coarse, U-shaped smoked sausage of any kind of meat, and is “Polish” thanks to a special blend of spices including garlic, marjoram, and cloves.
The best way to eat it is with a nice slab of horseradish.
6. Salatka Jarzynowa
To make this sweet and tangy salad at home, start by dicing up some boiled carrots, turnips, potatoes,and peas. Next, chop up hard-boiled eggs, a Polish-style pickle, 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.
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 is a thin, smokier kielbasa that tastes a bit like pepperoni.
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 distinctively sour soup for breakfast, and they eat it on Easter morning.
Zurek is a soup made of sour rye flour, sprinkled with chunks of kielbasa, and hard-boiled eggs.
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 kopytka by the spoonful.
I still eat them this way, but most people eat them with a sprinkle of sugar and melted butter, or with fried onions.
Nalesniki (nah-lesh-nee-kee) are reminiscent of a typical French crepe – but the Polish version is better, IMO.
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.
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. Fasolka po bretonsku
Fasolka po bretonsku translates to baked beans, but our Polish friends actually stew these beans.
White beans, tomato paste, bacon, kielbasa, onion, are stewed with spices such as parsley, chives, thyme, and tarragon in a single dish that gets your daily serving of protein, fiber, and happiness.
15. Ryba po Grecku
Roughly translated, this is Greek-style fish. My mom serves this dish cold and I despise it, 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 below a medley of veggies, usually carrots and onions, tomato paste, and some spices — almost like 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.
Another cabbage dish, Bigos consists of fried and stewed cabbage, sauerkraut, assorted meats (kielbasa, bacon, and stewed pork are the best combo), and mushrooms – the perfect way 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.
For all the pasta lovers out there, this dish is for you. This Polish staple consists of homemade pasta, cabbage, and onions.
While it may not be the expected Italian fare, it’s absolutely delicious.
18. Placki Ziemniaczane
Potato and pancakes in the same phrase…you know this is about to be good. Similar to the Jewish latke, placki ziemniaczane is basically just potato, egg, onion, and some spices thrown together and then fried up.
Then comes the best part: the Polish way to eat placki ziemniaczanes by dipping it in applesauce and sour cream.
You might not associate Poland with cheesemaking, but once you taste oscypek, a wonderful smoked cheese made from salted sheep's milk, it's unlikely you'll ever forget that Poland is the only place in the world where this particular cheese is made.
Oscypek is typically served grilled, to highlight the hardness of its rind and the tenderness of its interior, and often served with cranberry jam as a condiment.
Also known as Torun gingerbread, these are cakey gingerbread cookies that can be covered in chocolate, iced, or filled with various-flavored jellies.
Chruściki, or angel wings, are pretty simple: just a thin crust cake covered in a mound of powdered sugar. I know most of you love your chocolatey desserts, but give it a try for me.
You can sometimes find these at your local supermarket, so keep an eye out!
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 (although some recipes omit this layer), and 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.
You’ll never go back to Dunkin’ after you try a Polish donut, which is pronounced pOHnch-kee.
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.
Kolaczki are light pastries (some might call them cookies) that are filled with a sweet fruit filling and sprinkled with powdered sugar.
Though similar to horn-shaped rugelach, kolaczki are meant to resemble a flower in bloom; and while kolaczki is always stuffed with fruit, rugelach may be filled with nuts, raisins, or seeds.