Poland | Traditional Polish Cuisine
Polish Peasant Food
Text & Images - Copyright © 2009 Kevin Hulsey
Although any cuisine that could be labeled as 'peasant' food would be fairly simplistic by nature, the Polish people have developed a long tradition of making the most out of very little. This is due to the Poles suffering several centuries of war, deprivation, and hardship, which led to an emphasis on both presentation and flavor.
Traditional Polish Food
Both traditional, and contemporary Polish food can be far more diverse and creative than one would imagine, although copious amounts of meat, especially pork, and the ubiquitous lard-based spread known as Smalec are still the basic staples of every Polish meal. Family recipes and cooking techniques are handed down from generation to generation, and most women in Poland are trained by their mothers starting at a young age.
Smalec (lard), Bread and Salt at the medieval Chlopskie Jadlo Restauracja (Peasant Kitchen Restaurant)
The national dish of Poland is bigos, a rich and dense sauerkraut and meat stew that is cooked for several days to intensify the flavor. Each family, and in fact, each person has their own unique version of bigos, but the overall theme is the same. The flavor of bigos is actually very mild, and not at all sour, but the cooking smells can be overwhelming!
Meat, Meat, and more Meat - with the ubiquitous national dish of Polish 'Bigos' (Sauerkraut Stew) in the foreground
Another commonly found item in Polish cuisine is a cooked, smoked cheese known as Oscypek, which has a very firm texture, and strong smokey taste.
Traditional 'Oscypek' Smoked Polish Cheese
Of coarse no Polish meal would be complete without a liberal helping of home-brewed traditional Polish vodka, which may be flavored with grasses, flowers, and various root vegetables that are similar to horseradish. The traditional Polish toast is "nostrovia," or "good health."
Home-Brewed Polish Vodka - It tastes much better than it looks!
One restaurant of note that is just off of Rynek Glowny is the Chlopskie Jadlo, or "Peasant Kitchen" Restauracja. Chlopskie Jadlo celebrates the heritage of basic "peasant" village food from Poland's rural past.
Traditional Podhale highlander's country meal
The Polish people love to eat, drink, and socialize, and if you are fortunate enough to be invited to a local's home for dinner you should bring a healthy appetite. It is common for dinner to last several hours, and feature three or more separate meals within a single evening.
One of several courses in a traditional Polish family meal - Its all about freshness, cleanliness, and presentation
Typical Polish Menu & Recipes
A typical Polish dinner menu might include several courses that are served one-at-a-time. The appetizer course would include smalec, bread, and pickles, served with vodka, beer, or juice. Smalec (pronounced "smal-etz") is salt-pork lard (slonina) that is rendered, and contains chunks of the crispy rendering remains called "cracklin" in America.
Kotlet Panskie Fanaberie
Pastries, Mazurka or Tortes
A very popular dessert in Poland is mazurka, or mazur, is a pastry similar to an Easter pastry, that is a flat brownie or pie that is filled with dried fruit, preserves or almond paste.
Each dinner course is served with a long pause in-between, for socializing and drinking. Mealtime in Poland is a cultural event, and is not to be rushed.
Polish food looks deceptively simple, but in fact it is a true art. A definitive source for Polish cooking is the Uniwersalna ksiazka kucharska (The Universal Cook Book), or Polish Cookery by Mme. Maria Ochorowicz-Monatowa.
Modern Polish Cuisine
Since joining the western European culture in 1990, Poland has modernized nearly everything, including its cooking style and cuisine. there are many restaurants throughout Poland that specialize in nouvelle cuisine, or haut cuisine with a distinctly Polish flair. Still, one of the best culinary experiences you are likely to find in Poland is as an invited guest of a family-style home cooked meal.