It’s time for the topic you’ve all been waiting for: Polish food! One of the best things about travelling, living abroad, and life, in general, is the food, and I’m happy to say that even after seven months, we are still loving everything Poland is dishing out. I wish I could send everyone reading this a heaping plate of pierogi or some spicy kabanosy to sample, but as that’s just not possible, we’ll have to make do with the power of description.
The first thing that must be mentioned when talking about Poland’s food is their produce. It is honestly head and shoulders above what we usually get in the US. Not only is it much cheaper and overall tastier, but it’s everywhere! Good quality produce in Poland can be found at any of the large chains (like Auchan or Real), at pop-up stands in the cities or on rural roadsides, and sometimes even in a local parking lot, out of the trunk of someone’s car. This availability, of course, comes with the season, which is part of why the produce is so good. It’s extremely fresh (mostly grown locally) and only ever includes what’s currently in season. When we arrived in Poland, apples were everywhere (in fact, on one of our first days here, we offered a lady our seat on a bus, and as a thank you, she gave us each an apple). After the apples, came an influx of pumpkins and squash, then the potato section expanded, and now we’re rolling in berries and green veggies.
The quality of produce is very important to Poles because most everything they eat is made from scratch using these ingredients. I’ve mentioned before how grocery shopping in Poland has made me feel more like a lazy American than anything else, and this is exactly why. In the US, I buy soup in a can, croutons in a box, cookie dough in a tube, sauce in a jar, and the list goes on. In Poland people prefer to make all of the components themselves. This is why you’ll hear people raving about the mushroom soup their mom makes when they’re sick, or the ketchup their grandpa made when they were a kid. Every family, every person has a slightly different way of making even the most traditional of Polish dishes.
The idea of “traditional dishes” is actually a bit difficult to nail down for Americans. Many of our most “patriotic” dishes are not truly from the US. It’s extremely hard to justify the saying “as American as apple pie” when every culture has a version of apple pie! (For example, in Poland it’s called szarlotka, and it’s delicious). However, Poland is quite a few years older than the US and definitely has some dishes that are both nationally and internationally known, such as: żurek (a sour rye soup), bigos (a stew of sauerkraut and meat), pierogi (dumplings usually stuffed with potatoes), naleśniki (thin, stuffed, savory pancakes), rosół (chicken noodle soup with carrots, generally served on Sundays), kiełbasa (which the generic word for sausage of which there are many, many types – trust me, I can’t list them all without losing a few of you), kopytka (my favorite little potato nugget-dumplings), and surówka (a variety of coleslaw blends) just to name a few.
While it’s true that cooking at home is the norm in Poland, rest assured they also like to eat out on occasion. Restaurants are quite popular in Polish cities; however, in the smaller towns the options are very limited. Luckily for us, lazy Americans, we live in Łódź (one of the largest cities in the country), and have a huge variety of restaurants to choose from. Just like in the US there are “fast food” restaurants such as McDonald’s, KFC, Burger King, North Fish, Döner Kebab, and Solo Pizza. There are also a few of what I would consider “casual dining” restaurants like Greenway (vegetarian cuisine), Mañana (the Polish version of Chipotle – minus the bacteria), and a unique variety of pay-by-weight restaurants. These pay-by-weight places are all around Poland and at first glance look like buffets, but instead of all-you-can-eat, it’s something like 3 żółty (less than a dollar) per 100 grams of food. I particularly like these places 1) because I’m a picky eater and 2) because it allows me to try a tiny bit of everything without fear. Also worth mentioning are the milk bars (bary mleczne) of Poland. These are restaurants leftover from Communist times that look and function like cafeterias. The most authentic milk bars serve mainly dairy-based dishes (hence “milk”) and do not serve dishes with meat, as meat was rationed on and off during the height of milk bar popularity.
However, if you come to Poland for the food (and really, why wouldn’t you?) you’ll want to eat at a true restaurant, a sit-down, atmospheric event. In Łódź alone, you can find restaurants that specialize in Bulgarian, Ukrainian, French, American, Mexican and many other national cuisines, but by far, the best restaurants are the Polish ones. Generally, you start your meal with a plate of pickles, bread and lard, and finish with a shot of liquor. Ah, Poland! Another specialty in Polish restaurants is the soup. In most restaurants, many types of soup are offered and are often the reason people return to a given restaurant again and again – you’ve gotta try them all! However, if you’re not into “rustic food”, Poland also boasts some of the most incredible, modern eateries I’ve ever experienced. There is certainly no lack of good food in Poland, no matter what your style or taste.
There’s even a solid option for those days when you don’t want to get out of bed. In Poland, delivery, like all things food-related, is quite cheap. There are the obvious Chinese and pizza options, but in Łódź there are also companies like Pyszne and Pizza Portal, which after you order online, will go to any participating restaurant, pick up the food, and deliver it to your doorstep. This is how I’ve eaten hot wings and bacon cheeseburgers in bed – don’t judge.
Okay, are we all sufficiently hungry now? I really hope that I’ve made each of you consider Poland as your next vacation destination because if you aren’t traveling for food, then you aren’t fully living. Come see me in Poland and smacznego (bon appétit)!