There’s more to Polish food than vodka and dumplings. With its reliance on local ingredients like potatoes, cucumbers, beets, mushrooms, buckwheat and apples, Polish cuisine reflects the country's long agrarian tradition.
Here's the low-down on Poland’s most tempting street food, the best regional specialities, food you can forage for yourself, and some dishes you might not dare to try...
There are regional specialities across the country - freshwater fish dishes in the north, aromatic duck preparations in Wielkopolska, large dumplings called kluski in Silesia that are often served with bacon (kluski śląskie ze słoniną) - but nowhere are specialities so well defined as in the Podhale region at the foot of the Tatras. Among some of the things to try here are kwaśnica (sauerkraut soup), placki po góralsku (potato pancakes with goulash) and the many types of oscypki (smoked sheep’s cheese) that come in oblong shapes with distinctive stamps on the rind.
When it comes to street food, there are some uniquely Polish snacks to sample on the go. While strolling the ulica, look for the following:
- Zapiekanki: the street snack of choice, ‘Polish pizza’ is an open-faced baguette topped with melted cheese, chopped mushrooms and ketchup, and best (or only) eaten after a heavy night on the town.
- Naleśniki: perfect anytime, these are pancakes stuffed with fruit or cottage cheese and topped with a strip of jam, powdered sugar and a dollop of sour cream.
- Obwarzanek: an irresistible cross between a pretzel and a bagel topped with poppy seeds, sesame or salt. Native to Kraków but occasionally found elsewhere.
- Oscypek: smoked highlander sheep’s cheese, usually found in mountain areas south of Kraków. Served grilled and served with żurawiny (cranberry jam).
- Lody: the Polish word for ice cream might be the only word you take home with you. OK, so ice cream isn’t native to Poland, but it’s cheap and a treat and Poles can’t get enough of the stuff.
Poles have always taken advantage of the wild foods that grow in fields and forests. A favourite pastime is gathering mushrooms and berries, which find their way into dishes in uniquely Polish ways.
The Polish summer yields raspberries, blackberries and blueberries and these national treasures are usually poured over pancakes or stuffed inside pierogi (dumplings). And cool damp early-autumn mornings are perfect for picking mushrooms, which are used in soups, as a stuffing for pastries and in sauces.
Beets are also a staple of Polish cooking and the cold winters bring a renewed appreciation for this oft-overlooked red root. Beetroot soup is a cherished part of the traditional Christmas Eve meal.
Dare to try
Poland has plenty of options for more adventurous palates:
- Smalec: fried pork fat topped with crackling and spread on large hunks of bread.
- Nóżki w galarecie: jellied calves’ trotters.
- Flaki: seasoned tripe cooked in bouillon with vegetables.
- Karp w galarecie: carp in gelatine.
- Czernina: ducks’-blood broth with vinegar.