Mouth-Watering Food You Need To Try In Poland
Updated: Feb 12, 2022
Poland is a food lovers delight! And is a lot more than just Polish sausages though it’s an institution in itself with over a dozen varieties. But beyond that you have some amazing selection on soups that have various personalities based on influence from neighbouring countries. Warm and filling they are just the thing you need in the unforgiving weather! Then you have the iconic steamed dumplings, an array of grilled meat on skewers, pork knuckle, the open faced baguettes with toppings, rich moist cakes and desserts and not to mention the drinks - vodka, cherry liquor and surprisingly a selection of wines! From country cheeses to communist milk bars there is so much to discover and so much to love! And for food lovers like us the good news is that it doesn’t cost the earth to eat out!
Pierogie with a filling of boiled potatoes with fried onions
1. Pierogie (Dumpling)
If there is one food that comes into mind while thinking about Polish food, it is undoubtedly pirogue! Popular among locals and tourists, these crescent-shaped dumplings can be found on every restaurant menu across the country. Pierogie are made with thinly rolled-out dough with a variety of savoury or sweet fillings and can be either steamed, fried or baked. The most common and popular fillings include cabbage and mushrooms, potato and cheese, spinach, boiled potatoes with fried onions (called Russian dumplings) or simply meat (pork or beef). For sweet fillings seasonal fruit and sweet cottage cheese are most commonly used. Savoury pierogie are mainly served as starter or main course and the sweet ones are served as dessert.
During our stay in Poland, we tried all different types of pierogie with almost every meal we had. Our favourites were the ones with a filling of boiled potatoes with fried onions and meat.
Zurek - Iconic Polish Soup
2. Zurek (Sour Rye Soup)
Zurek is one of the most iconic Polish dish that can be found in almost every restaurant around the country. Typically, zurek is served during and around Easter time, though now a days you can enjoy it throughout the year. This creamy, tangy, smoky soup is made by boiling fermented rye flour with lots of garlic, potato and pork sausages (biala kielbasa) and served with slices of hardboiled eggs. Traditionally zurek is served in a ‘bread’ bowl. We tried zurek a few times and the taste and consistency always varied from one restaurant to another. Our 8 year old became a ‘soup’ convert with Zurek, he wanted it at every meal!
Beetroot Soup - Barszcz
3. Barszcz (Beetroot Soup)
Barszcz is the Polish version of the beet soup called Borscht which can be found across most of Central and Eastern European countries. Red in colour, Barszcz is the clear strained broth of beetroot which can be served as hot or cold. There are many variations of this soup where ravioli-type small dumplings uszka or different vegetables like tomato, celery, carrot and other root vegetables are used.
Ukrainian version of Barszcz - Borscht
We also tried the Ukrainian version of this soup (Ukrainian borscht) which was quite hearty with vegetables, beans, potatoes and a dollop of cream added into the red clear soup. It is definitely a good starter and high on nutrient quotient!
Bigos - National dish of Poland
4. Bigos (Cabbage and Meat Stew)
Traditionally a winter dish, bigos is a hearty and filling stew which is also known as Hunter’s Stew/soup which was a favourite amongst noblemen during their hunting expeditions and journeys.
Often considered as the national dish of Poland, it is made by using Kiełbasa myśliwska or ‘hunter’s’ sausages which are smoked and dried pork sausages with juniper. The lack of moisture helped them last during long journeys. These along with fresh and pickled cabbage (sauerkraut), smoked plums, mushrooms, onion, wine, garlic and a range of herbs and spices like bay leaves, cloves, nutmeg, marjoram etc. which are cooked together for hours.
A dish made to share - Golonka
5. Golonka (Pork Knuckle)
A true Polish delicacy, Golonka or Pork Knuckle is slow cooked the ankle and thigh portion of a pig. The process of slowly boiling, braising or roasting makes the meat cooked to perfection! moist and juicy, the delicious meat just falls off the bone. Traditionally served as a main dish, Golonka is eaten with a side of boiled potatoes, pickled cabbage (sauerkraut), horsesadish and must be washed down with chilled beer. Usually sold in kgs in restaurants, it is a dish made to share!
Little pigeons - Golabki
6. Golabki (Cabbage Leaves Stuffed with Beef and Rice)
Golabki which means little pigeons in Polish is a traditional main course typically served for lunch. It is made by wrapping minced beef, chopped onions and rice in a white cabbage leafs. These envelope shaped parcels are then baked, stewed or fried and served in a tomato or mushroom sauce. The filling can vary and pork or chicken is also used instead of beef.
Ultimate Polish street food - Zapiekanka
7. Zapiekanka (Oven Toasted Baguette)
Considered as the most popular ‘fast food’, Zapiekanki are oven baked open sandwiches. Often referred to as ‘Polish pizza’, Zapiekanka is made by cutting the baguette lengthwise, then topped with sautéed white button mushrooms, onions and a good helping of grated cheese before it hits the oven. The heat then toasts the baguette and melts the cheese. To crank up the deliciousness, it is topped with tomato ketchup, herbs, paprika and must be eaten piping hot! It comes from the word ‘zapiekac’ which means to bake - so if it hasn’t seen the heat of the oven it isn’t zapiekanka!
Invented during the Communist era of 70s, Zapiekanka was a kind of rebellion against the communist regime which banned most western food. Also the easy availability of the ingredients made it affordable and popular! With the passage of time, the choice of toppings expanded to include ham, sausages, bacon, vegetables, olives, pineapples, the onion, cheese and mushrooms still remains the all-time classic version. We loved the Zapiekanki at Endzior in the old Jewish Quarter and the shop called Zapiekanki od 1980 roku near old town market square.
Polish Milkbar Classic - Kotlet Schabowy
8. Kotlet Schabowy (Breaded Pork Chop Cutlet)
Considered as one of the oldest Polish food from the 19th century, Kotlet Schabowy are pork breaded cutlet. Similar to Viennese schnitzel, Polish Kotlet Schabowy are made from pork chops or pork tenderloin. The meat is flattened by pounding, then coated with beaten eggs and breadcrumbs, and fried. These are served hot with boiled buttered potatoes and salads with cooked and grated beetroot, sauerkraut and mizeria (cucumber, dill and sour cream salad).
Central Asian influence - Shashlik
9. Shashlik (Polish Shish Kebabs)
This Polish dish has its origins in Russia where the word Shaslik means meat skewers. It came to Russia and the former Soviet Republics from Central Asia during 19th century. Traditionally shashlik is prepared with lamb, but variations with chicken, pork and beef are widely available these days. The meat is cut into cube like and marinated with salt, pepper and other spices and then grilled over open woodfire or charcoal. These moist and smoky morsels of goodness are then and served with dipping sauces ranging from mint, sour cream, barbeque or yogurt. We feasted on shashliks during the cold evenings in Zakopane. We particularly like pork and lamb shaslik, but chicken was also amazing!
Polish sausage - Kielbasa
10. Kielbasa (Meat sausages)
Kielbasa which means sausage in general is a quintessential part of Polish cuisine and a favourite with campers as these can be eaten hot or cold. Kielbasa are typically made with pork meat, salt, and various spices and herbs such as pepper, garlic, and marjoram. Other types of meat can also be used in kielbasa, but pork is the most prevalent variety.
Most often, the sausages are smoked, and for consumption, they are either boiled or fried, depending on the type of kielbasa. It is usually accompanied by mustard, bread, fried onions, or horseradish.
Kielbasa is usually made with pork or pork and beef but sometimes turkey can also be used. There are over a dozen different varieties of Kielbasas:
Biala kielbasa or white sausages made with uncured pork with marjoram, garlic and pepper and used in Zurek
Kiełbasa myśliwska or smoked and dried sausages also called hunter’s sausages can be eaten at room temperature.
Surowo-wędzona or cold smoked sausages that can be eaten at room temperature.
Krupniok or blood sausage made with pork-blood and barley and traditionally sliced, grilled and pan-fried and is usually served with caramelized onions, potatoes, or sauerkraut.
Kiełbasa surowa or raw sausage traditionally boiled and used in soups.
Kabanosy are smoked and dried ‘stick’ sausages made with chicken or pork seasoned with salt, garlic and caraway or pepper.
Parówki cielęce or veal sausages - these are boiled before eating.
Krakowska parzona is steam cooked and lightly smoked, and is easy to slice and used in Zapiekanka
Jałowcowa is smoked and dried pork sausage’s with crushed juniper.
Wiejska is smoked sausage made with a combination of ground pork and veal and has strong flavour of garlic flavour and marjoram. It is one of the most traditional and popular varieties of Polish sausages. It can be cooked, fried, grilled and is commonly added into soups, stews, and casserole dishes.
Kielbaski Jagniece are made from minced lamb sausages that have bene seasoned with salt and pepper, garlic, paprika, cumin, rosemary etc. These coil shaped sausages are grilled and served with a side of potatoes.
The smoky cheese from the Tatra mountains - Oscypek
11. Oscypek (Smoked Sheep Cheese)
This Polish delicacy from the Tatra Mountains region of south Poland is a smoky and salted cheese made from sheep’s milk. It is either grilled or lightly fried and served with cranberry sauce. Oscypek are smoked in the small wooden huts in the mountains during the summer months by a ‘baca’ or shepherd. This process of cheese making due to its popularity has gained EU recognition as farmers and cheesemakers can preserve the tradition and methods. In Zakopane, capital of Tatra Mountains; Oscypek can be found in small street food stalls and in every restaurant menu. We tried the smoked version from a street stall, through the one we liked most was the lightly fried hot version served in restaurants.
Polish sweet bombs - Paczki
12. Paczki (Polish Doughnuts)
This Polish version of doughnuts are deep fried dough balls with a filling of jams, custard or chocolate and topped with powdered sugar or icing. Paczki don’t have any holes in the middle and has a dense texture. The use of alcohol in the dough stops the doughnuts from soaking up oil during frying.
Traditional fillings are stewed plum jam or a wild rose hip jam, but strawberry, raspberry, blueberry jam fillings are also used. Traditionally in Poland Paczki were made and eaten on Fat Thursday, which is the last Thursday before the Lent. This was to use up all the lard or butter, sugar, eggs and milk before the start of the fasting of Lent.
We tried few different fillings; and loved the ones with custard.
Pope's favourite - Kremówka Papieska
13. Kremówka Papieska (Cream Cake)
Kremówka Papieska is a famous Polish dessert which originated in the town of Wadowice in southern Poland where Pope John Paul II grew up as a child. While visiting the town, Pope John Paul II recalled with love and nostalgia his favourite dessert during his childhood days. This made the people of Poland rename it ‘Papal cream cake’ in his honour.
Very similar to French Napoleaon, Polish Kremówka Papieska are made of a thick layer of vanilla flavoured cream, sandwiched between two layers of flaky puff pastry with a dusting of powdered sugar. It is light and addictive and amazing with a cup of black coffee!
Polish begal - Obwarzanek Krakowski
14. Obwarzanek Krakowski (Krakow Bagel)
This iconic Polish bagel is very popular city of Krakow and can be found in every street corner on rolling carts. Obwarzanek Krakowski is so traditional and authentic that it is legally protected by the EU Traditional Foods list. The name Obwarzanek is derived from the word “Obwarzic” which in Polish means boiling. The origin of this ring-shaped bread can be traced back to the 14th century Krakow where only few handful bakers were allowed to bake this bread and sell inside the city walls., Obwarzanek Krakowski are made from 2 to 3 strands of dough braided together and shaped into a ring. It is boiled for few minutes and then baked with sprinkle of poppy or sesame seeds. This slight sweet and salty bread is sold fresh and eaten on its own These tastes and look quite similar to Turkish Simit.