The Tastes of Poland
Travelling in search of the traditional tastes of Poland is like discovering the different times when other nations lived on Polish territories like the Jews, Lithuanians, Ukrainians and the Tartars and bringing their own culture which has become instilled in the different culinary traditions. This diversity can be seen today on the Polish table.
In Poland the old recipes are still in common use. Simply travel to the Podkarpackie Region to try the typical Lithuanian dishes of "Kibiny" (dumplings), "Kartacze" (potato dumplings) stuffed with minced lamb or "Kindziuk", a type of dried meat.
In the region around Sejny visitors will come across the traditional "Sekacz" that is common in the Prussian kitchen. This is a form of delicately flavoured layered cake that was originally baked on a spit over a hearth. Around Lublin we can sample "Bilgoraj Pierogi" from an old Polish recipe which are baked dumplings stuffed with curd cheese and buckwheat.
Visitors should not leave the Podhale region without trying the famous of polish cheeses, the smoked "Oscypek" made for centuries from ewe's milk by the shepherds from Wolow. Other tempting delicacies from the "highland dairy family" are the mild "Bundz", the piquant "Bryndza" or the "Zetyca", an extremely healthy sheep's milk whey.
The Malopolska region is famous for its "Lisiecka" sausage which has been produced in Liszki near Krakow since the 1930's. Polish cuisine cannot be imagined without famous soups like "Barszcz" (beetroot), "Rosol" (chicken) or "Grzybowa" (wild mushroom) soup. Of the more popular soups there is "Zur" which is made from sourdough and originating in Silesia and "Kwasnica" from the mountainous regions which is based on a broth made from a goose with thin strands of sauerkraut.
For desert we recommend the gingerbread from Torun. It is a sweet business card of Poland with traditions that date back to medieval times. Cakes of various shapes and sizes, fragrant with honey and other spices, have been handed out on occasions to important visitors like emperors, nobility and presidents. Other cities have also become known for their baking traditions. Krakow is known for its pretzels that are sprinkled with poppy seeds, rock salt or sesame seeds and are called "Bajgle" and are of Jewish origin. Kazimierz Dolny has become known for its "Cebularz" (onion loaf) and it's "Koguty" (yeasty-dough cockerels) while Poznan has its St Martin's Croissants which are traditionally baked on 11th November on the Feast of St Martin, the patron saint of the city.
The first recorded Polish cookbook, "Compendium Ferculorum", translated roughly as the gathering of food, was printed in 1682. It contained about 300 dishes of prepared meat, fish and dairy products. Its signature dish was the "Capon in a Bottle" or a rooster cooked in a glass container with whisked eggs.
The polish table is like a giant cauldron where recipes and ingredients from the whole of Europe are mixed and blended. The recipe for soured "Barszcz" (beetroot soup) and "Bigos" (hunters stew) was borrowed from the Lithuanians, "Golonka" (pork knuckle) from the Germans, "Mizeria" (cucumber salad) from the French and "Pierogi", pickled mushrooms and preserves from the Russians. The recipes for "Faworki" (sweet cookies) and doughnuts came from Vienna after the successful offensive by Jan III Sobieski against the Turks.
Once the stable diet of the average Pole was bread, cereals, beans, cabbage and the affordable herring, pickled, salted or smoked. A large contribution to the development of Polish cuisine was made by Bon Sforza, who not only bought Italian cooks with her but also a range of vegetables which have now become the basic ingredients of many Polish soups, parsley, celery and leeks. The Queen's vegetable garden still exists in the district of Lobzow in Krakow.
Polish culinary hits are "Zur", a soup made from pickled bread and pickled cucumbers, which today are still pickled in the traditional way, immersed in barrels in the River Narew. There are also dishes which give foreigners shudders like the blood and dried fruit "Czernina" (soup made from duck's blood), "Flaczki" (tripe soup) and "Ozorki" (ox tongue in aspic).
We can thank the Jews for carp and potato pancakes, which are served with sour cream and sugar, appearing on Polish tables and the lowly potato, also known as "Kartofle" "Bulwy" and "Pyry", has become an irreplaceable part of Polish cuisine. They are also the basis of dishes in the Suwalki (cepeliny), the Podlaskie (bapki and kiszki ziemnaczane), the Kaszubian (pulki) and the Silesian (kluski Slaskie) regions. It is hard to imagine that when the humble potato appeared for the first time for sale in the colonial shop in Krakow, it cost more than chocolate.
Polish cuisine has always benefited greatly from the wealth of herbs and spices like pepper, caraway seeds, mustard, nutmeg and juniper, which is an integral flavour in the cooking of venison and the wrongly forgotten black cumin.