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Poland - Food and Drink
Most Polish dishes are hearty and filling. They are mostly based on meat, a small number of vegetables, and a hint of spice, with lots of cream and eggs to make them rich.
The national dish Bigos is a hearty, rich stew which not only lasts for days but also improves its flavour every time it is reheated. It is essentially a Hunter’s Stew which can be made from a variety of ingredients. Beef, veal, pork, ham or bacon forms the backbone of the recipe, added to which can be sausages, sauerkraut, tomatoes, honey and mushrooms.
The hot fried or boiled dumplings called Pierogi can be eaten in restaurants and bought from street vendors. They are filled with meat, potatoes, onions, cabbage, mushrooms and cheese. Sometimes you will be offered a topping, which is normally onions, herb butter or sour cream. Pierogi is a plural term, ask for Pierogi and not Pierogis.
Another traditional Polish dish is Zrazy. A slice of sirloin beef is seasoned with salt and pepper, then wrapped round a filling of bacon, mushrooms, cucumber and breadcrumbs. The Zrazy are then grilled or fried until cooked. They are often served with a side dish of Mizeria, which is a cucumber salad.
Golabki is enjoyed at large group gatherings of friends and relatives. Equally, a small portion makes a good starter to a meal before the main dish. To make Golabki, minced pork or beef are mixed with chopped onions, rice and barley. Boiled cabbage leaves are then rolled round spoonfuls of the mixture, placed in a casserole dish, and smothered in a tomato sauce.
Red cabbage is often a nice garnish for Polish food.
The Polish cheesecake called Sernik comes in a variety of options, with bakeries around the country producing this popular dish on a daily basis. The base is a soft, white cheese, with butter, sugar and eggs. Added to this will be nuts, chocolate, fruits or whatever the baker feels works well. Sernik can be sold baked, warm or chilled.
The region of Silesia, now subsumed into Germany and Poland, has suffered a difficult and complicated past throughout the twentieth century. Regional identity is strong, and regional dishes represent a separate domestic history. Kluski is a homely recipe from Silesia which is essentially mashed potato and flour dumplings layered with fried bacon. The traditional Sunday dinner recipe Rolada consists of rolled beef, stuffed with pickled vegetables (often gherkins) and ham. To outsiders, the food will not seem very different to Polish food in general, but to the region’s population it is distinct and part of their identity.
There are a range of foods eaten for breakfast in Poland. Bread (chleb) and butter can be accompanied by an assortment of cold meats, cheese and boiled eggs. Cold smoked fish could be added as a special treat, along with cold salads such as sliced tomatoes with minced onions or sliced cucumber. Strawberries are enjoyed when in season, and milk soups can warm a family up on a winter morning. Hot tea, possibly with lemon, will accompany the food; coffee and fruit juice are also popular. Some people make waffles or cottage cheese pancakes, or eat a bowl of cereal. Others will feast on bacon, eggs, beans, bread and kielbasa, a type of sausage popular in central Europe, but this an unusual choice. Bread and scrambled eggs (sometimes topped with chives) are more widespread.
Jam on bread is another option. The jam in Poland tends to be less sweet than that found in the UK and US, and certain brands have big fruity pieces inside. Peanut butter is now imported into Poland, but is it rare to find marmelade.
At work, a mid morning snack at about 10am - the Polish ‘second breakfast’ - could be a cheese or ham roll, some yoghurt or an apple. Hot tea is enjoyed by most people. Children will take a bag of food to school for this break, containing a sandwich, drink, piece of fruit and a sweet treat.
After a hearty breakfast and a second breakfast, lunchtime meals across Poland tend to be lighter affairs, or may be skipped altogether. Working people often receive a half hour lunch break or less. Since factory workers and office staff have very different working hours, the lunch break can be anywhere from 12pm to 3pm. Many polish workers will bring their lunch from home, but many cafes also serve cheap lunches. Soup is very popular, as are sandwiches, kebabs and yoghurt. Some people bring a salad to work.
On days people aren’t working, they often skip lunch and have the traditional afternoon dinner between 2-5pm. A soup course, followed by meat and vegetables, may or may not be accompanied by a drink.
A dessert course for lunch is rare as the sweet treat is more widely enjoyed later in the afternoon, when cookies or a cake will accompany a hot drink.
The main meal of the working day is evening dinner, with the family eating together around the table. It will often have two courses, and will typically start just after 7pm. On days where a mid afternoon meal was eaten, this later meal will be a light supper consisting of bread, cheese and eggs. Young professionals in particular may also have a later, lighter supper on work days, if they work in an office culture of long hours and late finish times.
Alcohol in Poland may only be served to someone who has passed their 18th birthday. The Polish culture widely celebrates Polish citizens as being hardened drinkers, but anyone thinking this translates into the drunken noisy crowds of a UK high street at the weekend should think again. Acts of public drunkenness can lead to arrest by the City guards in their hi-vis vests or the Police. Shouting loudly in the drinking establishment or singing with your drunken friends whilst walking home late at night are completely unacceptable to the locals.
Beer (“pivo” - pronounced pee-vo) is now the most popular choice of social drink in Poland, and the country has a flourishing craft beer scene. At about 6%, Polish beer is much stronger than beer in the UK. It costs about £2 or $2.50 for a pint of beer in a city centre. Zywiec, Okocim, and Tyskie are well known brands.
Poland has long had a small wine-making industry which has recently boomed. Wine bars and wine magazines have sprung up and the drink is now regularly enjoyed by about a million Polish residents.
Similarly, Polish cider is enjoying a significant growth in trade, but for different reasons. Russia is no longer importing 70% of Poland’s apple production, so drinking domestic cider has become a small act of patriotic defiance.
It is traditional for vodka to be shared at a wedding. The bottle of vodka is shared out and emptied, then everyone gives a salutation and drinks the glass in one. Whilst the drink is part of Polish culture, it is not an everyday drink except for those with an alcohol dependency problem. Most people will drink it sparingly for celebration.
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