Traditional Polish cuisine, which was suppressed along with other aspects of Polish culture during Communist times, has made a comeback with a new generation of chefs reinventing old dishes. The traditional Polish foods diners encounter today are flavorful, hearty and complex as well as a bit lighter to accommodate modern palates.
Like many eastern European countries, Poland’s traditional foods are rooted in Slavic fare.
But Polish food also has influences from Italian and French cuisines, which date back to the medieval Polish court.
Potatoes are a staple of the Polish diet, acting as a building block for a variety of different foods. Cream and eggs are heavily used as well, although modern interpretations of some dishes may use lighter alternatives. Traditional Polish cuisine also features many kinds of soup made with mushrooms, broth and beets.
Traditional Polish Dishes
One such dish is a hearty hunter’s stew that is a meal in itself, called bigos. It’s a combination of cabbage, mushrooms and various meats—traditionally pork, bacon and Polish sausage, but today bigos also may contain venison or duck.
Then there’s the traditional dumpling on every Polish grandma’s menu: pierogi. Other Eastern European and Slavic cultures have versions of pierogi, which trace their roots to Russia in the Middle Ages, but Poles have made this dish their own.
Dough filled with cheese, potatoes, onions, cabbage, mushrooms, meat (or almost any other ingredient, savory or sweet, that you can think of), pierogi are served steaming hot boiled or fried and are accompanied by sour cream.
Zrazy is traditional Polish food that will stick to your ribs. A filling of bacon, breadcrumbs, mushrooms, and cucumber is rolled inside a seasoned slice of sirloin beef then fried or grilled to allow the flavors to mingle.
With a side of mizeria, or cucumber salad, you’ll have a meal bursting with all the flavors of the best of Polish fare. This chilled salad is composed of thinly-sliced cucumbers, sprigs of dill and chopped onion in a sour cream and lemon juice dressing.
Fish dishes are also popular, especially in regional Polish food. Carp, pike, perch, eel and sturgeon are all popular and served in various ways, and herring is a staple of the Polish holiday menu. Pork is the most common meat in traditional Polish cuisine, but chicken, beef, venison, duck and other meats are featured on Polish restaurant menus today.
Paczki and Other Polish Desserts
For dessert, Polish meals will include Polish cheesecake (sernik), apple tarts (szarlotka), makowiec (a sponge cake with a poppyseed filling) or eklerka (éclairs).
But perhaps the most well-known dessert items from Poland are paczki, which start as round pieces of deep-fried dough that are filled with custard or sweet preserves. Traditionally served on the Thursday before Ash Wednesday at the beginning of Lent, paczki are usually covered with powdered sugar or icing; think doughnuts, but slightly flattened.
Pronounced "punch-key," these sweet treats can be found in American cities with large Polish populations, such as Detroit, where customers line up on Paczki Day at Polish bakeries for a taste of their heritage.