Ready to take a tour of traditional food in Poland? You’ve got everything from your standard fare that’s been eaten in Poland for generations to dishes that even molecular gastronomist Ferran Adrià would applaud. On your next trip there, make sure you try some of the following food in Poland.
I have to say: before I left for my trip to Poland, my idea of Polish cuisine was pierogi and kielbasa. While I did find those traditional Polish foods aplenty, I also was surprised by the diversity of other foods in Poland, including some pretty amazing contemporary cuisine at cutting-edge restaurants.
Must-Try Traditional Polish Foods
Table of Contents
This post was originally written by Susan Guillory and has been updated by The Planet D with even more delicious Polish dishes.
You won’t get far in Poland without running into a pierogi, and believe me, you won’t mind. Eating Pierogi’s in Poland is like eating dumplings are in Asia, or empanadas in South or Central America: flat dough discs stuffed with delightful fillings and then boiled. At the restaurant Zapiecek, which seems to be as ubiquitous as TGIFriday’s in the US (though much tastier in my humble opinion), we also sampled fried pierogi, which, frankly, I preferred.
The most common pierogi are filled with beef, though you’ll find both sweet and savory fillings like twaróg cheese, (a type of cottage cheese) lentils, turkey and carrots, mushrooms, and even fruit or jams. Served with a side of sour cream for savory pierogies or powdered sugar, butter, or even whipped cream for sweet pierogies.
Red Barszcz (Borscht)
Red Barszcz is a Polish beet soup that is similar to borscht of eastern European countries like Russia and Ukraine. (We at a lot of Goulash on the Mongol Rally). Traditional borscht is usually made from cabbage and contains meat and tomatoes while the Polish version of barszcz is meatless and is a basic beet broth soup that is red in color. You can really put anything in you like and it is often served with potatoes and vegetables. Note: White Barszcz is similar but uses fermented rye flour or sour rye bread base. Make your own Barszcz with this authentic European recipe.
One soup we had over and over again in Poland (not that I minded) was Zurek, or sour bread soup. It was tangy and creamy, and at Hotel Bristol’s Marconi Restaurant — which got my vote for the best zurek — it also had a quail’s egg and bits of ham.
Nalesniki is a Polish crepe similar to French crepes. They can be filled with whatever you like and are often eaten as a breakfast food. But they can be filled with other ingredients like sauerkraut, cheese, meats, and mushrooms. Popular sweet fillings are jams, fruit, and cottage cheese can also be used. See how to make Nalesniki at home with this recipe.
Krokiety is stuffed Nalesniki (crepes) that are battered with breadcrumbs and fried to perfection. These Polish Croquettes are stuffed with mushrooms and fried onions and are usually served with Barszcz. A traditional Christmas Eve dish, they can also be stuffed with any meat or cabbage. But they aren’t only eaten at Christmas, Korkiety can be found in most Polish food restaurants and food stands. Polish foodies blog has a good recipe to follow.
Mizeria is a refreshing Polish cucumber salad. The term Mizeria means misery in Polish but this salad is anything but miserable. This creamy cucumber salad is made with sour cream, vinegar, fresh dill, and salt and sugar.
Another type of Polish salad is Salatka Jarzynowa made of boiled carrots and potatoes. Mix these main ingredients with mayonnaise, pickled cucumbers and peas, and onions. You can also add boiled eggs for some protein.
Rosol is a Polish chicken soup that is served on special occasions. Like your grandma’s chicken soup, Rosol is also eaten when feeling under the weather for the ultimate comfort food. The chicken broth is served with noodles, carrots, parsley, and other herbs and spices.
Placki Ziemniaczane (Potato Pancakes)
Mmm mmm good. These Polish potato pancakes are crisp on the outside and soft on the inside. The easy-to-prepare recipe makes it a staple in Polish cuisine. Grate potatoes and add eggs and onions and then fry them up in the oil for a quick and easy meal. Serve with a side of sour cream and you have a delicious snack. The Polish Housewife shares a couple of recipes here.
Makowiec (Polish Poppy Seed Roll)
Makowiec (strucla makowa) is rolled dough filled with your choice of filling with the main filling being poppyseed. Add butter, sugar, walnuts and raisins and you have a sweet and delicious treat. You can find these poppy seed rolls at any bakery in Poland. And it is often served on holidays like Christmas and Easter. Learn how to make this yummy treat at the Spruce Eats.
Another sweet treat to add to your Polish dinner party is Paczki. Paczki are the Polish version of doughnuts. Deep-fried dough is usually filled with jams, fruit, or custards and sprinkled with powdered sugar. People started baking Paczki on Fat Thursday to use up the lard, eggs, and fruit to prepare for the fasting of Lent.
Bison Grass Vodka
At home, I could take or leave vodka, but once I had my first szarlotka (also known as tatanka) beverage upon arrival, there was no going back. Poland is proud of its vodka and will argue to the grave that they — not Russia — invented it and then perfected it. Zubrowka is the brand of choice because of one unique flavor: bison grass. The grass gives the vodka its distinct mellow vanilla flavor, and even decorates the inside of the bottle.
Mix Zubrowka with apple juice, and you have the szarlotka. It helps if you have the amazing light apple juice you can find in Poland rather than the artificial stuff in the US.
Burning Rose Dessert
If you’re like me, you skip dessert at the end of the meal simply because there’s no room in your tummy. But after my fellow travel writers and I saw the cloud-like Burning Rose being delivered to a nearby table at Krakow’s Szaragez, we changed our tune. The clouds turned out to be cotton candy, which was lit on fire to melt to a dish of raspberry parfait. The actual dessert was as good as the performance!
Kabanosy (kabanos) is a Polish sausage. This long thin strip of sausage is often touted as the finest meat stick in the world. The process of salting and curing this sausage can take from 3 months to one year. It got its name from the nickname given to the young fat pigs (kabanek) that are raised in Eastern Poland with a diet of mostly potatoes.
Golabki – Polish Cabbage Rolls
You can’t visit Eastern Europe without tasting traditional cabbage rolls. Golabki consists of boiled cabbage stuffed with minced meat, rice, and chopped onions. Smother them with a tomato sauce for savory goodness. Check out the Polonist for the ingredients and how to make it.
Bigos – Hunter’s Stew
Bigos is a Polish meat stew and shredded cabbage and sauerkraut. You can really put anything you like in it from different meats to sausages or no meat at all. Slow cook it with mushrooms, onions, and tomatoes and let the aromas seep into your house. Check it out here.
Kopytka is potato dumplings that are popular in southern Poland. They can be eaten as a side dish or as a main meal. Their diamond shape is said to resemble little hooves. Similar to Italian Gnocci, Kopytka can be served any way you like. Top them with tomato sauce, saute them with garlic, mushrooms and onions, top them with buttered breadcrumbs, or even make them a sweet treat with powdered sugar. Get this mashed potato dumpling recipe to make at home.
Kotlet Schabowy (Breaded Pork Cutlets)
Kotlet Schabowy is a breaded pork chop that reminded me of Schnitzel in Germany or Austria. This main course dish is made of pork that is pounded to a thin piece of meat, breaded with bread crumbs and flour, and an egg, and then cooked in oil over high heat. Serve with Sauerkraut and mashed potatoes and you have the perfect Sunday afternoon meal.
This comfort food is a Polish stew similar to Goulash you’ll find in Hungary. Gulasz is a meat stew usually made with beef, onions, and tomatoes with a dash of paprika. It can be served over boiled potatoes or noodles and with a side of fresh baked bread. Polish Meals has a good easy to follow recipe here.
On our last night in Warsaw, I swore I wouldn’t eat meat again. As amazing as the food had been, I was meated out. But then I saw steak tartare being prepared tableside at Stary Dom, and I knew I was a goner. The chef, in his 60s, I’d guess, prepares between 150 and 200 steak tartare servings each day! First, he deftly chops the steak, then mixes in mushrooms, fried onions, seasonings, and other goodies. The portion was way more than we could eat! I hated leaving it, but what can you do in a country that is so generous with its portions?
Poland surprised me in many ways, not the least of which was its memorable cuisine. Do you like Polish food? What is your favorite dish?
- Photos by Susan Guillory and the following:
- Silar, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons – krokiety
- Steven Depolo from Grand Rapids, MI, USA, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons – cabbage rolls
- Kuruni, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons – Golabki
- Silar, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
- Mariuszjbie, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons -Mizeria
- JanKokular, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons – crepes