While travelling from Warsaw to Krakow recently I met a character that detested root vegetables. I asked why, and she replied that the sisters in her boarding school as a child forced her to eat all sorts of them, leaving a bad memory – and taste – in her mouth. I wondered why she was travelling in Poland, Motherland of all Root Vegetables, but soon realized the beauty of the countryside and the friendly people was a major reason for anyone to visit here.
Some of the best things to eat here are anything made with the abundance of fresh produce to be found in Poland. Here are some of the things I tried, and liked.
Soups – Zupa Grzybowa is cream of mushroom soup, and made with the local bolete mushrooms for the best flavor. Grochowka is a yellow split pea soup with potatoes, carrots, and also sausage. A rather hearty stew indeed. Although I didn’t try it, Flaki is also a popular soup in Poland. It’s tripe soup, with lots of pepper, ginger and marjoram – an unusual flavor combination, and the Warsaw natives add a topping of grated cheese. I did enjoy a bowl of Zupa Szczawiowa, which is another cream soup, made with sorrel leaves, and included a hard-boiled egg. But one of the most popular offerings for soup seemed to be Czysty Barszcz Czerwony, a clear red soup made with beet roots, garlic and mushrooms.
Main Courses – Polish main dishes are traditionally very heavy with meats, and some root vegetables on the side. It wasn’t until a former Polish king brought in an Italian wife that Polish nobility would even consider eating vegetables; they were for peasants in their opinion. Kotlet Schabowy is one of the countries favorite meals nowadays, and is made with thinly pounded cutlets of pork, breaded and fried, served with boiled potatoes and stewed cabbage. Not very inspiring, but hearty. Golonka sounds even worse! Pork hocks boiled and served with sauerkraut or pureed peas. However Grzby is the vegetarians saving grace at a Warsaw or Polish restaurant. These are mushrooms, and served a variety of ways, being very popular in Poland. The Boletes are the best, and offer a delicious flavor, they are often stewed in sour cream, or pan fried in butter. Some varieties are actually pickled, in seasoned vinegars. Salads are often made with cooked beets, as in Cwilka, which has a horseradish seasoning. Chrzan is the word for grated horseradish, which is served with most Polish meals.
Desserts – Sernik is the Polish cheesecake, covered with raisins and flavored with orange liquer, said to be one of the favorites of Pope John Paul II. Babka, which everyone from Brooklyn will recognize, is a Polish cake, tall, tapered, and again covered with raisins and powdered sugar. Its rich yellow yeasty egg bread flavor is popular during Easter in Poland. Szarlotka is an apple pie, or is it a cake? Often made with cinnamon, in a flaky crust. Whatever the name, it’s a great dessert which I had in Warsaw at a late-night Jazz place with a coffee. During the Polish Mardi Gras there are ball-shaped doughnuts around called Paczki, sugar iced with glazing, often containing some rose-petal jam in the center. What a treat! For Christmas the Polish make a traditional cake called Makowiec or Strucla Z Makiem. With a sugar frosting over a rolled cake made with yeast dough, filled with poppy seeds, nuts, and raisins, this makes a great celebration better.
With great thanks to several restaurant owners, hangers-on and bon vivants who answered my endless questions while I found out about some Polish foods. - Martin Trip
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