Be honest with me; when you think of Polish food the first things that come to mind are pierogi, cabbage and sausages, right? And while you’re not wrong – because these are excellent examples of Polish food – my recent trip showed me that there is so much more to the food in Poland.
From warming soups to confit goose, I’m going to take you on a journey that will inspire you to seek out something different when you visit Poland.
Goose has never been a meat I’ve sought out to cook with and I’ve not really seen it on any menus to try it. But, never fear, I wasn’t going to live my life goose-free forever; this trip to Poland saw me consume goose in 12 different ways (10 in the same meal!).
Why so much goose? I hear you ask.
Well, from November, goose is a popular meat and can be found on many menus. While it fell out of fashion for some time, there has been a conscious goal to bring it back into favour, particularly for celebratory purposes–St Martin’s Day/Polish Independence Day on 11 November.
Chefs in Poland are taking a beak to feet approach (i.e. zero waste), using up every single piece of the bird–from the meat itself to the bones, offal and fat. The chef on our trip, Piotr Lenart, took us on a journey of goose (or perhaps a wild goose chase?) at Gozdawa Palace–a gorgeous restaurant and event space about two and half hours outside Warsaw that sees hundreds of people every year coming to experience a real Polish goose feast.
Our dinner included traditional smoked goose breast (Półgęsek), smoked goose sausages, goose liver pate, goose terrine (my favourite!), roast goose, goose lard with seasonings, gooseneck stuffed with offal, and so much more. He also gave us a demonstration on how he breaks down a goose (he did it for us in about 10 minutes, but told us he can break down a goose in just one!) to show how each bit of the bird is used and then, just in case we hadn’t had enough goose, he prepared traditional goose tartare with plenty of garlic and marjoram. If you’re wondering about texture, it’s very similar to duck.
Goose in Poland is a fascinating subject, there’s so many historical and cultural aspects to consider when talking about it. I could write a whole blog post on goose alone, but I figure if you’re really interested you can take a look at this article here.
Forget borscht for a moment, please. It’s not that it’s bad, it’s just that there’s so much more variety for you to choose from. Sure, you can have beetroot or pumpkin-based soups, but you can also have Czernina a goose blood soup (that has a surprisingly sweet and sour taste), creamy broths with bacon or minced goose, clear and tasty broths, soups served in bread… my list could go on.
Basically, when you’re in Poland, you can expand your soup horizons and try something a bit different. For example, my favourite soup was Zalewajka – a regional speciality in Łódź (pronounced more like ‘woodge’) where we attended a cooking class at Baccaro Studio. There is no one correct way to make Zalewajka, but at Baccaro, the chef made a goose-based broth and finished it off with mascarpone, potatoes and fried minced goose breast. It was a surprisingly light soup with tons of flavour and I think I’ll be giving it a go one day in the future at home.
One of the most popular soups on the trip was Zurek – a brothy sour rye soup with egg and chunks of sausage served in a massive cob loaf (in Poland, you’ll never have to fear a small portion). It was so good that my friends Alex and Keely can’t stop talking about it!
Are you herring me, Polish food is great!
I will be the first to admit that I’m not hugely into fish. And I’m even less into fish when it has been pickled or fermented. However, I’m on this earth to experience many things, and that includes trying food I’m afraid of at least once. During this trip, I tried herring about six different ways, once at Baccaro Studio and then five different dishes at traditional Polish food restaurant specialising in fish, Pod Łososiem in Gdańsk.
My favourite dish by a long way was Śledź w Śmietanie, lightly pickled herring in a sauce made with sour cream, sour apple and raw onion. I know it sounds a bit strange, but the result of mixing those ingredients together was fresh, light and easy to eat. I think the sauce itself would go really well with a few different fish, but that’s a story for another day.
Some interesting facts about Pod Łososiem:
- The name means ‘Under the salmon’ and harks back to the 1500s when buildings were identified by their signs – which back then, was a salmon.
- It’s got a lot of history, including it being the location where Goldwasser vodka was first distilled back in 1598 (and it has real 22c gold in it!).
- It has hosted a lot of celebrity guests (though, I suspect, not at the same time), including Margaret Thatcher, George Bush, Princess Anne and Pope John Paul II!
- It has been run by the Robakowski family since WWII.
Pickle me this
You’d be hard-pressed to find a culture that doesn’t incorporate some element of preservation into their diet. You’ll have heard of sauerkraut and pickled cucumbers, but preserving food for long-term storage (if you can wait that long) doesn’t stop there.
We spent one evening on our trip with the lovely family who run Aktywna Agroturystyka, an outdoor adventure holidays business, and specialise in traditional Polish food preservation. Our host took us through the process of making sauerkraut and hot-smoked fish. Then they brought out a veritable buffet of jars full of delicious preserved items, including vegetables and fruit. Their cherries were amazing – the juice from the jar mixed with sparkling water made a delicious drink, and the cherries themselves were very easy to eat with a spoon and a bit of cream (apparently the family has a cherry addiction, but they’re not too worried about it).
BONUS: During our cooking class at Baccaro Studio, we were introduced to pickling water. We used it to make a quick cucumber pickle, but were told that Polish people use it for many other things, including as a hangover cure! All you need to do is put some in sparkling water after a big night out and you’ll feel better in no time.
You’ve goat to be kiddin’ me!
Sorry, not sorry for the terrible goat pun. And I’m definitely not sorry I went to Kozia Farm (near Morag, about an hour from Gdansk by car) for a meet and greet with the 140+ goats that make it possible for the owners to produce their delicious cheese.
I know that for the uninitiated, goats’ cheese can be a bit scary – it can have a certain smell and flavour to it that can be a bit off-putting. I wouldn’t worry about that though – these days, the cheesemaking process is different and goats’ cheese is a very different beast. At Kozia the cheese was creamy, slightly tangy and very versatile. Also moreish, I’m not going to tell you how much I ate… But, I will tell you that the goats were crazy cute!
Sweet as gingerbread
As you know, for many countries in this part of the world gingerbread has been historically important. It’s no different in Poland. We visited the Living Gingerbread Museum in the town of Toruń (about halfway between Warsaw and Gdansk and where astronomer Nicholas Copernicus was born) and had a ball with their living history display. The actors were a lot of fun and we learnt plenty about the gingerbread making process, both medieval and 18/19th century (of course, very different!). We made some decorative gingerbread that should last for years to come and then we tried our hands at using royal icing to spruce up some plain shapes (as you’ll see from my Tweet below, I still need a lot of practice!).
I can highly recommend a visit to the museum, it was a lot of fun and very interactive.
By the way, Polish gingerbread comes in various forms, but the basic recipe isn’t quite as gingery and the texture is quite light and thick, as opposed to the thin and crunchy biscuits with tight crumb we’re used to here.
Expand your vodkabulary
This one isn’t Polish food, but it’s just as important.
Vodka. Russian, right? Wrong. If you ask the President of the Polish Vodka Association, Andrzej Szumowski, he’ll tell you that vodka is “part of the Poles’ DNA”. It is a major part of their culture. Vodka was first developed in the area that is now modern Poland. Obviously, given the history of the region, there is no surprise that vodka is considered *the* Russian drink.
We visited the Museum of Polish Vodka in Warsaw, learnt the history of vodka in Poland and then did a guided tasting. The last time I had vodka neat was in my teenage years and you know what the result of that would have been. However, as an adult, trying three very different vodkas was a fascinating experience. Different mouth feel, different flavour, different burning sensation as you swallow (I reworded this bit about three times and realised there was no way around it, sorry). My favourite of the three was Wyborowa, it was just really smooth.
On the topic of rating museums, I was really impressed with this one. It’s very new and the layout is great with plenty of interactive displays.
Polish food isn’t what you think it is! – Pin for later!
Next time you’re heading over to Poland, take a few minutes to find out what you can find in the local area that is a little different from the usual food items. Don’t get me wrong, you should definitely eat plenty of pierogi and cabbage, but don’t miss out on everything else Polish cuisine has to offer.
And if you need more Poland inspiration, take a look at the posts from the rest of the LWT team here.
Disclaimer: I was invited on a press trip for the ‘Poland Tastes Good’ campaign to try some of the lesser-known food products in Poland. However, as always, all my thoughts above are my honest opinions.