What’s Polish Food?
That’s a list of my favorite Polish dishes. Translated, that’s stuffed cabbage, filled dumplings, potato gnocchi-like dumplings, and, of course, soups. These are some of the most traditional Polish foods and they are hmm hmm good!
Tim and I unanimously agree that Polish food rocks and, in fact, is much better than Spanish food. OK, I may be a little partial because I grew up on Polish food. Still, it is really, really good.
If you’re planning on visiting Poland and are wondering what local dishes you should try, this post is for you.
So, what is Polish cuisine?
In general, Polish food is very hardy and heavily based on meat, especially pork and chicken and sometimes beef. It is similar to Slavic cuisines and tends to use a lot of cream and egg. We also love sauerkraut and pickled vegetables! Traditional Polish dishes are usually very time-consuming to prepare and are often a source of pride of the lady of the house. Poles love to eat, cook, and entertain.
Types Of Polish Food
Polish dishes vary wildly and are influenced by tradition of the cook. In general, though, there are some traditional dishes that you may want to try when visiting Poland.
Here is a list of the most common ones:
- Kielbasa – Kielbasa is the most known Polish word (outside of swear words) and it is often just thought of as Polish sausage. In reality, kielbasa simply means sausage in Polish and there are many, many varieties of kielbasa. Some of the most common that you may encounter in restaurants are: wiejska kielbasa, kabanosy, and biala kielbasa. Translated they mean country sausage, dried hunters sausage, and white sausage.
- Pierogi – perhaps the second most common Polish food that the world is familiar with are pierogi. They are filled dumplings – think ravioli. They are made by wrapping pockets of dough around a filling. The filling can be sweet, like sweet cheese or fruit, or it can be savory like meat, potato, kraut, etc. The dumplings are then boiled and served with either butter or another topic. These are a must-try when visiting Poland. Nearly all Polish restaurants serve them.
- Golabki – stuffed cabbage rolls. They are made of lightly boiled cabbage wrapped around a filling of ground beef or pork mixed with onion and rice or barley. They are usually served with a tomato based sauce (with or without cream) and they are delicious! Beware, these make for a hardy meal – I can never eat more than two.
- Bigos – a sauerkraut based stew. Usually made with several types of meat (left overs) and is amazing with a slice of fresh Polish rye bread.
- Kopytka – potato dumplings that are usually served with either fried bread crumbs in butter or fried bacon bits. Oh my!
OK, if you don’t like soups, then you’re not Polish. Soups are a staple of Polish food. They are usually served as the first course for the main meal of the day. Here are some of the more common soups you’ll find:
- Rosol – chicken noodle soup. Basically chicken broth with noodles, chunks of chicken, and a few veggies. YUM.
- Barszcz – beet soup. This is the Polish version of the Russian Borscht.
- Zurek – my favorite. It’s sour rye soup – sour, savory and delicious. I make the base fermented rye (zakwas) myself and love making this soup. Tim loves eating it.
- Zupa Pmidorowa – Polish tomato soup. It is quite a bit different from the American tomato soup. It is usually made with tomato paste and sour cream and never comes condensed from a can.
- Zupa Ogorkowa – pickle soup. Yes, it sounds weird to many foreigners but it is really good! If you like pickles, I guarantee you will like this soup.
- Zupa Grzybowa – mushroom soup is usually made from fresh mushrooms and includes sour cream. Yep, we use a lot of sour cream in Polish cooking.
Kotlet is a very common menu item. Literally translated kotlet is a chop but it is really more like a cutlet.
They come in a variety of types. For example, on Polish food menus you may find kotety mielone (made with ground beef), kotlety schabowe (pork cutlets), or kotlety from just about any other form of meat or even fish.
They are usually breaded and fried and are a very common main dish in Polish cuisine.
Common Side dishes:
- Potatoes – most common side dish. May be served in variety of ways: mashed, whole, fried, or in dumpling form (kopytka).
- Mizeria – a Polish side salad made of thinly sliced cucumbers.
- Surowki – a variety of side salads that may include beets, cucumbers, cabbage. These are often combined with sour cream, vinegar or oil.
- Sour Kraut – I think this one is self-explanatory. We love sour kraut (I make my own 🙂
OK, I think that’s the main scoop on Polish food. These are the most common and traditional and you are likely to see them on restaurant menus everywhere. Of course, you can find more exotic things like wild boar or deer as well, so try whatever looks good to you.
Also, don’t forget to get a Pączki (pronounced ponch-key) for desert or as a quick breakfast. They are, basically, jelly donuts on steroids and you will be hard-pressed to find a better pastry anywhere.
Although most restaurants in tourist zones have English-speaking wait staff, it is always a good idea to learn a few Polish words. It is not only appreciated but it is polite and you will get a much better service. Hence, before ordering food in restaurants you should learn the following:
- Please – Prosze (pro-chae)
- Thank you – Dziekuje (djen-ku-yay)
- Check – Rachunek (ra-hu-neck)
- Tip – Napiwek (na-pee-vek)
Use Google Translate to hear the correct pronunciation of all these words.
Additionally, be aware that service in Poland has gotten a lot better over the last 10 years but, most times, the wait staff is not particularly friendly or smiley. However, they are typically polite – as long as you are polite. Also, you will probably need to ask for the check before it is brought to you and sometimes it may take a while to catch the waiter’s attention.
Tipping is not compulsory in Poland but it is customary. Usually a tip of 10% is sufficient. However, if you’ve received bad service – don’t tip! Look closely at your bill because sometimes the tip is included but usually it is not.
Don’t say thank you! This is an important cultural thing to note. If you are paying a bill in a restaurant, don’t say thank you (dziekuje) when you hand over the money, unless you do not want any change back. If you say thank you to the waiter, it implies that the change is the tip. Instead, say please (prosze), this signifies that you want change back.
Don’t get screwed. ALWAYS check your bill before you pay it and always count your change. We have found that nearly every time we ordered in touristy areas, somehow there were extra charges on our bill, like an extra drink. In addition, it’s important to see if tip is included because sometimes it is. I’ve also been shortchanged several times in change in stores. So pay attention.
That’s the basics of what you need to know about Polish food and ordering in restaurants. There are, of course, many other options to choose from and you can get anything from Thai food to Sushi in Poland as well. It’s really about what you want to try while you’re here. And one last thing, don’t forget the after dinner drink! The variety of vodkas in Poland is awesome!
Let us know what you thought of Polish cuisine. I’m curious what others think.