Our 9 days long culinary trip to Poland was beyond exemplary, and was curated by Monica Kucia, a popular food writer and organiser of events on Polish cuisine. Our culinary experience went beyond our initial perception of Polish food as we were introduced to a whole array of traditional Polish cuisine as well as modern Polish cuisine stirred up by new-generation chefs who prided in using seasonal ingredients of regional variety. There seemed to be a resurgence of discovering old Polish cuisine that was wiped off temporarily during the communist regime. Polish cuisine, once upon a time had not only been a reflection of its agrarian culture but also an amalgamation of culinary inspirations from the neighbouring countries and cultures as a result of its shifting borders though history. It was good to see that the pride was back amongst Polish people to learn more about their own culinary heritage.
The Jewish culinary history of Poland is resurfacing itself because of the conversation that passionate food authors and culturalists are making today, to reconnect people to the Jewish culture. Charlotte Menora, a branch of the cult café chain – Charlotte at Plac Grzybowski, plays a significant role in this regard. Charlotte Menora is not only a French-style beautiful Jewish café and bakery, but it also allows the ongoing conversation of Jewish heritage of Poland by way of providing a space and a kitchen area which encourages workshops on cooking, tasting, and talking about Jewish food. In 2016, POLIN or the Museum of the History of Polish Jews opened the Menora InfoPoint in the café’s adjoining space. There used to be legendary Jewish restaurant named Menora in this location, and to honour that, Menora is now an information point about Jewish Warsaw, a meeting space for NGOs and a place for cooking workshops. The bakery is extremely popular and all breads and baguettes are hand-made, baked on stone and freshly kneaded and baked on the spot many times in a day. The Jewish breads like bagels, challah, rye breads and others, are available only at this particular branch of Charlotte. New additions of Jewish dishes are made to the menu often.The vibe inside the café was palpably exciting, buzzing with diners – young and old alike. Breakfast was served to us on the terrace, and along with Challah, pronounced Hallah, the popular Jewish sweet bread, we also tasted different types of breads. The Blintzes, which are small pancakes were delicious and came with cottage cheese, delicate orange peels and rose water.
Blintzes were delicious and came with cottage cheese, delicate orange peels and rose water.
Challah, pronounced Hallah, the popular Jewish sweet bread
Magda Maślak, the Manager of Menora Info Point, who showed us around the cafe and the kitchen space where workshops are arranged.
Address: Plac Grzybowski 2, Warsaw (there are other branches of Charlotte elsewhere in Warsaw)
Open from 7:00 am until late (closing time differs on each day)
Menora Info Point
Open Monday-Friday, from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm
Many locals consider the popular chain of restaurant Zapiecek, as a bit touristy and tacky. However, we think that for a tourist, it’s a must visit. Established way back in 1913, Zapiecek serves more than 40 odd varieties of Pierogi, the traditional Polish dumplings! The menu also offers other popular traditional Polish dishes like Bigos, a stewed dish made with various kinds of meat, sauerkraut and shredded fresh cabbage; or Placki Ziemniaczane, the potato pancakes; or the Flaki, a Tripe soup or tripe stew. The staff in Zapiecek is dressed in traditional Polish dresses (alibi modern day shorter versions!) and the interior has a countryside feel with lots of timber frames, pots and pans hanging from the walls. Dumplings are handmade from wheat or spelt and the stuffing is done fresh every day. “Mothers of mothers taught us that”- proclaims the Grandma in one of the corners of the English menu card! We entered one of the Zapieceks in Stare Miasto (there are three branches located in Old Town itself) on a rainy day, and the experience of dining here with well dressed tourists flocking in and out, was quite unforgettable. We tasted pierogis with a variety of meat stuffing, as well as some vegetarian ones. Dumplings are either fried on both sides or boiled. The former varieties are served in heavy cast iron pan while the latter in porcelain platters with traditional blue and white Polish designs. The staff recommended ordering a jug of hot kompot, the non-alcoholic drink made from fruits like apples, pears, raisins, dried plums and added spices – all simmered in water and sugar. Apart from the savoury varieties, the pierogi menu at Zapiecek also offered sweet dumplings with fillings of seasonal fruits like cherries, strawberries, blueberries or a mix of fruits, which we skipped tasting on our visit this time.
Open 11:00 am – 23:00pm from Mondays to Sundays and until midnight on Fridays and Saturdays.
Traditional Polish Dumplings at Zapiecek
Learning to cook in a home kitchen
Just like in Krakow, in Warsaw too, we visited a home kitchen to learn more on Polish food. Monika Kucia, our culinary curator, welcome us to her home and we cooked not only with her but also under the guidance of her beautiful mother. Can anything be warmer and more meaningful that this? We reached Monika’s home after our visit to Majlert Market where we bought season fresh fruits and vegetables. Our menu was inspired by our purchase at Ludwik Majlert Farm earlier and a few delicious goodies that graced Monika’s fridge. The lunch consisted of boiled potatoes, smalec – a salty spread made from fat flavoured with onion, garlic and pieces of cracklings, bread, a summer salad, a few compotes, the Polish Bób – boiled broad beans (a childhood favourite with the Polish, scroll down to read more), grilled zucchini flowers, cheese etc. Thereafter, we learnt to make traditional pierogis, Cherries were abundant in this season and so our pierogis had cherry fillings. Served with fresh clotted cream, these tiny pierogis made for a wonderful sweet ending to our Polish home meal.
Monika is a food writer, culinary curator and performer of artistic events related to food. Her passion for food and drink, professional devotion and history of success is the reason why she’s often the first point of contact for professionals who wish to engage with learning more on Polish food and drinks.
Siala Baba Mak
Our season fresh loot at Majlert Market before reaching Monika’s home.
Monika’s mother guiding our friend, Sana, to knead the dough for making Pierogis. Sana is a popular food blogger and you can read her write up ‘Best of Warsaw‘ to find out more on Warsaw.
Lunch at Monika’s home gave us the feel of a regular Polish home meal.
Polish Bób – broad beans on butter is a popular summer snack! July in Poland, is typically a broad bean season. Eaten while still very young and crispy, the broad beans or Fava Beans as they are popular in the Mediterranean, are boiled slightly in salted water and served with melted butter. Bób is not only a favourite at home, they can now be found on the menu of fancy restaurants as well!
Homemade pierogis with cherry fillings, swerved with fresh clotted cream
Chlodnik: a beautiful pink cold beetroot soup that is a summer staple in Poland.
Lody: the home made ice creams that are so popular in Poland, especially those made with fresh seasonal fruits. There are many traditional ice cream parlours but a few have reached cult status… for example, Lody Tradycyjne in Starowiślna street where long queues are part of the process.
Kremówka or Papal Cream Cakes: Papal Cream Cake is a Polish type of cream/custard pie made of two layers of puff pastry, filled with whipped cream, creamy buttercream, vanilla pastry cream or sometimes egg white cream, and is usually sprinkled with sugar. (more on this here … Kremówka ~ Papal Cake)
Milk Bars: These historic milk bars (bar mleczny) used to be government subsidised cafeterias during the socialist post war Poland. Today, there are about 150 milk bars remaining in Poland and they serve popular Polish dishes at incredible prices. Some of the well known Milk Bars in Krakow are Pod Temidą (ul. Grodzka 43, Old Town), Bar Targowy ( ul. Daszyńskiego 19, Old Town), Milkbar Tomasza (Ul. Św. Tomasza 24, Old Town) which looks modern and more like an American-style diner, or the traditional Bar Kazimierz ( Ul. Krakowska 24, Kazimierz) in the historic Jewish neighborhood of Krakow.
A bar mleczny—literally “milk bar” in Polish (though not to be confused with the Australian milk bar)—is a Polish form of cafeteria. The first typical milk bar “Mleczarnia Nadświdrzańska” was established in 1896 in Warsaw by Stanisław Dłużewski, a member of Polish landed gentry. Although the typical bar mleczny had a menu based on dairy items, these establishments generally also served other, non-dairy traditional Polish dishes as well. More in wiki.
Popular staples on Milk Bar menus… almost a mini recap of Polish Cuisine
- Pierogis: The stuffed dumpling of some kind, and Poland has the famous pierogi. The pierogi ruskie was a favorite of our group, filled with a potato, cheese and onion mixture. Pierogis are so culturally important that there is an annual dumpling festival held to honour this culinary heritage! This year’s Dumpling Festival (or Festiwal Pierogów) involved not only traditional and well-known dumplings but also various combinations of ingredients and interesting stuffing like salmon, lamb, deer meat or smoked cheese.
- Naleśniki: A crepe-like pancake with sweet or savory fillings
- Gołąbki: Meat and rice filled cabbage leaves
- Kiełbasa: Polish sausage, either eaten on its own, or added to a soup
- Barszcz: Similar to the Russian borscht, this is a delicious beet soup
- Obwarzanek krakowski: A bagel-like bread that is sold widely around the city by street vendors.
- Pączki: Donuts filled with rose marmalade and a variety of icing options including lemon, orange or cinnamon.