Nutritional wisdom tells us that colour is important when it comes to food. If in doubt, make sure there’s a rainbow on your plate.
Polish food ignores this advice to the highest degree. But, as I can confirm from my trip there last week, there are a lot of people alive and well in at least two major Polish cities. So, uh, screw science and pass me some dough. (Not money. Like, actual dough. You can’t eat money, duh).
Almost everything is some variation on beige. Never has beige been so delicious. It takes some form of wizardry to take flour, water, potato, cabbage and sausage and come up with this many incredible dishes. You have to fear a people who can take in so few essential nutrients and still thrive.
Here are six foods you have to eat if you’re in Poland, if you want to start the lengthy but worthwhile process of adapting your body to only rely on carbs.
Pierogi are dumplings to be revered. It is a doughy dumpling filled with potato, meat, cheese, sauerkraut or fruit, then often topped with fried onions or pork fat because there weren’t enough reasons to worry about your heart while dining on Polish cuisine.
The word pierogi comes from the word ‘feast,’ which makes sense as a regular portion of pierogi will tend to be 12-15 dumplings, despite the fact a single one is equivalent to at least five ravioli.
If ravioli are the supermodels of dough dumplings – delicate, thinly rolled and full of fresh vegetables – then pierogi are the cage fighters. I know who I’d bet on to survive winter.
Soup often conjures up an image of a bright, fresh, liquid meal, in which the water content is typically so high that you can insist it’s a full meal despite it actually being vegetable-flavoured water.
Not żurek. This is a soured rye soup full of sausage and boiled egg. That’s right, none of this tomato and basil crap here. This is an English breakfast in soup, except it’s not as gross as I realise that sounds. It’s delicious and will keep your body temperature stable as the temperatures plummet.
It’s also often served in a bowl made of bread because porcelain was proving too tough on everyone’s teeth.
I have already waxed poetic about oscypek in both of my previous blogs from Poland. This is smoked cheese, grilled, covered in cranberry sauce. The salt content is so high you’ll need to re-hydrate between bites, but it’s worth it for what is essentially Christmas halloumi. You can ask for no more out of life.
Don’t worry, the heart palpitations are par for the course. Compromising your vital organs for festive cheese is the true sign of commitment to Christmas and international cuisine.
I have so many feelings about Gołąbki. The name means ‘pigeon,’ because… it looks like the body shape of a pigeon? Which just mean it’s a vaguely pigeon-sized lump. Confusion lurks at every turn.
To be clear, there is no pigeon in Gołąbki. Sometimes there is pork or beef. You wouldn’t necessarily know because the onion, rice/barley, pork/beef/pigeon mixture wrapped in cabbage does become somewhat of homogenous mush of beige.
Never has a homogenous mush of beige been so appealing. In this, cabbage tastes good. Absolute wizardry. And no pigeons. I think.
Barszcz (z uszkami)
If you’re wondering how to pronounce those five consecutive consonants in Barszcz, then just don’t. ‘Rszcz’ is a wholly inappropriate collection of letters to put together and if you’re just starting out, prepare to spent a lot of time with you mouth contorted, spitting, chasing your poor unsuspecting boyfriend around the living room saying, “rsssshchhhhhh,’ until he begs you to stop and offers you some barszcz as a reward.
This is a good outcome for you, as barszcz is delicious. Proof that colour does exist in Polish food, barszcz is a beetroot soup that will turn your pee purple and your smile wide.
It can be served hot or cold. It can have meat, or fish, or neither. It can have potatoes and cabbage and carrots or a combination of these three or none of them. It can be smooth or chunky. There are no rules when it comes to barszcz, except to eat and enjoy.
You can also add ‘little ear’ dumplings, uszka, because we were dangerously close to having a meal that didn’t contain anything dough-based. The horror.
Kiełbasa is the Polish word for sausage. As with barszcz, there are very few rules when it comes to kiełbasa. Kiełbasa can be smoked or fresh, made from pork, chicken, beef, turkey, lamb or veal, with each region having its own specialty. There are official government guides detailing sausage specifications based on size, meat and level of cooking.
I’m glad that, while we’re over here dealing with Brexit and watching our government crumble in the process, our Polish neighbours are keeping a close eye on sausage quality. THIS IS KIND OF INNOVATION WE WANT TO BE SHARING ACROSS NATIONAL BORDERS.
Of course, most kiełbasa are also enormous. No one’s messing around with fucking chipolatas. People in Poland actually want to get stuff done.
If you ever find yourself in Poland, eat these foods. They are all delicious and hearty and warming and remind you why kale is the worst thing to come out of the 21st century.