The hearty, comforting dishes of Polish cuisine may seem like more of a winter option, but as the temperatures rise and the sun comes out, so do several refreshing summertime specialities. Fuschia soup, robust cherries, ruby raspberry syrup and crisp cucumber are only a few of the sexy summer treats we list for you below.
Chłodnik: the Polish gazpacho
Spain has its gazpacho, and the Balkans their tarator, but nothing satisfies thirst like one of those cold beet soups. Chłodnik – a name that translates as “cooler” – is rich in vitamins, and has a refreshingly sour taste. This traditional soup goes back more than a hundred years, but has also undergone some transformations.
A recipe from a 19th century cookbook by Wincenta Zawadzka listed the following ingredients: green dill, cooked young beetroot leaves, broth, and sour cream. Hard-boiled egg was added before serving, as well as finely chopped cucumbers, and boiled lobster necks (alternately, pieces of fish or veal). Nowadays, the broth has been excluded, the sour cream is frequently exchanged for buttermilk or yoghurt, and the original lobster necks are more of a special rarity than a custom. The most classic version of this cold soup today is beautifully pink because of the young beetroots. For this reason, chłodnik is also known as cold bortsch. In its modern form, it’s an easily made no-cook soup that’s healthy, filling, and light.
Piwo: Poland’s beloved beer
Poland is currently Europe’s third largest producer of beer, after Germany and the UK. It also has around 100 microbreweries run by a small core of dedicated enthusiasts who are collaborating to meet a growing demand for craft beers. It is not infrequent to now meet people who enjoy beer as if it was wine, sniffing, sipping and discussing the taste of different varieties.
Suprisingly, there even exists a beer option for people who do not like beer. All over Poland, you can order a ‘beer with juice’, which is a beer mixed with sweet syrup and served with a straw. The most common flavors are raspberry and ginger.
During communism in Poland, vodka was more frequently consumed than beer. The amber beverage rose in popularity after the transformation. During those changes, there even existed a movement called the Polish Beer-Lovers' Party (in Polish: Polska Partia Przyjaciół Piwa). It was a satirical Polish political party, founded in 1990 by Janusz Rewiński. Originally, the movement’s goal was to promote cultural beer-drinking in English-style pubs instead of the omnipresent vodka. It was an attempt at fighting alcoholism (with the culture of drinking beer). Both the humorous name and the disillusionment with Poland's political transformation led some Poles to actually vote for the party. The party's appeal was reflected in the popular remark that maybe with the PPPP in power "things won't be better but for sure they’ll be funnier." And even if it started as a prank, with time, the idea of a political discussion in establishments that served quality beer became a symbol of freedom of association and expression, intellectual tolerance, and a higher standard of living. PPPP members actually went on to develop a serious platform.
Gherkins as you never knew them
Poland is known around the world for the dill pickles it exports in glass jars. But the local specialty absolutely must try is ogórek małosolny, literally low-salt cucumber. This truly Polish treat from regular pickles or gherkins since it uses no vinegar. The fresh cucumber is immersed in brine, with various spices added to ensure more flavour and prevent by-products of the lacto-fermentation process. The małosolny cucumber is only pickled for a few days, so it is less sour and much more crunchy than those pickled for a longer time. It is a food that is both freshly grown and freshly soured! A must in the hot summer months, it’s perfect as a side dish with potatoes, meat, or great as a snack on its own.
If you are preparing to make some of your own, choose small to medium size fresh ground cucumbers. After washing, place them in a jar, and add garlic cloves, fresh dill leaves, and horseradish. You can also add allspice leaves, mustard seeds, and pepper seeds. Made with one teaspoon salt for every litre of water, the brine should be poured over the cucumbers. Some argue that the brine should be cooled, and others say that it’s best to add it while it’s still hot. And some experts argue to never use iodine white salt for the pickle brine, choosing only black salt, or the Polish Kłodawa speciality salt. This ensures that the cucumbers stay firm and dark in colour, and don’t go mouldy.
Can you tell between a cherry and a …cherry?
In Polish, there are two different words that translate as cherry in English. The first one, wiśnia (vee-shnya) refers to a dark, juicy, sour species. It is also known as wild cherry, native to much of Europe and southwest Asia. It is much more acidic, dark, will stain your clothes, and leave a very tart feeling in your mouth. It also has greater nutritional benefits, and is said to have greater medicinal effects. While eating the wiśnia raw won’t suit everyone, the sour cherries alone are traditionally used for sweet compote beverages, as well as cherry pies, because they are so full of aroma and flavour. Poles are also fans of home-made “wine” made from the sour cherry.
The other one, czereśnia (che-resh-nya) means a bright red, crispy and very sweet type of cherry. It is especially enjoyable raw, so it might be worth picking up some in the little booths with fruit and veg that are on almost every street corner in Poland.
When the weather is beautiful – and hot – no one feels like spending time inside a kitchen by the heat of an oven. Grilling needs no introduction, but the custom of barbecuing is a relatively new and a huge trend in Poland. Even though our medieval hunter ancestors knew the deliciousness of various foods cooked over fire, it was only the tsunami of capitalism in the late 1990s that brought us this ‘Western’ tradition, and made grilling a part of each Polish family’s life.
The custom was quickly adapted to the local reality, and initially the most popular item on the grill was the kielbasa sausage. (If you are a fan of the item, read more about the classic Polish Food Fundamental: Kielbasa.) Nowadays, the list of must-haves includes potatoes (wrapped in aluminum foil), kaszanka sausage (a kind of blood sausage with grain), and pork shoulder steak. Vegetable and meat skewers are also a classic, and so is trout, which gets seasoned and wrapped in aluminium foil before being tossed onto the grill.
Tasting Italian ice cream in Polish
While Italian ice may make you think of fruity sorbets, in Poland ‘Italian ice cream’ means a creamy spiraling tower of soft ice cream, vanilla or chocolate flavored. The reason for this is simple – the first and most popular machines that served this kind of dessert in Poland had been produced in Italy.
Recently, several Polish ice cream parlors have also been experimenting with less traditional tastes. For example, during his trip to Warsaw in June 2014, American President Barack Obama was presented with ice cream flavored with elderberries and parsley. Bell paper, carrot and basil ice cream have all appeared on the market recently.
Cytroneta, Cytronada and lemoniadas
Lemonade, or lemoniada, is served across cafes, bars, and restaurants throught the summer. The classic Polish version is made with sweetened flat or sparkling water with freshly squeezed lemon, lime, or orange juice, as well as the grated rind of the fruit. Served cooled or with ice, it often comes with pretty mint leaves on top.
Cytryna is lemon in Polish, and back in the Communist times, there were two market versions of the international summer classic. Cytroneta, the older kind of lemon soda was sold since the 1970s up to the early 1990s, in 0.33 litre glass bottles. A non-carbonated version of the drink came out a decade later, under the Cytronada label, and this non-carbonated variety was sold in plastic bags, accompanied by a straw with which you had to break through the package in order to start sipping.