9 Best Polish Drunk Foods
It is a well-known fact that every tourist to Poland will want to sample the country’s alcoholic bounty, but regrettably these intoxicated travellers often resort to western fast-food chains in order to satiate their drunken appetite. This is all the more saddening since the Polish streets are filled with affordable local delights for those who know where to look.
It is worth mentioning that some of the listed treats are not considered traditional ‘drunk food’ by Poles themselves. Since the latter tend to hold their alcohol well, they are wont to become intoxicated after midnight, which limits their purchases to kebab stands and the occasional herring plate at a bar. However, we at Culture.pl are fully aware that drunkenness can ambush unsuspecting tourists at any time of day, and we strongly advise you to be creative in your quest for liquor-soaking edibles.
For years, Zapiekanka (za-pyeh-kan-kah) has been the queen and the goddess of street food in Poland. Its simplicity and number of variations has made it the most loved 5-minute bite since its creation in the early 1970s.
Zapiekanka can be translated to ‘something that is roasted or scorched’. Its basic type is a halved baguette (wider than the French one) roasted till crispy with cheese and mushrooms, and amply spiced up with ketchup. This is how it looked in Communist Poland back in the time of its birth. Nowadays, zapiekanka can have many more ingredients (even meat), different sauces (most popular: BBQ, garlic and Mexican, which has nothing to do with Mexico except for being irrationally spicy) and may be served on a wide variety of breads. It ranges from the most awful, burnt junk food to a light, delicious and healthy snack.
Final remark – the best place to continue your zapiekanka studies is without a doubt the Kazimierz district in Kraków. The famous ‘U Endziora’ (At Endzior’s / Endzior’s Place) offers everything the zapiekanka has to offer.
Best proof of zapiekanka popularity? Thousands of #zapiekanka tweets:
2. Obwarzanek/Bajgiel/ Precel
There is a strong ambiguity concerning these three traditional street food specials and an academic book was written about it. Let’s clear it up.
Obwarzanek krakowski (ob-vaa-zha-neck) is the most noble of the three. It is a small, round and dry bread, made out of two pre-boiled, entangled pieces of dough with salt, poppy or sesame topping. Its first traces date back to the 14th century. The name obwarzanek was found in the accounting books of the king Władysław Jagiełło. It is a certified EU regional food speciality and the protoplast of Russian bublik and Lithuanian riestainis. It is sold mostly on movable street stands which you can find around every corner of old towns across Poland, specifically in Kraków, where there are over 150 of them.
Bajgiel, (bye-ghyiel) (aka bagel) comes from Kraków, just like obwarzanek. The main visible difference between them is that bajgiel is made of a single piece of dough and rarely has any topping. It is said to have been invented by Kraków’s Jewish inhabitants, and during World War II, Jewish emigrants from Central Eastern Europe took it to America with them and popularized it all over their new home.
Precel (aka pretzel) is the least Polish in this group (it originates from Germany), yet it is quite popular on the Polish streets and often confused with obwarzanek and bajgiel. Pretzels are usually knot-shaped and washed in soda, which gives it its shiny ‘skin’.
3. Pierniki Toruńskie / Toruń Gingerbread
According to the remarkable 18th-century intellectual Jakub Hoffman, the four best things in Poland are: “in Gdańsk, vodka; in Toruń, gingerbread; in Kraków, the ladies; and in Warsaw, shoes”. In fact, Toruń has a centuries-spanning tradition of baking the finest gingerbread and thus it has become its most recognised product and symbol. Pierniki toruńskie come in a variety of shapes and forms: little chocolate-stuffed or chocolate-covered cookies, entire cakes, crispy iced cookies or even decorative ones, inedible but eye-catching. Toruń's gingerbread bakers have never revealed the recipe for their speciality, but water, milk, wheat flour, honey and lots of spices are the core of it.
Turkish Kebab has been the dominant street snack for the younger generation for at least a decade. Completely nonexistent before the fall of the Iron Curtain, kebab easily won the hearts and stomachs of rushing early-20th century Poles. Not surprisingly. kebab has mutated on Polish ground and became infused with the typical Polish condiment – cabbage salad, with cucumbers, tomatoes and other vegetables. Polish kebab is a thing.
5. Pańska skórka (maiden’s skin)
Without a doubt one of the most mysterious of Poland's street sweets, Pańska skórka are home made out of sugar, starch and gelatine, and most probably derive from Turkish delight. The strange part of it is that it is sold only on the occasion of Easter and All Saints’ Day and usually… in cemeteries, and thus is sometimes called a ‘cemetery delicacy’. The origins of this tradition seem inexplicable but it is definitely at least a hundred years old, was born in Warsaw and ever since has caused fights between greedy children and their parents, afraid to buy a Pańska skórka, knowing that there is no quality nor hygiene control over its production.
6. Rogale św. Marcina (Poznań)
Time for a Poznań special – Rogale świętomarcinskie (St. Martin's croissants). These horseshoe-shaped croissants made from iced puff pastry with a poppy filling are a vital part of Poznań's culinary tradition. Legend has it that Poznań's inhabitants started baking them in great numbers in response to their spiritual guide’s (Father Jan Lewicki) call to help poor and starving people, and have carried on the tradition til now. Rogale świętomarcińskie are tasty, filling and cost about nothing – a perfect street food.
Pierogi are inarguably the best-known Polish food. Recently, more venturesome pierogi-makers came up with the idea of packing them in cardboard boxes, just like Thai or Chinese take-away food. A simple but brilliant idea, giving extra potential for sales as well as enriching the Polish street food menu.
Oscypek is another regional speciality that made it to the streets of Poland. It is a delicious cheese made of salted sheep’s milk, exclusively produced in the Tatra Mountains. It has a taste and texture that is hard to forget and comes in little snacky pieces as well as bigger blocks that can be kept for longer. It may be eaten grilled, smoked or raw, giving you three unique culinary experiences. For years, it was sold exclusively in Tatra resorts but nowadays you can find it on virtually every food market in Poland. A must-try.
9. Steak tartare, pickles, herrings and more…
The very last street food tradition is the one that diehard partiers will love the most. Poland is in love with before-parties and the most popular way to do it is to visit one of the numerous bistro bars where they serve vodka with a few traditional side dishes. This habit may go under the name of street food culture because guests don't usually even sit, instead they go to the bar, have a couple of shots and walk into the night in the search for further adventures. What are the typical vodka side dishes? Steak tartare (a raw meat steak served with pickled mushrooms, onion, cucumber and a raw quail’s egg), herring of all sorts, żurek (link), gzik (cottage cheese mixed with fresh cream, chive and radish) or zimne nóżki (Polish for ‘cold feet’, pork knuckles in jelly, served with lots of vinegar).
Author: Wojciech Oleksiak
Sources: Washington Post ‘Revolutionary eating in Poland’, mojewypieki.com, trzyznakisamku.pl, tweet