Dessert as a Main Course? Poland's Best Idea... Or its Worst
Can you imagine having dessert served as a main meal? Well, Poles can. Here comes a mini-guide to a culinary custom that can weird out foreigners – sweet dishes served for dinner!
Before 1939, almost no one would have come up with this crazy idea to have pancakes with jam or pierogi with cheese for dinner. But it changed completely during the communist-regime period in Poland – a period of constant crisis during which desserts levelled up to the rank of main courses. And they are still doing well.
Wheat noodles with quark cheese & sugar
Some foreigners are amazed, others disgusted. Wheat noodles sprinkled with quark and sugar will definitely not appeal to those who usually eat loads of noodles with aromatic sauce, herbs and spices. Honestly, probably nobody but Poles appreciate this dish. However, this meal ruled not only in canteens at kindergartens and schools, but also in the kitchens of busy mothers (who were not always able to get a piece of meat for dinner). Moreover, the combination was enough for the youngest to be fully satisfied. Noodle with quark was already known before 1945, but back then the must-have additions were orange peel, dried fruit or cream. Roasted noodle was served as a prewar “cake”.
Potato pancakes with... sugar
Crunchy potato pancakes are very popular in Polish cuisine and it’s unlikely anybody would ever dislike them, even though they are very high in calories. The most important thing is that they are crunchy. Some would do anything for the traditional versions with cream or mushroom sauce. In Miś, a cult Polish film that mocks the absurdities of communist life, customers in a milk bar are depicted getting potato puree with jam.
It was in fact not that bad, but perhaps only Poles had a chance to eat potato pancakes with… sugar. And regardless of how hard it may be to believe, some people like to have them for dinner. According to cookbooks from the communist period, other than sugar, pancakes can be topped with fried berries. Luckily these recipes said not to add onion, a more traditional product, to these pancakes.
Tomato soup and pancakes with jam
Pancakes have been part of Poland’s cuisine for hundreds of years. Even in the 17th century, the method to prepare them was similar to the one used nowadays. And the tradition of adding raisins and cinnamon to the filling (though in smaller amounts than 300 years ago) has lasted all this time, just like sprinkling pancakes with sugar. The 19th-century books are full of recipes for “richer” pancakes with cream and milk, and “poorer” ones with water. After 1945, sweet pancakes became a main course, although they did not have many additions due to shortages. So pancakes filled with quark or jam and sprinkled with caster sugar became a delicacy for both workers and intellectuals, also for preschoolers and pupils – even nowadays, it has survived the hard times to remain a popular dinner dish in school canteens. And not only there... Want to try it? Check out the renowned Bar Prasowy on Marszałkowska Street in Warsaw.
Pierogi with cheese, apples, plums, berries, raspberries
We’ve written about pierogi before, the most globally-recognised Polish dish. Most foreigners have heard about them, and every tourist coming to Poland gives them a try (usually a more refined version such as “ruskie”, or filled with meat). Whether pierogi filled with sweet things will satisfy the appetite of foreigners seems problematic. But maybe they will suit them as a dessert? During summer, pierogi filled with fruits (berries, strawberries or cherries) will definitely be a surprise. Topped with cream or browned butter, they used to only come as a dessert but today they make a perfect dinner for Poles. Moreover, they are even included in the menus of fine restaurants.
Knedle with plums or strawberries
A bit rarer, but appreciated just like pierogi with fruits, knedle filled with fruits are served mostly during summer and autumn. They are usually made from potato dough. There are some Poles who cannot imagine a summery dinner without knedle with plums or strawberries. Luckily, you don’t need to suffer making them at home – they can be easily found in the menus of milk bars (cheap canteens subsidised by the government) and restaurants with traditional cuisine. How should they be served? They should be served with either melted butter and sprinkled with sugar, or topped with bread crumbs browned in butter. The latter are called knedle "a la polonaise".
Rice with cream, apples and cinnamon / Rice with strawberries
Rice with cream, apples, sugar and cinnamon is another Polish emergency idea for a sweet dinner. For some, it’s a nightmare from their childhood. For others, a sentimental delicacy. Either way, it’s certainly one of the icons of communist canteen dishes. Don’t be surprised when you see this relic in milk bars. There are still people who can’t help ordering this dish, despite any shame they might feel about their weakness. You can find recipes for rice with apples on many Polish culinary blogs.
Fruit soup with noodles
Fruit soups have been popular in Poland over centuries. They were often exquisite and made with the addition of dry wine or champagne. Old cook books are a real wealth of recipes for various cold soups made from boiled or raw pureed fruits, often with wine. Raspberries, cranberries, wild strawberries, and apples and plums ruled the world of fruit soups, which were even served with croutons. Although the version with pasta has become a bit forgotten, each and every adult Pole remembers fruit soup with noodles served in canteens and at home.
Racuchy with apples or quark
Tiny pancakes fried in butter or lard, made from flour, yeast, milk and eggs is another traditional and popular meatless dinner dish. Pieces of apples are often added to racuchy, which are obviously served as a sweet meal with caster sugar or cream. Also popular are racuchy made from boiled potatoes and eggs. Just like all the other dishes listed here, racuchy used to be a dessert, but during the period under communism, it was turned into a main course. This tradition has not disappeared, especially in school cafeterias.
Pierogi leniwe with sugar
We have already written about pierogi leniwe (literally meaning “lazy pierogi”) here. Let us remind you that this type of kluski, apart from its name and ingredients (eggs, flour, potatoes and cottage cheese – the same as pierogi with cheese), actually have little to do with pierogi. After bringing the ingredients together, the dough is shaped into a fine roll and then, little rhombic pieces are cut off with a knife and tossed into boiling water. Leniwe are popular amongst adults and served after soup as a main course. Unsurprisingly though, they are a favourite treat for children and often served in school cafeterias, as well as the remaining milk bars – those canteens that are the chief culprit all these bizarre foods still persist today.
Written by Magdalena Kasprzyk-Chevriaux. Translated by ND, edited by AZ, 5 Nov 2015