10 Must-Have Foods from Polish Cities
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from Polish Cities, Cezary Sarzyński, famous baker from Kazimierz Dolny, photo: Piotr Bławicki / East News, center, cezary_starzynski_kazimierz_kogut.jpg
Whether it’s a snack or a sweet, a main course or a baked good, here’s a list of the most iconic dishes from regions across Poland.
Some Polish voivodeships are famous for their traditional cuisine, such as the eastern regions of Podlasie and Podkarpacie. Other regional specialties are less distinct or merge together, such as the many varieties of Silesian cuisine. Some cities have a clear leader when it comes to foods – a product that’s promoted as typical, or that enjoys protection by the Polish ministry or even the EU. Still, in others, you have to dig deeper to find something special. Yet in every region and most big cities in Poland, you can find something truly great to eat.
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1. Warsaw: ‘Pyzy’
(Also try: Warsaw-style tripe, wuzetka cake)
There’s no place more synonymous with old-timey Warsaw folklore than the Bazar Różyckiego – a market in the Praga district opened in the late 19th century by the pharmacist, philantropist and enterpreneur Julian Józef Różycki. As the commercial centre of the right side of the River Wisła, its hustle and bustle became legendary. Even during World War II, people could buy foods here that were inaccessible anywhere else. Although part of the market burned down during the Warsaw Uprising, after the war, it truly flourished: luxurious goods, furs and fashionable dresses were sold here. And when you got hungry, you could always buy a jar of pyzy.
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Pyzy are a type of potato-based dumplings (two parts raw potato to one part cooked potato) which can be either plain or filled with meat. Typically, they’re served with fried onions and pork scratchings. Sounds rather simple, but part of their appeal was the way they were served – in glass jars, hidden between blankets or newspapers to keep them warm – and eaten standing up, in the middle of the chaos of the Bazar Różyckiego.
Nowadays, you can sample the classic or modern version (think: pyzy with kale pesto or spinach and blue-cheese sauce) in a bar right next to the market entrance.
2. Kraków: ‘Obwarzanki’
‘There are no bagels in Kraków!’ – you might hear if you ask for one, mistaken (as many are) about the similarities between a bagel and an obwarzanek. One of Kraków’s symbols – there’s historical proof that they’ve been baked in Kraków since the 14th century – is a ring made of wheat flour and yeast dough, reminiscent of a bagel or a pretzel, but not exactly the same. The main difference is the texture, due to the fact that the dough for obwarzanki is spirally braided.
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The word obwarzanek derives from the verb obwarzać, which means to parboil – as you do with the dough before baking it. Slightly sweet, it can be sprinkled with salt or a range of seeds (poppy, sesame, flax, nigella…). Truth be told, there are bagels in Kraków as well, yet they belong to the Jewish tradition and can mostly be found in the Jewish quarter of Kazimierz.
3. Poznań: ‘Rogal świętomarciński’
(Also try: pyry z gzikiem)
Another Polish baked treasure comes from the beautiful city of Poznań – and can only be produced there, since it’s protected by geographical indications and traditional specialities under a European Union scheme. This sweet pastry can be compared to the French croissant because of its shape and flaky dough, yet it’s the filling that’s truly specific and delicious: It consists of white poppy seeds, vanilla, sugar, nuts and raisins.
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According to the legend, the rogal’s shape refers to the horseshoe which was lost by the horse of St Martin of Tours. This French Saint is the patron of Poznań’s main street, celebrated on November 11th, and it’s on this meaningful date that Poznaniacy – as the city’s inhabitants are called – eat plenty of sweet, poppy-seed rogale.
4. Toruń: ‘Pierniki’
In the home of Copernicus, there’s one delicacy to rule them all: pierniki. Polish gingerbread is the city’s symbol, famous all over the country. The bakery Toruńskie Pierniki is among the 20 most recognisable brands in Poland.
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Wonderfully spiced and sweetened with honey, gingerbread was produced in Toruń as early as the Middle Ages; the oldest mentions date from the 14th century. Local craftsmen gave way to mass producers in the 18th and 19th centuries. The biggest factory was opened in 1751 by Gustav Weese and operated with success until 1945, when it was nationalised and turned into the Kopernik Confectionary Factory. To this day, it remains the biggest and most influential maker of this one-of-a-kind treat.
Gingerbreads come in a variety of shapes and flavours: They can be either glazed or covered with chocolate, filled with plum, rose or apricot jams, plain, round or heart-shaped. Take your pick… they’re all delicious!
5. Gorzów Wielkopolski: ‘Bułka z pieczarkami’
The food of the Lubuskie region is quite varied due to the fact that many people only arrived to these Western lands after World War II. That’s why in Wrocław, for example, where hundreds of Lviv inhabitants were moved, the cuisine connects eastern and western traditions. This makes it hard to distinguish any particular set of typical dishes, giving room to new culinary practises.
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It’s not haute cuisine by any means, but the bułka z pieczarkami, or mushroom-filled bun, is a Gorzów staple. The town prides itself on its 15th-century fortifications, beautiful parks and a fast food joint on Sikorskiego Street which sells the best food of its kind in the city. Everybody knows where the place is… and the taste of its yeast bun filled with spicy mushrooms and fried with onions hasn’t changed in decades.
6. Wadowice: ‘Kremówka papieska’
‘There was a pastry shop there. After our high-school graduation exam, we went there to eat kremówki,’ said Pope John Paul II during his pilgrimage to his birthplace, the town of Wadowice, in 1999. Even though this beautiful pastry, also known as the napoleonka (this name probably derives not from Napoleon Bonaparte, as one might think, but from the city of Naples, where it was a big hit!) can be found all over Poland, it’s Wadowice that became the capital of the kremówka at these words.
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The cake is best described as the Polish response to mille-feuille – puff pastry on the top, filled below that with either fluffy vanilla custard, whipped cream or even meringue buttercream, and all dusted with powdered sugar. Those described by the Pope would have been baked by a pastry chef from Vienna named Karol Hagenhuber. Unfortunately, the master didn’t leave behind any specific recipe, so modern bakers had to improvise. Now, all around town, you can find kremówki papieskie – or ‘the Pope’s’ kremówki.
7. Wrocław: ‘Śląskie niebo’
(Also try: spelt soup with meatballs, hekele)
Śląskie niebo, which translates to ‘Silesian Heaven’ – also known under the German name Schlesisches Himmelreich – is probably the most famous dish typical of the region of Lower Silesia. Thick slices of smoked, boiled pork, usually ham or chop, are served with a sauce made of dried fruit – apples, prunes, pears and apricots – which are seasoned, sweetened, spiced with cinnamon and lemon peel. This salty-sweet concoction is accompanied by steamed dumplings or knödel. The latter a clear sign of how German, Czech and Polish cuisines merged in the region of Lower and Opolian Silesia.
8. Biłgoraj: ‘Piróg’
This time, it’s not your usual pieróg but a piróg. The omission of one little vowel makes for a completely different dish, which originates from the small town of Biłgoraj in the Lubelskie region. It consists of potatoes, cottage cheese, buckwheat groats and either butter or lard, which are mixed and baked, either in a yeast piecrust or without it (the second version is referred to as łysy – bald). It used to be served during weddings and holiday feasts, but today, it’s probably easier to make at home than find in a restaurant outside of Biłgoraj.
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9. Gdańsk: Marzipan pralines
(Also try: fish soup, brejka coffee)
The cities of Lübeck and Tallinn probably have the proudest tradition of marzipan making in Europe, yet there was a time when Gdańsk was one of the capitals of this sumptuous almond confection. Its production began in early 19th century, when manufacturers such as Lindemann and Haueisen operated in the seaside city.
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Due to the area’s tumultous history, the tradition almost disappeared in the 20th century – but thankfully, it’s now being revived by the Gdańsk Tourism Organisation, which decided to cooperate with chocolate manufacturers to produce Gdańskie Pralinki Marcepanowe. These marzipan pralines are made in a traditional way, with highest-quality almonds.
10. Sejny: ‘Soczewiaki’
(Also try: kartacze, Lithuanian chłodnik)
Sejneńszczyzna is a region in the northeast of Poland, very close to the border of Lithuania and home to a large Lithuanian minority. The cuisine here is particular and very tasty. While some Polish-Lithuanian specialties like cold betroot soup chłodnik and kartacze dumplings filled with meat are fairly popular in the rest of Poland as well, soczewiaki (sometimes called also kakory) – dumplings filled with lentils and served with pork scratchings – can rarely be found outside of the region. Cheap and very filling, they are a typical peasant dish – definitely worth trying if you ever happen to visit Sejny, one of the most beautiful cities of the Polish borderland.
Written by Natalia Mętrak-Ruda, Jun 2019