Whether you're experiencing Poland for the first time or reconnecting with your Polish heritage, cooking as you travel is an exceptional way to explore this fascinating and unique country.
Text by Małgorzata ‘Sarna’ Rose
It is impossible to sum up traditional Polish cuisine with one or two dishes, as the regional specialities have evolved depending on the availability of specific produce, fish, and wild game. Traditional Polish cuisine was also influenced by a host of other cultures including Czech, German, Italian, French, Lithuanian, Russian, and Jewish. The result is a distinctive culinary heritage.
Poland Culinary Vacations offers travelers opportunities to experience the regional culinary traditions of Poland as well as cutting-edge cuisine produced by young urban chefs. In collaboration with local people and chefs who focus on using natural ingredients and local produce, travelers will experience both the solid home-cooking of village women and the chic cuisine of modern chefs, all at a gentle pace. Poland Culinary Vacations will be exploring the culinary delights of two regions in 2009 – Małopolska, otherwise known as Lesser Poland and Lower Silesia, which is known as Dolny Śląsk in Poland.
Rural Cuisine in Małopolska (Lesser Poland)
Located in the South East part of the country, Małopolska is one of Poland’s most beautiful regions. Rural Małopolska is home to the highlanders, or “gorale,” as they are called in Polish. The charming town of Zakopane and surrounding areas offer many opportunities to experience highlander culture: cooking, singing and dancing in homes and restaurants. The highlanders' rich culinary and cultural traditions make this region one of the most exciting Polish destinations to explore.
Urban Cuisine in Małopolska (Lesser Poland)
In addition to the region’s many unique historic towns and villages, the magnificent city of Kraków is also located in Małopolska. The Old Town of Kraków was built around Europe’s largest medieval market square, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Many of the finest museums, theatres, and architecture in the country can be found in Kraków. And, the Market Square in the heart of the city is filled with unique and beautiful cafés, restaurants, and pubs – plenty of opportunity to enjoy great food in uniquely Polish surroundings. Kraków is also one of the places in Poland where chefs are constantly creating and teaching new techniques and styles of cooking. Poland Culinary Vacations’ itineraries include cooking lessons with demonstrations by chefs who are pioneering modern cuisine. These sessions are very much hands-on, and an opportunity for everyone to create their own dishes.
Rural Cuisine in Dolny Śląsk (Lower Silesia)
Situated in the South Western Poland, this region features diverse wildlife, the rugged Sudety Mountains, striking cave formations, wild forests, and more than a dozen scenic and national parks. The towns and villages feature gorgeous botanical gardens, pristine mineral springs, and health spas. Dolny Śląsk remains a little-known culinary destination, unless, of course, you are of Polish ancestry. In that case, you'll remember traditional Polish holiday feasts, and the music, dance, and rich traditions so intertwined with the cuisine.
People in the Lower Silesia region come from many different parts of Poland and indeed Europe. They are famous for their hospitality and willingness to share their agricultural lifestyle with visitors, which is one reason why agrotourism is thriving. This is the place to experience hands-on cooking classes taught by local farmers.
Urban Cuisine in Dolny Śląsk (Lower Silesia)
Wrocław, the capital of Dolny Śląsk, is often described as the "Venice of Poland" because it sits on twelve islands along the Odra River. This historic city showcases Gothic, Flemish, and Viennese Baroque architecture, although it has also become well known as a progressive incubator of avant-garde theatre and modern art. With a thriving university and growing scientific sector, the diverse population demands eclectic entertainment, fine restaurants, and trendy boutique shopping. A trip with Poland Culinary Vacations includes cooking with Wrocław’s talented chefs in some of the city’s finest restaurants.
Here are just some of the tasty dishes that can be sampled in Poland:
• Żurek Soup fermented rye soup with sausage and egg
• Barszcz Czerwony red beetroot soup, otherwise known as borscht
• Gołąbki stuffed cabbage rolls
• Bigos Hunter's Stew with Polish kielbasa (sausages), pork and beef
• Pierogi stuffed dumplings – with meat, vegetables and also fuit
• Zrazy pork rolls with pickles and bacon
• Kaczka Pieczona z Jabłkami baked duck with apples
The Poles are famous for their delicious meaty stews, wild game dishes, and remarkable variety of sausages. Recipes that have been passed down through the generations are as dear to each family as the stories and sense of identity that the food represents. While exploring Poland you'll also discover and come to love a diverse array of wholegrain breads, savory soups, delectable appetisers, fresh salads, fabulous desserts, and recipes that include wild mushrooms and berries.
Małopolska and Dolny Śląsk are known for a mix of highland culture and agrarian valleys. Near the river valleys of southern Poland, the climate is perfect for growing hops. Varieties of Pierogi, stuffed dumplings and potato pancakes, abound—sumptuous fare, especially when paired with locally brewed beers.
In Małopolska, oscypek (a mountain sheep cheese), potatoes, eggs, sausages, rye, and finely milled buckwheat groats are the staples, while Żurek, the fermented rye soup now cooked throughout Poland, originated from Dolny Śląsk. Other regional specialities include: kotlety mielone (ground meat patties), cooked red cabbage with bacon, and kluski slaskie, which are the Silesian dumplings often served with meat sauces.
The great comfort food, bigos, or “Hunter's Stew”, is probably Poland’s most famous dish. It compliments a glass of one of Poland’s fine beers, such as Żywiec or vodkas. Poland is arguably the birthplace of vodka. One of the most distinctive variations is Żubrowka, otherwise known as Bison Grass Vodka. Each bottle contains an actual blade of grass from the legendary Białowieża Forest.
Polish festivals offer plenty of opportunities to experience culinary variety and appreciate new tastes. Taking place all year round, but especially from June to September, established and aspiring young Polish Chefs participate in regional culinary-themed festivals and culinary competitions. Foodie visitors can enjoy unique events such as the Plum Festival, the Oscypek (sheep cheese) Festival in Zakopane, and the Bean Festival.
Polish cooks and chefs are continuously inspired by their rich heritage. Kraków has become a culinary epicenter, a place where chefs are constantly creating and teaching new ways of cooking. Adam Chrzastowski, chef and co-owner of Ancora Restaurant in Kraków, teaches a workshop in which he shares his culinary secrets. He maintains that whether you are cooking or tasting, it’s crucial to keep an open mind. During his workshops, he invites his students to try something new. For instance, instead of only adding traditional honey or spices to gingerbread, he encourages them to try them in a festive soufflé or use them to concoct a gingery white chocolate mousse. To bigos, the unofficial national dish of Poland, he adds dried pears, or pickled salmon with ginger and liquorice. He advises cooks and guests to muster the courage to appreciate variety and new tastes.
The people of Poland enjoy a relaxed lifestyle, focused on the pleasures of family, friends, and fantastic meals, especially in small towns and villages. They take time to socialise with newcomers and are especially welcoming to travelers who truly want to learn about the land and people they are visiting.
About the Author
Małgorzata ‘Sarna’ Rose is the founder of Poland Culinary Vacations. Originally from Poland, she now lives in Montana, USA. Poland Culinary Vacations introduces travelers to the delights of Polish cuisine and hospitality. For further information on Poland Culinary Vacations, visit www.PolandCulinaryVacations.com or call +1 406 579-6435.