I grew up with Polish heritage (I have -ski at the end of my last name), often hearing about the delicious Polish food that my great grandmother used to make.
In my home, though, the only Polish food we enjoyed took the form of frozen, boxed pierogies. I didn’t know much about how to recreate these recipes for myself.
Not until I visited Poland in 2018 did I truly experienced Polish food for the first time. Pierogies, potato pancakes, golumpki… I was only in Poland for four days, but oh boy did I make an effort to try as much Polish food as possible.
Luckily, Lois from Polish Housewife has a wealth of Polish food knowledge. Having moved from Arizona to Poland with her husband a few years ago, she made a large efforts to learn as much as possible about Polish food.
She now runs a food blog that focuses solely on exploring Polish recipes.
What was it like moving to Poland? What were your first impressions? Did anything surprise you about life in Poland and what did you LOVE?
Before we arrived, the thought of moving to Poland was a little bit intimidating. We had no idea what to expect. In the back of our minds, we pictured our new life as grey, dingy, cold and that our home would be drafty. Nothing could be further than the truth.
We lived in Poznań, the 5th largest city. We found it to be vibrant, colorful, and cosmopolitan. Poznań is a university town with lots of young people from all over the globe. There’s a lot of international industry.
It has so much to offer, amazing, affordable concerts for a start. My husband saw his favorite instrumentalist, a Swedish trombonist, the day he arrived in Poznań. We saw Hugh Laurie and Paul McCartney in concert as well as our local symphony orchestra.
The city hosted several professional and semi-pro sports teams. We got into soccer in a big way, and had season tickets for our local team.
We came from Arizona, so Poland seemed so very green with many plants we’d never seen growing before; I have a lot of flower photos!
We lived on the third floor in a furnished apartment. The elevator was big enough to hold us and our bikes. The double-pane windows were so nice. I wish I had them in my stateside home. It was just a couple of blocks from a small urban lake. It was a great place for a bike ride.
What was it like cooking in another country? How does your process in the kitchen change when in Poland vs America, if at all?
The fresh markets were a big thing in Poland. I frequented them much more than I visit the farmer’s market near my home in Tucson. I think it’s because it was easier, and they were open daily rather than a few hours on a Saturday. It fit more naturally in my day.
There were fresh markets all over town. During any trip around town, you were bound to pass at least one. I usually travelled by tram, so it was no big deal to hop off, buy some veggies, and catch the next tram. The major tram stops were also a place to buy the most seasonal items. When raspberries, cherries, and white asparagus were in season, someone would set up tables stacked high with the latest harvest at bargain prices.
One of the biggest challenges was learning to work in a smaller kitchen with smaller appliances. If I wanted to bake a three-layer cake, I had to bake each layer separately. I found a great workaround during the winter months: our apartment balcony could to expand my fridge and freezer space.
How did you learn to cook Polish food?
I tried everything imaginable to learn about Polish food. I have many Polish cookbooks, some in English, some in Polish with my google translate notes written into the margins. Oftentimes, I chatted with the chef or waiter about a certain dish’s preparation when we dined out.
My Polish friends were a big help too. They knew my interest, so they made recommendations about where we should eat and dishes we should sample. My friend, Gosia, would email instructions on how she prepared seasonal produce as it arrived in our markets.
For example, I bought a packet of fresh “lima beans” (or so I thought) the first time I saw them in the supermarket. In no time at all, I had an email explaining that the new bean I was seeing was actually bób, broad or fava beans, and that it would be even better if I remove the coating on the individual beans, and here’s a nice herbal vinegarette to turn them into a salad.
One of my closest Polish friends, Ėlzbieta, retired from her job as a technologist in a hotel restaurant. I spent many wonderful hours in her kitchen, asking a lot of questions, and taking notes.
How do you see the effects of history on Polish cuisine (WWII, Communism, etc)?
Polish cuisine before WWII was rather extravagant, at least for those who could afford it. International items like Parmesan cheese and capers were well known in Polish cooking. Things like roasted peacock, crayfish pudding, turtle soup were commonplace.
WWII and the Communist time that followed meant Poles had to be creative, to create mock versions of their favorites, a bean cake, or substituting potatoes for wheat flour in recipes.
A popular dessert when sweets were scarce was to beat sugar into raw eggs. Period. Thankfully, these things have been left in the past. Although, I think many hold fond memories of the sweetened egg drink, kogel mogel.
Tell me about Polish food.
Poland is probably best known for pork, but poultry, turkey (sold ground or in pieces such as a package of legs rather than whole birds), chicken, and duck are very popular. The Polish eat fish a lot. They serve herring, carp, and salmon in many ways.
Polish supermarkets now have most produce in stock year-round, bringing in a lot from countries along the Mediterranean. Traditionally, Polish farms have focused on vegetables that would have a long shelf life, like cabbage (rather than lettuce), potatoes, onions, beets (I have so many beet recipes now, something I’d never eaten before).
The climate is also well suited for most fruit trees and berries. They’re a big exporter of apples. The Polish often include fruit in savory dishes. A stew might include prunes or apples.
As for spices, I was happy to see garlic used in Polish cooking, and I’ve never used so much dill and marjoram before. They are key signatures of Polish dishes.
What are your everyday Polish foods? What types of things are common for breakfasts, dinners, snacks?
I think most people would expect me to say pierogi, and they are a popular item, always made for holidays. There are restaurants that serve nothing but pierogi, but for the average Pole the most important everyday food would be soup.
Soup is always the first course of the main meal year-round. Soup is something every home cook can make from scratch and does regularly. After soup, the main meal, traditionally mid-day, would include a serving of meat, a small serving of vegetables and a big portion of potatoes. The potatoes might be boiled or mashed, and they’re probably seasoned with dill and other herbs.
Breakfast isn’t something sweet in Poland. It might be cold cuts, cheese, and bread or plain yogurt with seeds and dried fruit. The evening meal is similar, something light, an open faced sandwich, or a bowl of soup. Second breakfast is a tradition in Poland. It’s a late morning snack, maybe a piece of cake or pastry and a cup of coffee.
Is there anything eaten in Poland that’s not eaten anywhere else in the world? Anything surprising?
Many things I think of as unique to Poland really aren’t. I love smalec, also known as poor man’s butter or more modernly as bacon butter. It’s rendered pork fat with onion, spices, and shredded green apple. You spread it on bread and top with a pickle. It was the first time I’ve experienced anything like that. But it isn’t very different from German griebenschmalz or the meatier French rillet.
I found in Poland they sell things to facilitate soup making; I wish we had this in the United States. Every market, whether it’s an international chain, or a mom and pop deli on the ground floor of an apartment building, will sell bundles of vegetables for soup making. They might be on a tray and shrink wrapped or simply rubber-banded together.
You’ll get a couple of carrots, maybe a parsnip or a piece of parsley root, a slice of celery root, a piece of leek, a spring of flat-leaf parsley, and maybe a slice of napa cabbage.
The butcher counter will also have chicken carcasses for sale. By that I mean, after they cut off the legs, thighs, wings, and breast to sell them separately. They sell the remaining torso for soup making. For about $2 you have everything you need to make a delicious pot of soup.
What’s your very favorite recipe from Poland? What is your least favorite food that is traditionally Polish?
There are so many Polish dishes that I love, but I think my favorite must be potato pancakes topped with a pork goulash. It’s something I often prepare for guests. If we have leftovers, I like to add a fried egg to the top the next morning and call it my Polish huevos rancheros.
As for my least favorite food, I would have to say flaki. It’s a tripe soup that is reported to cure hangovers. The soup itself is delicious, but the tripe texture is a little too weird for me. I first tried it in an airport cafe. It was prepackaged and heated in a microwave. It probably had very little actual tripe. I thought it was OK.
Then I made flaki because I wanted to include it on my blog, but the homemade version, being a little “meatier”, was a challenge for me. I think it’s one of those things that if you grew up eating it, you love it, but most foreigners pass on flaki.
Are there any ingredients that you love that just aren’t the same unless you’re in Poland?
The dairy in Poland is amazing. The ice cream and yogurt have a wonderful flavor. Polish cows must be very happy.
Big corporate farming hasn’t arrived in Poland yet. Family farms are still the norm, and that seems to make a difference. I’ve started buying grass-fed dairy products when I can find them in the states because now I know that it really does make a difference in the end product.
What made you decide to start a food blog?
Around 2007, I noticed that when I searched for recipes online, more and more, I was going to food blogs rather than corporate websites like epicurious or the food network. I began to follow a couple of blogs, and I loved them. I loved the story that went with the recipe. Even more, I loved learning more about the blogger; it seemed like it would be fun to hang out in the kitchen with them. I loved the generous use of color photos, my favorite part of any cookbook.
A couple of years later, I decided that I wanted to join the fun. If nothing else, eventually, I’d have all of my recipes neatly organized online. I published my first post in June 2009. It was a cake I’d made for my mother’s birthday, complete with date and time stamp on the photo. LOL! I’d like to think my photography has improved over the years.
Has your blog always focused on Polish Food?
What started out as a general food blog with a lot of baking, has evolved into a Polish food blog. Over time, as I began to publish more Polish recipes, I developed a following. I found that people of Polish descent all over the world were eager to stay in touch with their culinary roots.
In the last 5 years, I’ve made the move from hobby blogger to thinking of my blog as a business. A big part of that is remembering to write what my readers want to read. I make a lot of things that I don’t blog about, just because other recipes don’t get the same traction as my Polish recipes.
Part of that transition to a business model has included self-publishing a cookbook last year. For a couple of years, readers had been asking if I had a cookbook, so I finally made it happen. I included some of the most popular recipes from my blog and added some others that just needed to be included, like a smoked sausage.
A recipe that is always popular on my website and made it into the cookbook is szarlotka. It’s the closest thing in Poland to American apple pie and one of our favorites. I’d love to share it with your readers.
If you liked this interview about Polish food, also make sure to check out these recipes that are similar to food eaten in Poland:
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