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12 Traditional Polish Dishes Everyone Should Try

Melanie has been interested in cultures and languages since her youth. She also runs a YouTube channel: The Curious Coder.

Discover some of the traditional foods of Poland, like these pierogi.

Discover some of the traditional foods of Poland, like these pierogi.

If there is any cuisine that is known for being hearty, it's Polish food. Many Polish dishes contain eggs, cream, and meats, making them very filling.

Chicken and pork are also commonly used in Polish cuisine but aren't always the central part of the meal. Cabbage, mushrooms, and potatoes are considered staples in Polish kitchens as these ingredients are used in a large number of meals.

Polish food often contains a lot of cabbage and potatoes and is definitely the kind of food that sticks to your ribs.

Polish food often contains a lot of cabbage and potatoes and is definitely the kind of food that sticks to your ribs.

The food of Poland has a lot of outside influences from bordering countries such as Lithuania, Hungary, Belarus, Ukraine, and Germany. Elements of cuisine from Russia, Turkey, and even Italy can also be found in the food because of the historical connections Poland had with these countries.

Polish food is rich and delicious and full of reminders of how life was lived in Poland over the centuries. There is something about these meals that even makes a non-Pole's mouth water! Read on to learn more about what Polish cuisine has to offer and, as the Polish would say, "Jedzcie, pijcie i popuszczajcie pasa!" ("Eat, drink, and loosen your belt!")

Chodnik is a cold soup made from beets. This dish closely resembles the Russian soup known as borscht.

Chodnik is a cold soup made from beets. This dish closely resembles the Russian soup known as borscht.

Starting Off: Polish Soups

Most meals in Poland start off with a soup of some sort.

  • Perhaps the most commonly discussed soup of Poland is czernina, which is made from duck blood. This sweet soup was featured in an episode of "Bizarre Foods" but is a quite common and delicious soup that can even be found in many Polish restaurants in America.
  • Chłodnik is another favorite soup that is made from beets, cucumbers, and dill. This cold soup is similar to borscht as it has a red or pink color (depending on how much milk is added to the soup.)
  • As the usage of mushrooms in Polish cuisine is commonplace, there are also soups that are made from a variety of mushrooms. Zupa grzybowa is one such soup that can be made from a variety of mushrooms depending on what the cook desires or what is available during a particular season.
  • Another Polish soup is żurek, which is made from soured rye flour and meat.
Pierogi can be either boiled or fried. The best pierogi doesn't come out of a box.

Pierogi can be either boiled or fried. The best pierogi doesn't come out of a box.

Polish Main Dishes

The main course is the most essential part of the meal. Food in Poland is highly regional, but many dishes are used as the main course all over Poland. Some of these dishes are even popular outside of Poland as many former Poles have introduced these dishes to the new regions in which they live.

  • Pierogi are perhaps one of the most widely known and loved of Polish dishes. These stuffed dumplings can contain a variety of different things and are quite a versatile dish in that it can be made sweet and stuff with fruits or even chocolate or, more commonly, contain something more suitable for dinners such as meat, sauerkraut, mushrooms, or potatoes.
  • Bigos is another favorite dish, made up of sauerkraut and meat. If you've tried choucroute before (a popular French dish which you have to try,) this is very similar, but it is not quite as acidic.
Cabbage rolls are a "must try" part of Polish cuisine.

Cabbage rolls are a "must try" part of Polish cuisine.

My favorite Polish dish is Gołąbki which is cabbage rolls (my dad makes the best.) It is just seasoned meat and rice wrapped in boiled cabbage leaves and then baked with a light tomato-ey sauce. Many recipes also contain mushrooms and other types of stuffing.

Cabbage rolls are a traditional Polish recipe, but many people in neighboring countries make a variation of this wonderful dish.

Placki (Polish potato pankcakes)

Placki (Polish potato pankcakes)

Placki ziemniaczane are potato pancakes that are absolutely delicious, but probably very bad for you. These are made from grated potatoes or sometimes mashed potatoes (which is how I prefer it) and are fried in a frying pan with butter. Most folks seem to prefer eating potato pancakes with applesauce, but I enjoy this with sour cream.

This is what Polish sausage looks like (uncooked.) Yummy!

This is what Polish sausage looks like (uncooked.) Yummy!

Kielbasa and Polish Sausage

Sausage is an essential part of Polish fare, and no article on Polish food would be complete without the mention of Polish sausages.

  • Kiszka (from a famous polka "Who Stole the Kishka") is a very popular sausage in Poland and can also be found in areas of the US where there is a large number of Polish immigrants. This sausage is made from a variety of different meats but also contains either grains or, more commonly potatoes.
  • Being from an area of the US that is densely populated with Polish people (South Bend, Indiana,) we can buy sausage in the supermarket that is just called "Polish sausage." It contains yummy ingredients like garlic and marjoram and is very popular at picnics where it is served instead of, or alongside bratwurst.

What Is Kielbasa?

"Real" Polish sausage can be hard to obtain if you do not live in this area. Some people call it kielbasa, but the word kielbasa doesn't mean a specific type of sausage, it just means "sausage" in general.

If you would like to try ordering this sausage online or would like to check your local supermarket for it, it's important to know that it doesn't look remotely like the stuff Eckrich makes. It looks more like bratwurst but is paler. Even though it can be difficult to find, it is worth it as it is ten times yummier than bratwurst and a billion times better than Eckrich!

Kolaczki are wonderful butter cookies made with a fruit or cheese filling.

Kolaczki are wonderful butter cookies made with a fruit or cheese filling.

Quick Poll

Polish Desserts

Polish food is wonderful with the delicious soups and filling main dishes but is not complete without the amazing desserts that are what makes Polish cuisine so famous among non-Poles. Polish cuisine is full of cookies and cakes that are to die for. There are many different recipes for different tastes when it comes to dessert so anyone will enjoy a Polish sweet treat.

  • Kolaczki is perhaps one of the most popular desserts from Poland. These are folded cookies that contain a fruit filling (usually apricot) or a sweet cheese filling and are lightly dusted with powdered sugar. Traditionally, these delicious cookies were served at Christmastime, but are now a year-round treat. Kolaczkis are best fresh, so it is best if they are homemade or if you are in a Polish area you can buy them in local supermarkets.
  • Babka is a delicious yeast cake that is shaped like an angel food cake. Babka is known for being an Easter dish. Babka is often made with raisins mixed in the dough and contains a fruit topping, but more and more cheese or chocolate babkas are being made (because everyone loves a chocolate babka!)
Mazurek (or Mazurka) is a beautiful, delicious, flat cake made from ingredients similar to that of kolaczki.

Mazurek (or Mazurka) is a beautiful, delicious, flat cake made from ingredients similar to that of kolaczki.

Mazurka/mazurek is not only a Polish folk dance, a sparrow, or someone from Mazur, but it is also the name of a wonderful flat cake. This cake is made from similar ingredients as kolaczki but is rolled flat.

Like kolaczki, Mazurka also contains jam, but usually includes more than one type of jams in one cake. These jams are used to add a delicious fruity flavor to the cake and serve as the décor.

Quick Poll

Where to Find Polish Food

As you've probably noticed, Polish meals are full of calories, but what is gained in calories is made up for in the wonderful flavors that are a part of Polish food.

There are many ways to get a hold of good recipes for Polish food. If you live in a predominantly Polish area such as Chicago or Detroit, it should be no problem finding a good Polish recipe. Polish food is very popular, and thus some cookbooks contain some fantastic Polish recipes.

© 2010 Melanie Palen