If you love good, honest, hearty food of the land but don’t know where to start, we'd suggest a dip into the world of Polish food and drink. Below is a beginner’s guide to the world of irresistibly tasty meat and vegetables.
Pierogi — dumplings
Most cultures have their addictive dumplings – from our suet clumps to Chinese shumai to Japanese Gyoza. The Poles have pierogi which, debatably, trumps the lot. It can be served with a savoury filling (mushrooms, potatoes, cheese) or stuffed with sweet fruit; however, minced pork and cabbage is king. Traditionally topped with sour cream or crispy bacon bits and fried onions. Wonderful stuff.
Bigos — cabbage stew or ‘hunter’s stew’
A hearty winter-warming stew with no standard recipe, and subject to family and regional variations. It usually consists of a sauerkraut base with mushrooms, seasoning and an equal or less measure of various meats. Usually dished up with potatoes or rye bread.
Gołąbki - cabbage wrapped pork
Delectable parcels of spiced minced pork and rice, wrapped with very lightly boiled cabbage leaves, baked up and eaten with vegetables, sour cream, or a lovely thick tomato sauce.
There are numerous varieties of Polish soups, ranging from the simple tomato to duck’s blood. Our recommendations include zupa grzybowa (forest mushrooms soup) and żurek (sour rye flour soup), which can be complimented with meat, halved eggs and served in a bread-bowl.
Kiełbasa — Polish sausage
Kiełbasa are various types of tasty Polish sausage, such as big fat wiejska (garlicky porky veal) and thin Kabanosy (caraway seed pork). Unbelievably versatile, they can be served cold, hot, unaccompanied, with mustard or thrown into Bigos and soups. It’s been known to adorn cheese on toast. Not a recognised dish, more a virtually unheard of post-pub makeshift snack.
Kotlet schabowy — breaded pork
Think a thicker pork wiener schnitzel with fried/mashed/boiled potatoes or even a side of pierogi. There might be some salad lurking around the plate too. Coleslaw counts as salad.
Placki kartoflane — potato pancakes
Shallow fried seasoned potato pancakes, stacked and covered with sauce, be it mushroom, meat, or Polish-style goulash. Some go for a helping of sour cream (you might have noticed a pattern with this) and the sweet-toothed opt for fruit syrup.
Faworki — sweet fried dough or 'angel wings'
Fantastically fattening deep fried dough sprinkled with dusting sugar and every bit as yummy as it sounds. Can be eaten anytime but are often snacked upon during religious holidays such as ‘Fat Thursday’, just before Lent.
Bison grass vodka
Distilled rye flavoured with Bison grass, resulting in a pleasant and unusual vodka. Mix with apple juice to make a delightful cocktail known as ‘szarlotka’ in Poland and, ahem, a ‘Frisky Bison’ over here. Or have it with ginger beer instead, if you prefer. Use its (stupid) British moniker at the bar or knock it up yourself at home with two parts Wódka, one part mixer.
A non-boozy drink made from fresh or dried fruits, boiled in sugary water and left to cool. The result is a light, refreshing and very sweet concoction.
Armed with a guide to the good stuff, where in London can you get it? Here are a few recommendations, favoured by ex-pats and foodies alike;
- Gessler at Daquise, South Kensington. The London counterpart of the highly successful Michelin-starred U Kucharzy restaurant in the homeland, where the ever-changing and mouth-watering menu is as tempting as any other.
- The Knapya, Ravenscourt Park. Another deservedly lauded and authentic place to get your fix, with an excitingly large and varied menu.
- Magnolia Café, Ealing Broadway. Head over to Ealing for their pierogi and cakes.
- Mamuska!, Elephant & Castle. The potato pancakes are divine. The restaurant often has homemade Kompot.
- Ognisko, Kensington/Knightsbridge. This listed gorgeous Georgian house, grand and romantic, is home to a Polish club but anyone is welcome to dine. Specialising in authentic Polish cuisine, it also offers continental dishes.
- Patio, Shepherds Bush. Family-run and kitted out like a relative's sitting room, offers a three-course menu for around £15 and has consistently favourable reviews.
- POSK, Ravenscourt Park. The restaurant at the Polish Social and Cultural Association is top-notch. Go for the huge sharing platter (£30 between 2 people) for a little bit of everything, including bigos, peirogi and Gołąbki.
- Tatra, Shepherds Bush. Delightfully modern Polish and Eastern European restaurant, stylish décor, reasonably priced and an extensive range of Polish vodka on offer.
- Zapiecek, Streatham. A cracking authentic little place, and we’ll be reviewing it on our pages soon.
- Supermarkets. The selection of Polish food on offer has grown over the past few years in the big stores, and specialist shops can be found all over London, notably in Ealing and Acton. Polsmak in Dalston Kingsland offers a huge selection of Polish products; from books to baby food. You can even shop online.
- Autograf in Haringey: huge portions at reasonable prices and particularly delicious potato pancake with country goulash, according to Antonia Kanczula
- Londek Café in Maryland (Stratford), nominated by Thomas Derstroff
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As ever with these articles, the list above is intended as a starting point to which we'll add your own recommendations, so please give generously in the comments.
This article is part of our Best of London Food and Drink series. Visit the page for more recommendations of where to enjoy the capital's top food and drink, categorised by cuisine, food type and more.