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.
What is it?
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 lesser 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 and 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;
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.
Daquise Restaurant, 20 Thurloe Street, SW7 2LT
Sowa Restaurant, Ealing Broadway
Head over to Ealing for stunningly presented dishes, top-notch pierogi and cakes to die for courtesy of Sowa's in-house patisserie.
Sowa Restaurant, 32-33 High Street Ealing Broadway, W5 5DB
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. There's a terrace to enjoy in the warmer months too.
Ognisko, 55 Prince's Gate, Exhibition Road, SW7 2PG
Not strictly an out-and-out Polish restaurant, Baltic serves a fusion of Polish, Russian and Hungarian fare in its cavernous, skylit dining space. Both food and setting are brilliant, with pierogi and breaded pork finding pride of place on the menu.
Baltic, 74 Blackfriars Road, SE1 8HA
Lowiczanka, Ravenscourt Park
The restaurant at the Polish Social and Cultural Association (POSK) is impressive. Go for the huge sharing platter (£34 between 2 people) for a little bit of everything, including bigos, pierogi and Gołąbki.
Lowiczanka, Polish Social and Cultural Association, 238-246 King Street, W6 0RF
Bar Polski, Holborn
If you're after tasty, homemade Polish food that prioritises comfort over sophistication then Bar Polski is unlikely to disappoint. It's hidden away off High Holborn but worth the hunt, with warm service and a more than decent selection of Polish beers and vodkas.
Bar Polski, 11 Little Turnstile, WC1V 7DX
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. Many a high street is now home to a Polski Sklep, most notably in Ealing, Shepherd's Bush, Acton, Willesden and Streatham.
Autograf in Haringey
Huge portions at reasonable prices and particularly delicious potato pancake with country goulash, according to Antonia Kanczula.
Autograf, 488 West Green Road, N15 3DA
Londek Café in Stratford
Nominated by Thomas Derstroff
Londek Cafe, 196 The Grove, E15 1NS
L'Autre in Mayfair
jwadman1504 says this is possibly the only Polish-Mexican restaurant in London. The food is terrific and, upstairs at least, it's like being in someone's house. Ideal for dinner after a visit to the Curzon Mayfair.
L'Autre, 5B Shepherd Street, W1J 7HP
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.