We have just embarked on a seven-week journey around Eastern Europe and North Africa; we feel privileged to have the opportunity to experience new cultures and cuisines.
We spent eight days in Poland, where we enjoyed visiting Krakow, Warsaw, and Gdansk. Our favorites were Krakow and Gdansk. Instead of a popular view of Poland being a dour land of older ladies in head scarves sweeping their fireplaces, the Poland we visited was young, alive and vibrant. Along the way we tasted many new Polish delicacies.
First Course: Soup
Warm and hearty soup is central to the Polish cuisine. One day in Krakow, we visited a “Milk Bar” -- an inexpensive, no-frills cafeteria style restaurant that used to be subsidized by the government during the Communist era. Here we tried: Zurek--a white soup from a sourdough base that included a hard boiled egg and sausage and Barszcz, otherwise known as Borscht--a clear tangy, beet soup. Both were pretty good, but basic. Later in our trip, at the Gdansk Solidarity Museum, we elevated our soup game by trying Carrot and Orange Creme soup. This was definitely more gourmet than the first soups we tried!
Pierogi are ravioli-like dumplings that come in all shapes and sizes. We tried a combo platter in Warsaw, which included Potato, Duck, Cheese, and Spinach.
Our favorites are the Russian Pierogi--which are not Russian at all, but are filled with a mixture of boiled potatoes mixed with quark (a type of cheese) and seasoned with salt and pepper They are served with fried onions (sometimes crispy … sometimes sauteed.) Yum! Some of the pierogi we tried were light and delicate; others were more dense. The thickness of the dough was inversely correlated to the quality of the restaurant!
And, on the potato front… they are everywhere! Boiled, baked, mashed, fried. The magazine on the LOT Polish airline even included an article titled, “22 ways to eat potatoes”. Potato doughnuts, anyone?
We also dined on several traditional entrees: Beef Cheeks with wine sauce and Pig Knuckle. Both were delicious. Sometimes they were served with an extra flair, including a flower!
And, we tried a few more unusual dishes -- Bigos , a sauerkraut stew cooked with meat (surprisingly tasty) and Golabki, cabbage stuffed with meat and rice.
Dinner of the Knights
For Ed’s birthday, we celebrated at a Krakow restaurant in a medieval cellar. Here we dined in the style of the Knights of the middle ages. Wild boar. Lamb chops. Goose carpaccio. Clear chicken soup that the bride and groom drink on their wedding night. And, Chilean wine that had a label printed in Polish. (Who knew that Chilean wineries can customize their wines this way?)
Lots of Other Cuisines
Lest you think that Poland only offers traditional dishes with lots of potatoes, we also enjoyed seeing the emerging “foodie culture”. We were surprised to see the variety or restaurants, many with inventive names.
Since Gdansk is along the waterfront, the seafood was fresh and delightful (with potatoes, of course).
To Top it Off: Vodka!
We tried many types of artisanal vodka (wodka), which was often served as a “bonus drink” with the check. Here’s our (not-too-scientific) analysis: Ginger -- very strong, tastes like a huge portion of candied ginger; Blackberry -- tastes like cough syrup; Pear -- not too “true” of a flavor; Mint -- nice and subtle; Hazelnut -- not too sweet and our favorite!
As they say in Poland, Na zdrowie! (Cheers!)