Food Culture and Tradition

Food, People and Culture Resources

Polish Foods



Fresh whole milk is used mainly by children with the adults preferring soured milk or buttermilk. Sour cream is widely used as an ingredient, as a dressing or a sauce, blended into soups, gravies and as a side dish. Cheeses are available, but the bland smoothness of pot or cottage cheese is preferred both as a spread and in many cooked dishes.


Some fresh fruits and vegetables are eaten in season, but Poles enjoy fruits in the form of compotes and stews and they like their vegetables either well cooked or pickled. Plums, apples, and pears are the most readily available fruits and these are used as compotes, thick richly sweet preserves, fillings for cakes and yeast bakeries and even as condiments with meats for a sweet-sour flavor (but mostly sweet). Vegetables widely used are potatoes, red and green and savoy cabbages, beets, kohlrabi, and smaller quantities of carrots, peas, and beans. Wild mushrooms, fresh or dried, are used in many dishes. Both mushrooms and sauerkraut are used not only alone, but in so many other dishes they can also be considered as flavorings.


Poles enjoy their meats well cooked, tender and juicy and with accompanying sauces or gravies. Broiling or dry roasting are not a part of their culinary practices. Pork and beef are the favorites but chicken, duck, turkey, game fowl and game animals are eaten when available.
Except for herring in many different forms and occasional baked or poached pike or carp, Poles seldom eat fish or seafood. Eggs are used generously in baking and cooking, occasionally as main dish omelets, more frequently as appetizers. Legumes are not widely used. Nuts, especially almonds, find a place in baking or as a garnish.


Rye, wheat, buckwheat, barley, and oats are grown in quantity. Wheat flour is used in all bakery but rye flour is preferred for breads. Barley and buckwheat groats are used almost daily as stuffing, fillings, in soups, or as side dishes to meat and vegetables. This type of side dish is called kasza. Rye bread is a staple at all meals especially in the country, but potatoes often supplant bread at a meal, especially at dinner.

No crumb of bread is ever wasted. Polonaise sauce, famed in many other lands besides Poland, is actually not a sauce in the usual sense, but a toasted mixture of crumbs browned in butter. Cooked vegetables, especially green beans and cauliflower, benefit from this “sauce”. Bread crumbs also form the basic ingredient for poached dumplings served either with meats or with a fruit sauce or sour cream as a dessert. Many fine cakes are made from light mixtures of separated and beaten eggs folded together with fine bread crumbs and ground nuts.


Butter is preferred for cooking and baking and as a spread. Lard, salt pork and bacon fat, rendered chicken, goose or duck fat are also used. Vegetable oils and margarine are used only sparingly


Poles have an insatiable sweet tooth that encompasses a great array of fine baked goods and pastries, tortes, strudels, and mazurkas (rich, buttery cakes). They also enjoy munching raisins and almonds together as a treat. There is a general use of much sugar in beverages, and honey in cakes and drinks. Polish dishes that are purportedly “sweet and sour” are always very sweet with only a hint of the sour. An added sprinkle of sugar is felt to enhance everything from soups and meat, dishes to pickles and fish specialties.


Polish seasonings include sour cream, dill, garlic, paprika, and dried or fresh wild mushrooms. Horse radish is used alone or in combination with finely grated beets as a sauce for fish. Lemons and the fermented juices from grains and pickled vegetables are used for tartness, always tempered with sugar or honey. As mentioned above, sugar is believed to enhance all flavors.
Without diminishing the importance of that little touch of sugar in so many Polish dishes, the Poles also retain a reverence for salt. Perhaps nowhere else in the world is this depicted as beautifully as in the salt mines of Wieliczka where workers have carved a small chapel graced with statues and candlesticks sculpted from salt.


Tea is the most common beverage, served clear or with lemon and sugar. Coffee is generally only served after a more formal meal and then it is served strong and black or with sugar. Beer served in small glasses may accompany meals; wine is used only by the more affluent or “more refined”. Polish vodka is believed to be the finest available, even by Russian standards. It is made from grains or potatoes and is taken straight with appetizers (zakaski). In recent years it has been consumed by rich and poor alike in such quantity as to constitute somewhat of a problem. Krupnik is a fine liqueur prepared from honey spices and vodka, served warm.

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