Pierogi, pork schnitzel, hunter’s stew or cabbage rolls are some of the most popular dishes of traditional Polish cuisine, attracting foreigners to restaurants. With the independence day around the corner, it’s a good idea to learn the origins of Polish cuisine, its unique traits and characteristic dishes. Did you know that the most popular Polish dishes are Tatar-Turkish, Russian and German in origin? If you didn’t, keep reading!
The areas of Republic of Poland were historically inhabited by a mosaic of different nations, so it’s no wonder that the history of Polish cuisine are tightly connected to both eastern and western Europe.
Hunter’s stew – Polish export good.
The hunter’s stew arrived here from Lithuania in the 15th century, together with king Wladyslaw Jagiello. The dish was likely invented by some thrifty housewife who wished to make use of the cold cuts and holiday meats as well as the Christmas cabbage. After combining them, adding thyme, juniper and prune, a dish was made that it’s hard to imagine a Christmas dinner without.
Depending on the additions, there are four variation of the hunter’s stew: Lithuanian with sour, wine apples; scalawag’s mostly made of chopped meat and fat; Hungarian with spicy paprika and a lot of cream and hunter’s – the most Polish one, with wild meat: doe or rabbit together with juniper berries.
It’s an irreplaceable dish for cold afternoons – it gives strength and warmth, sometimes it also inspires poets, the taste of hunter’s stew was praised by Adam Mickiewicz himself in Pan Tadeusz:
„The hunter’s stew was cooked in the pots; hard to describe with words
The quaint taste of the hunter’s stew, of wonderful color and smell;
Can only hear the ringing of words and the order of rhymes,
But the city stomach won’t understand its content.
To appreciate the Lithuanian songs and dishes,
One has to be healthy, live in the country, return from a hunting.
After all, without those condiments it’s still quite a dish
This hunter’s stew, for it consists of good vegetables.
You take chopped, pickled cabbage,
Which, as the saying goes, just puts itself in the mouth;
Locked in the pot, covers with its damp body
The best bits of the refined meat;
And it gets roasted, until the flame squeezes all out of it
Living juices, until it boils out of the vessel’s rim
And the air all around is filled with aroma.”
Pirogi – a hit of the Polish cuisine
Cabbage and mushroom pirogi is one of the basic dishes for Polish Christmas. Despite both Polish people and foreigners alike considering pirogi to be a traditional dish of the olden and modern Polish cuisine, their motherland is China, and they’re also present in the Italian, French and Russian cuisine. Legend has it that it arrived in Poland in the 13th century with a Dominican missionary, Jacek Odrowaz, who loved their taste during his stay in Kiev. Since it was one of the cheapest dishes, he decided to get the recipe and he would use it to feed the poor ever since.
Contrary to the legend, initially it was only prepared for special occasions and holidays. The special medieval pirogi differed from one another not only in taste, but also in shape and they also had their own names. For weddings, kurniks were prepared – big pirogi with different stuffing, but always containing hen meat; for wakes, knyszas were served – round pirogi with sweet or salty stuffing; hreczuszkas were made of buckwheat flour, and birthday guests were served sweet tiny pirogi called saniezkas and socznias. It was only in the 16th century when they started entering the traditional Polish cuisine for good and became one of the most popular Polish dishes.
Despite their popularity, pirogi don’t enjoy much recognition from two regions: Silesia and Kashubia. On the other hand, in Pomerania, Podlasie and Greater Poland they only arrived in menus after 1918. The base of the dish is flour dough and stuffing. Typical pirogi are stuffed with: meat, vegetables (cabbage, mushrooms, spinach, lentils) seasonal fruits (blueberries, strawberries and peaches). In the Eastern Lands and Lubelszczyzna, the leaders are Russian pirogi with cottage cheese and potatoes.
Pirogi is one of the few Polish dishes that can be served both to meat lovers and vegetarians alike, and the selection of stuffing is pretty much unlimited and depends on the cook’s creativity.
Cabbage rolls on a plate.
Those who don’t know that taste have no idea what a Sunday dinner with grandma is like: delicate, ground meat and aromatic cabbage that melts in the mouth. The taste and smell that will always stay in the memory, with us trying to replicate them in our own kitchen to a varying degree of success. Cabbage rolls, which are cabbage leaves stuffed with meat, have a regular spot on the list of the greatest Polish main courses. Have you ever wondered why they tend to be called little doves? As the dictionary states, the etymology of the name means „a dish made of groats and chopped meat rolled in cabbage leaves”, and it originates from the Ukrainian word holubci (little pigeon). Since 1800s, when it first arrived on the tables of nobility and peasants alike, it’s been one of the basic dishes characteristic to our national cuisine. As legends say, the nobility would eat stuffed pigeons rolled in cabbage leaves, while the poor people would roll groats and potatoes in cabbage.
Cabbage rolls enjoy popularity not just in Poland, but also in Scandinavia, Caucasian countries and Middle East and, as historical records claim, this dish used to be the staple of the Ottoman Empire’s cuisine. It was also eaten in ancient Greece and Rome, although in a slightly different version – the stuffing (lamb meet) was rolled in grape leaves.
Cabbage rolls for dinner are a foolproof idea for little kids that are not fond of meat. It’s easy to hide them inside the soft little cabbage leaves. They can also be prepared in the diet version, all it takes is using lamb, rabbit or poultry meet as the stuffing.
Simply pork schnitzel
Compared to hunter’s stew or pirogi, the history of the Polish pork schnitzel is relatively short. It arrived on our tables in the nineteenth century, but it only became a commonplace in the early 1960's, mostly due to a significant raise in pig breeding. Despite pigs being kept on Polish farm for centuries, a breaded pork schnitzel hadn’t been a popular dinner dish before, it had been eaten neither in peasant huts nor noble mansions. What’s the reason behind it? It’s probably that pork itself was seen as a meat that was „impure coming from a filthy animal that digs the ground with its snout”, not to mention common, hard to digest and unhealthy. That’s why more than one nobleman back then would take offense to being served this regular, fried meat.
As food critics say, a breaded pork schnitzel is a younger and poorer version of the Vienna schnitzel from Austria, the base of which is lamb meat breaded with breadcrumbs, fried with distilled butter. A Polish pork schnitzel consists of a middle loin seasoned with salt and pepper, rolled in stirred egg and breadcrumbs. The secret of its unique taste is frying it with lard. And perfect sides are fried cabbage and boiled potatoes. It is definitely not a diet dish, but once in a while we can spoil ourselves with a dinner like that.
When taking a closer look on the history of Polish cuisine it’s hard not to notice the influence of other civilizations, because despite Poland always being a through and through European country, it’s also always been a borderland. It was a natural bridge between Europe and Asia in terms of civilization, culture and cuisine. Throughout the ages it borrowed from this neighborhood, and that’s where lies the secret of Polish cuisine.
We invite to try the dishes of Polish cuisine at our restaurant, where we value the origins of Polish cuisine a lot and do our best to prepare our meals using traditional recipes.