With the influx over the last few years of Poles into the UK and Ireland Polish food has made it onto the displays at the major supermarkets and is not just confined to specialist retailers. This is a good development because the cuisine provides nutritious no nonsense comfort food which belies the stereotypes by being highly tasty and rewarding.
In the past in London I’ve patronised two Eastern European establishments. Daquise in Thurloe Place around the corner from South Kensington Underground Station is the oldest Polish restaurant in London (established 1947), the place where the Polish government-in-exile would meet to plan campaigns against the Communist regime. It was refurbished after a fire and reopened looking just the same as before in 2006! Upstairs there is a cosy restaurant which is happy to serve you Polish staples like pirogi (ravioli-like dumplings stuffed with mushrooms or cheese), golabki (cabbage rolls), platski (potato pancakes) and bigos (meat and cabbage hunter’s stew), all of which just happen to feature on Daquise’s special Polish platter. Or they are equally happy to serve you good coffee and excellent dark chocolate cake. Downstairs the deal is the same with a small bar serving 15 vodkas! I It is an oasis of comfort food, sensible prices and continuity in an area not noted for these qualities. There are certainly Polish cafes with better food but you will enjoy the Polish beer and the Polish vodka, the small prices, the kasha, the sense of history and continuity, and the no-nonsense-but-with-a-heart-of-gold waitresses.
Borshtch N’tears not far away in Beauchamp Street is in fact Russian (or more accurately from over the border in Ukraine, but some of this was Polish until WW11, it’s complicated!) but enjoys a far less sedate reputation for it was once a good, if somewhat rowdy, place to go for a drink late at night. This place sells Russian food as it should be. The borscht tastes exactly as it should, the piroski are soft & tasty. They sell salo, holodec and shuba. The plmeni and shashlik are authentic, the food is plentiful, Ukrainian size portions and their selections of vodkas are the real deal. Oh, and more importantly, the atmosphere is exactly as it should be, free & boisterous. The musicians play great Russian music, really creating an unbeatable atmosphere.
So I was looking forward to sampling Polish cuisine on its home turf and because Poland had its “special friends” from Russian there until 1989 there is also a selection of Ukrainian, Byelorussian, Georgian and Armenian restaurants in Kraków. So these days there is plenty of variety even if first time visitors might get the impression that the Polish National dish is something called a “Kebabsky” with a “Chessburgy” a close second! Ignoring such delights when I was in Kraków a few days ago I enjoyed spending time reading at Massolit, drinking warm beer (alarmingly good!) at Alchemia, wandering through Kazimierz and staving off the cold by drinking cups of Grzaniec Galicyjski (Galicia is the old name for Southern Poland) – a mulled wine served from street stands in Rynek Glowny.
A Kraków cafe forever in Mittel Europa
Going through the seat of the Polish Kings, Wavel Castle overlooking Kraków, on a cold day we appreciated the high standard in the spotless visitor’s restaurant where we refuelled and warmed up with two staples, bowls of Borshtch served with potato croquettes and White Borshtch with sausage. They were both accompanied with very good bread and a pottery mug of traditional Polish mulled wine. More than enough to reinvigorate the body and soul before setting forth to explore the fascinating spiritual, cultural and educational capital of Free Poland and the actual capital and seat of the Polish Kings for over 400 years. Here are the recipes for a typical Polish winter warmer experience.
White Borshtch with sausage
Makes 5/6 generous portions of this guaranteed winter warmer.
450 g. Polish sausage
1 litre buttermilk
1 cup milk
3 tablespoons flour
Salt to taste
Boiled potatoes, optional
Hard boiled egg, optional
Prepared horseradish, optional
Place .75 litres of water in a large pan. Add sausage and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low-simmer and cook, covered, for 30 minutes. Remove sausage, reserving cooking liquid, and set sausage aside to cool.
Add buttermilk to cooking liquid and return to boil, reduce heat to low and simmer.
In a medium bowl, combine milk and egg. Gradually whisk in flour and stir until smooth. Add 3 tablespoons of the simmering soup base to the milk-egg mixture and stir to combine (this tempers the egg so it doesn’t curdle when added to the soup base). Slowly drizzle milk-egg mixture into the simmering soup, whisking continuously until all has been added, continue to simmer until soup has thickened. Add salt to taste.
Serve with reserved Polish sausage. This may also be served with boiled potatoes, slices of hard boiled egg and a dollop of prepared horseradish.
Borshtch (Beetroot Soup)
Borshtch with potato croquettes
Makes approximately 6 servings.
1 large onion
450 g. beetroot
450 g. potatoes
2 garlic cloves
2 tbsp oil
1 litre vegetable stock or beetroot cooking liquid (you can get this from canned or bottled beetroot)
Salt and Pepper
2 tbsp lemon Juice
Pinch of chopped chives
0.175 litre thick plain yoghurt or soured cream
Cook the beetroot in a saucepan of salted water, bring to the boil and then simmer until tender. Allow to cool, peel and chop.
Peel and chop the onion and potatoes and sauté in the oil, stirring frequently, for about 10 minutes.
Crush the garlic cloves and add to the sautéed onions and potatoes and continue cooking for 5 minutes.
Add the vegetable stock, chopped beetroot, lemon juice and salt and pepper, bring back to the boil and simmer for 20 minutes.
Allow to cool slightly and then put through a liquidiser until smooth. Reheat before serving, pour into bowls and garnish with a swirl of the yoghurt or sour cream and the chopped chives.
This is normally accompanied by cylindrical potato croquettes. Croquettes in Poland are basically made from a thin rolled pancake stuffed with potato, mushrooms, meat, cabbage, sauerkraut or combinations of those ingredients. They are then covered in breadcrumbs, fried in a pan and usually served usually with the clear soup. If you use mashed potato made the day before it improves the taste.
GRZANIEC – Polish mulled wine
In pot combine 1 litre dry red wine, 5-6 Teaspoons of sugar, a grating of nutmeg and a pinch or two of cinnamon and ground cloves and heat to boiling. You can also use a sweet red wine, in which case omit or decrease the amount of sugar.
For more on Kraków, the heart of Polonia see;