Poles eat according to the typical continental schedule: a modest breakfast (generally some sandwiches with tea/coffee), a bigger lunch (or historically a “dinner”) at about 13:00-14:00, and a supper at around 19:00.
Many restaurants provide at least one vegetarian meal, making it easy to forgo meat. Most large cities have some vegetarian-only eateries, particularly in the city center. Vegan choices, on the other hand, are very restricted.
Traditional local food
Traditional Polish food is robust and rich in meats, sauces, and vegetables; pickled vegetables are a popular side dish. Modern Polish food, on the other hand, is more varied and emphasizes on healthier options. The quality of “store-bought” food is often extremely excellent, particularly in dairy products, baked goods, veggies, and meat items.
Soup is often served as the first dish at a dinner, followed by the main course. Among soups, probably the most well-known is barszcz czerwony (red beet soup, commonly known as borscht): a spicy and somewhat sour soup eaten hot. It’s often served with dumplings (barszcz z uszkami or barszcz z pierogami) or with a fried pate roll (barszcz z pasztecikiem). Other unusual soups include zupa ogórkowa, a cucumber soup composed of fresh and pickled cucumbers; zupa grzybowa, which is usually prepared with wild mushrooms; and flaki or flaczki, which is well-seasoned tripe. The urek, a sour-rye soup served with traditional Polish sausage and a hard-boiled egg, is the most popular in restaurants.
Pierogi are, of course, a very well-known Polish delicacy. They are often served as an accompaniment to another meal (for example, with barszcz), rather than as the main entrée. They come in a variety of fillings, including cottage cheese and onion, meat, and even wild forest fruits. Gobki are big cabbage rolls filled with a mixture of cereals and meats, steamed or boiled, and served hot with a white sauce or tomato sauce.
Bigos is another distinctive, though lesser-known, Polish dish: a “hunter’s stew” with different meats and vegetables on a pickled cabbage foundation. Bigos is often thick and hearty. Similar components may also be watered down and served as kapuniak, a cabbage soup. Some Austro-Hungarian imports have also gained popularity and been incorporated into Polish cuisine throughout the years. Gulasz, a less spicy form of goulash, and sznycel po wiedesku, a classic schnitzel frequently accompanied with potatoes and a variety of vegetables, are two examples.
When it comes to fast food, foreign imports tend to rule supreme (such as kebab or pizza stands, and fast-food franchises). A zapiekanka, which is an open-faced baguette topped with mushrooms and cheese (or other toppings of choice) and roasted until the cheese melts, is an unusual Polish variation. Zapiekanki is available at a variety of roadside stalls and pubs. Placki ziemniaczane (polish potato pancakes) are also offered in certain pubs. Knysza is a Polish hamburger that is considerably (much) larger and includes meat, a variety of veggies, and sauces. Drodówka is a sweet yeast bread (often in the shape of kolach) or a pie stuffed with filling composed of: poppy seed mass; vanilla, chocolate, coconut, or advocaat pudding; baked apples; cocoa mass; sweet curd cheese or fruits.
Poland is also renowned for two distinct cheeses, both of which are handcrafted in the [Podhale] mountain range in the south. The most well-known is Oscypek, a hard, salty cheese produced from unpasteurized sheep milk and smoked (or not). It pairs nicely with alcoholic drinks like beer. Bryndza is a less frequent soft cheese produced from sheep milk (and therefore salty), with a consistency comparable to spreadable cheeses. It is often served with toast or baked potatoes. Both cheeses are protected by the European Union’s Protected Designation of Origin (like the French Roquefort, or the Italian Parmegiano-Reggiano).
Polish bread is offered at bakeries (piekarnia in Polish) and stores, and it’s a good idea to inquire about the availability of hot bread (in a bakery). Poles are frequently extremely loyal to their favorite bread providers and are willing to wake up very early in the morning to acquire a fresh loaf. The most popular bread (zwyky) is composed of rye or rye and wheat flour with sourdough and is best eaten fresh with butter alone or with a piece of ham. Many different types of breads and bread rolls may be purchased, and their names and recipes differ based on location. Many bakeries sell sweet Challah bread (chaka in Polish).
Polish cake stores (cukiernia) are especially worth noting, since eating cakes is a major custom in Poland. There are located in every city and often offer local specialties. Cheesecake (sernik), applecake (jabecznik), yeast fruit cakes (drodówka) – especially with plums or strawberries, a variety of cream cakes (kremówki), babka which is a plain sweet cake, sometimes with an addition of cocoa, mazurek, fale dunaju, metrowiec, ciasto jogurtowe which is a sponge filled with yoghurt mous
Polish sausages (kiebasy) are available in supermarkets and butcher shops (rzenik). There are dozens of distinct kinds of sausages, and the majority of them may be eaten without additional preparation. As a result, uncooked sausages such as biaa kiebasa (traditionally eaten in urek or barszcz biay soup) must be boiled, fried, or baked before consumption. Some sausages are best fried or grilled over an open fire (which is probably as popular as barbecuing). Local sausages vary by location in Poland (for example, Lisiecka in the Kraków area).
Most cities along the Baltic Sea coast provide Polish fish and chips (smaalnia ryb). On the coast and in the Masuria, you can also locate highly regarded fish smokehouses (wdzarnia ryb), which offer a variety of smoked local fish (mostly marine fish on the coast, freshwater fish in Masuria). Smokehouses may be difficult to discover since they do not typically show advertisements and are often situated in rural locations. It’s a good idea to conduct some research and ask locals for instructions and assistance with your quest. Salmon (oso), cod (dorsz), flounder (fldra), rose fish (karmazyn), herring (led), halibut (halibut), pollock (mintaj), hake (morszczuk), mackerel (makrela), skipper (szprotki, szprot), trout (pstrg), brown trout (tro), eel Smoked butterfish (malana) should be consumed with caution since, although tasty, it may induce diarrhea in some individuals and should not be consumed by youngsters or the elderly.
Smoked fish, the most popular of which is mackerel, can be purchased across Poland (it is advised to buy it in a busy shop for full, fresh flavour as it deteriorates quickly; for example in a local market). You may also purchase herrings marinated in vinegar or oil anyplace in Poland. Batter-fried herring or other fish in a vinegar marinade is a popular Polish dish.
If you want to eat cheaply, go to a milk bar (bar mleczny). A milk bar is a simple fast food restaurant that offers inexpensive Polish cuisine. Nowadays, it is becoming more difficult to locate one. They were developed by the communist authorities of Poland in the mid-1960s as a way to provide inexpensive meals to workers in businesses that did not have an official cafeteria. Its moniker derives from the fact that, until the late 1980s, the majority of the meals provided there were dairy-based and vegetarian (especially during the martial law period of the beginning of the 1980s, when meat was rationed). The milk bars are often sponsored by the government.
It is not unusual to come across individuals from different socioeconomic groups – students, businesspeople, university professors, elderly people, and even the homeless – all dining side by side in a 1970s-style atmosphere. People are probably drawn in by the high quality of the cuisine at an unbelievable price (veggie main dishes start at only a few zoty!). However, a word of caution: total nutjobs do eat in milk bars, so even if you go for the food, you’ll end up with supper and a show. Are you curious about what the program will entail? Each performance is different, but most of them will leave you scratching your head and requiring you to suspend your disbelief.
Generally, gratuity is not included in the amount of the check in Polish restaurants and pubs, so your waiter would appreciate it if you give them a tip together with the payment. You should tip 10% of the entire bill on average. If you leave a 15% or 20% tip, you should have gotten outstanding service. Also, adding “Dzikuj” (“thank you”) after paying indicates that you do not anticipate change, so be cautious if you’re paying for a 10 z coffee with a 100 z note. Having said that, many Poles may not give a tip unless the service was outstanding. Poles do not often tip bartenders.