Dining out in restaurants in Poland is a delicious adventure and one you don’t want to miss! But, how do you order like a native when traveling in Poland?
“There is nothing easier than that” – some people may say, “everything is translated into English anyway”. Yes, indeed, there are hundreds of restaurants where one can find their Polish menus translated into English, German, Russian, and many other languages. Those are mostly large, chain restaurants often mentioned in travel guide books. Those menus are probably done professionally, with sophisticated design, however travel guide books are not very helpful with finding a place with a local Polish “home-like” food and atmosphere. A good idea when visiting Poland is to turn into side streets, far away from the hustle and bustle of the city center and look for small family restaurants, which often don’t look very appealing at first glance. More than likely these are going to be your best choice to taste authentic Polish food. We need to remember, however, that in places like that, there are no menu descriptions other than in the Polish language. And that is why we have prepared some tips on how to read a Polish menu.
Basically, what we need to know about Polish eating habits is the fact that there are three main meals during the day:
1. Sniadanie – Breakfast
This is the first meal we eat in the morning, simply speaking – breakfast. Usually this meal is served with coffee, tea, or less frequently, with juice.
In Poland the most typical breakfast contains eggs in any possible form:
• Jajko sadzone – fried or poached egg
• Jajecznica na boczku lub kielbasie – scrambled egg with bacon or sausage
• Tosty z jajkiem sadzonym – toasted bread with fried egg
• Jajko na miekko lub na twardo – Soft-boiled or hard-boiled egg
Another breakfast proposition, which we can find on pretty much every Polish table is a sandwich (these are only some examples of the most popular ones):
• Kanapka z serkiem wiosennym – a sandwich with cottage cheese, radish, chive, and sometimes onion.
• Kanapka z kielbasa i ogórkiem kiszonym – a sandwich with sliced sausage and pickles.
• Kanapka z serem i szynka – a sandwich with ham and cheese (the simplest one)
What is really surprising for people from abroad – in Poland we eat hot-dog sausages with bread, ketchup, and mustard for breakfast!
• Parówki – hot-dog sausages
Sometimes, we may find menu terms such as “drugie sniadanie”. This literally means second breakfast. Since there is no lunch in Poland we need to somehow satisfy our hunger between sniadanie and obiad – breakfast and lunch. You can usually have second breakfast between 11:00am and Noon, and order any of the above-mentioned meals (in this case your first breakfast should be much lighter), or you may order some nalesniki or crepes, which are served for both “drugie sniadanie” and “obiad”:
• Nalesniki na slodko – Sweet crepes
• Nalesniki z pieczarkami lub miesem – Crepes with mushrooms or meat
• Placki ziemniaczane na slodko – Sweet potato pancakes
• Placki ziemniaczane z miesem i grzybami – Potato pancakes with mushrooms and meat
2. Obiad – Lunch
It is often mistakenly translated as a lunch. This is the meal we eat during the day after “drugie sniadanie”. Sometimes it consist of a soup and the main dish. In the menu it’s usually called “zestaw obiadowy”. In school cafeterias or a typical Polish restaurants we can get kompot – fruit compote together with the “zestaw obiadowy”. The basic ingredients used in Polish cuisine are: pork, chicken, beets, cucumbers (pickles), sour cream, mushrooms, different types of sausages. And we can’t forget about cabbage! In Poland we love cabbage in every possible form. Poles love their cabbage as much as the Italians love their pasta!
Let’s start from some typical Polish soups:
• Zurek z jajkiem i kielbasa – typical Polish sour rye soup with egg and sausage
• Barszcz czerwony z uszkami – borscht or beet soup with dumplings (kind of ravioli with meat and/or mushrooms)
• Barszcz czerwony z krokietem – borscht served with a breaded crepe filled with either “miesem” (meat) or “grzybamy i kapusta” (mushrooms and cabbage).
• Kapusniak z ziemniakami– sour cabbage soup with potatoes
• Rosól – typical Polish kind of broth
• Ogórkowa – cucumber soup (sour)
• Krupnik z kaszy – Polish barley soup
• Grochowa – pea soup
• Szczawiowa – Sorrel soup (can be served hot or cold) (sometimes reffered to as “green borsht”)
Drugie danie – main dish:
• Kotlet schabowy z ziemniakami i zasmazana kapusta – pork chop with mashed potatoes and fried cabbage
• Kotlet mielony z ziemniakami i buraczkami – ground meat patties with mashed potatoes and beets
Now some meals that are not necessarily a part of the “zestaw obiadowy”:
• Pierogi – the famous Polish stuffed dumplings (sweet or savory)
• Bigos – cabbage based stew with tomato sauce and various pork (sausage etc.)
• Golabki – cabbage leaves stuffed with meat and rice, usually served with a tomato or mushroom sauce
• Kaszanka – also called Polish black pudding. It is sausage made with fresh pig’s blood
• Kopytka i kluski slaskie – a special kind of dumplings made from potatoes and eggs and wheat
• Nalesniki i placki ziemniaczane – already mentioned as a “drugie sniadanie”
3. Kolacja – Dinner
This is some kind of a late dinner. Here we can let our imagination run wild since Polish eating habits absorbed so much from abroad that there is hard to specify what is typical for Polish “kolacja”. In restaurants you can usually order the same meals you order for “obiad”. However in some restaurants and typical Polish houses you can find meals such as:
• Any kind of ham and sausages
• Golonka – pork knuckle
• Salatka jarzynowa – any kind of vegetable salad in a mayo sauce
• Any kind of appetizer that we are going to read about in a moment
In a Polish menu, we can also find such a funny term as “przekaski”, directly translating – snacks. Przekaski, however, called also “Przystawki” are more like starters – hot starter – przystawka goraca, cold – zimne. You can eat it either before the main dish or as a addition to “kolacja” – dinner. Some typical Polish starters are:
• Smalec ze skwarkami + ogórki kiszone – lard with pickles
• Sledzie w smietanie – herring in cream sauce
• Tatar – steak tartar
• Paszteciki – pastry with patè or cabbage
• Jajko z pieczarkami – eggs with mushrooms
• Maczanka krakowska – meat in a bread roll
• Galaretki z nózek cielecych – jellied meat
• Salads (potato or vegetable ones) with mayonnaise
• Ziemniak z sola i maslem – potato with salt and butter
4. Deser – Dessert
There is always room for dessert even after the biggest of meals. Polish cuisine is sure to please your palate. Desserts in Polish are called “deser”. You’ll be sure to find the following popular desserts on most menus:
• Szarlotka – each restaurant will have its own version of this simple, classic Polish apple cake
• Sernik – Polish style cheese cake, completely different from its American counterpart, totally worth trying. May contain raisins or candied orange peel
• Makowiec – another classic Polish cake, mostly made of poppy seeds
• Mazurek – usually baked and served during the Easter Holiday. It is a flat Polish cake made with yeast topped with any combination of almond paste, preserves, dried fruits, nuts and meringues
• Kremówka – Polish cream cake. Sometimes called also Papal Cream Cake since it turned out that Pope John Paul II loved it!
• Faworki – sweet, crispy, fried pastry straws called very often ‘chrust’
• Drozdzówka – yeast-cake with plums or raisins
If you visit Poland during the winter be sure to try “Wino Galicyjskie” – Galician mulled wine or spiced beer – “Grzane Piwo”. Both beverages are served warm to hot.
As you can see Polish cuisine is full of surprises. Hopefully this article gave you some insight into how to read a Polish menu. The only thing left for us to say is, SMACZNEGO! – ENJOY!
Malgorzata (Sarna) Rose, is a native of Poland. Poland Culinary Vacations grew out of her love and passion for travel and everything Polish, including fine Polish cuisine, eventually blossoming into a first-class culinary travel company. While growing up in Poland, she experienced the great joy of cooking with family and friends. Using her grandmothers’ recipes and fresh ingredients from their gardens, they prepared food for weddings, parties, and traditional holidays. Now, through Poland Culinary Vacations, she wants to share that experience with you, and show you the best of everyday Polish living: the special people and their hospitality, and the heritage and traditions unique to each region. Only a native can help you discover and fully experience the authentic Poland!
Slow Travel Tours is an affiliation of small-group tour operators who offer personalized trips in Italy, France and other European countries.