Generally speaking, Polish cuisine is rich, substantial and relatively high in fat. Poles allow themselves a generous amount of time in order to enjoy their meals. A typical lunch is usually composed of at least three courses, starting with a soup, such as borsch (beet) or Zurek (sour rye meal mash), followed perhaps in a restaurant by an appetizer of salmon or herring (prepared in either cream, oil or vinegar). Other popular appetizers are various meats, vegetables or fish in aspic. For the main course you may want to try the national dish, bigos (sauerkraut with pieces of meat and sausage) or cutlet schabowy (breaded pork chops). Finish on a sweet note with ice cream or, more likely if you are fortunate enough to be dining at someone’s home, a piece of makowiec, home-made poppy seed cake, or drozdzowka dzowka, a type of yeast cake. Other Polish specialities include chlodnik (a chilled beet soup for hot days), golonka (pork knuckles cooked with vegetables), kolduny (meat dumplings), zrazy (slices of beef) and flaki (tripe).
Poles prefer to drink piwo (beer) with their meals. Among the best known brands are EB, Zywiec, Okocim and Warka. Most restaurants offer a selection of German and Czech beers. Stronger alcoholic drinks, usually brands of vodka such as Zubrowka, Wyborowa, Premium and Zytnia, are invariably present on every festive table. Finding a good bottle of wine is never easy. It has to be imported and is usually very expensive. In every luxury-class or Orbis hotel you’ll find a well-managed restaurant. More and more restaurants in the cities are serving foreign specialties, particularly Italian, Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese and French cuisine. A few restaurants serve traditional kosher Jewish fare.
Most hotels keep a leaflet listing all the restaurants in the locality. Here is a small selection of restaurants that serve traditional Polish fare:
Austeria – Jewish, Szeroka 17, phone 4213870
A not-strictly-kosher Jewish restaurant set up in one of the most beautiful historical buildings of Krakow’s Kazimierz district, with additional accommodations a couple of doors down in the building that once served as the area’s mikvah, or ritual baths (at 6 Szeroka street). The must-try list would have to include gefilte fisch (stuffed carp), stuffed goose-necks, Czulent, grape leaves, and goose livers fried with almonds and raisins. Evenings feature live klesmer, gypsy, and Russian romantic music.
Chimera – Polish, Sw. Anny 3, phone 4232178
Chimera started out as a restaurant in the street-level space of the building it occupies to this day. A salad bar of that same name, run by the same people, has since come to be in the cellar below. The restaurant offers roast pork, lamb, goat, beet soup with kulebiak (a type of stuffed pastry), tongues in Polish sauce, and excellent home-style fruit liqueurs.
Demel – Central European, Glowackiego 22, phone 6361600
Na Wawelu – Wzgorze Wawelskie 9, phone 4116598
The only restaurant on the Wawel Castle hill, located in a building erected at the beginning of the 19th century by the Austrians. Flagship locale of the Rotarians, Na Wawelu is an all but obligatory item on the itineraries of visiting foreign dignitaries. Uninteresting interior; the menu has French elements to it, having been created by a chef from that country who ran the kitchen at one time. Excellent perch-pike carpaccio, classic and very ample chateaubriand with terragon colbert sauce. An extensive and professionally compiled French wine list. Pricey. Open from noon to 8 PM; one can linger as long as one likes, but you have to get there before 8, when they close Wawel Castle and you can only leave.
Wierzynek – Rynek Glowny 15, phone 4221035
Though it cites a famous legend of a feast given in 1364 for five European kings of the time by a Cracovian Burgher by the name of Mikolaj Wierzynek, this locale in fact was established in 1945 and was originally called the Tavern at Wierzynek’s. Shortly thereafter the place was nationalized and transformed into a showpiece for the Polish Peoples’ Republic, where various dignitaries were regularly feted. With the beginning of Poland’s new era at the beginning of the 1990’s, Wierzynek found itself at the brink of bankruptcy but, under new management, is presently getting back on its feet. A curious footnote, however, is the fact that the restaurant is employee-owned.
Pod Lososiem – ul. Szeroka 54 Tel: 317652
This restaurant is renowned not only for its excellent cuisine, mainly fish, but also for its “golden water” – pieces of gold leaf float in a herbal liqueur.
Tawer – ul. Powroznicza 19/20 Tel: 314114
One of the few restaurants reflecting the maritime atmosphere of a busy port such as Gda6sk. Beneath model ships, sample the “Polish duck”, one of the fish dishes and a beer served in a large jug.
U Fuklera – Rynek Starego Miasta 27 Tel: 311013
Polish and Jewish fare in t of the Old Town.
Bazyllszek – Rynek Starego Miasta 5/7 Tel: 311841
Noted for its ‘duck with apples”. Whether you order duck or not, the magnificent view over the Old Market Square is just as impressive.
Wilanow – Ul. Wiertnicza 27 (in Wilanow) Tel: 421852
Traditional, old Polish cuisine in a stylish setting.
Milk bars (bar mleczny) make a good alternative to restaurants and are excellent value for money. Mainly self-service, they occupy simple premises and have a limited choice of basic dishes (Warsaw, Krakowskie Przedmiescie Ul. Mostowa 29; Kracow, Ul. Podwale 5, Poznan, pl. Wolnosci 1). Sadly, many of them have closed during the past few years. A service charge is usually included in the price at restaurants, but it is customary to pay a figure rounded up by 5-10 percent in recognition of good service. Leave a small sum for your hotel maid and taxi drivers also appreciate a little extra on top of the fare. On practically every street corner you’ll find a stand where you can have a bite to eat, perhaps a hot-dog, zapiekanka (a kind of baguette with mushrooms and melted cheese), chicken or chips. During the summer season in the tourist resorts along the Baltic Sea coast, stalls sell freshly caught baked or smoked fish. You will find most of the international fast food chains represented in the major cities.