Poland is situated in the very heart of Europe. The geometrical central point of the whole continent can be found in the town of Schowola in the east of the country. Poland is 1,042 years old. Officially founded in 966 when prince Mieszko I adopted Christianity as the official religion, which resulted in the new establishment of political bonds with the rest of the Europe. The population of Poland is around 38 million. The World War II toll on Poland was a staggering 6 million-including 3 million Jews slaughtered in the Nazi death camps.
At present, more than 98 percent of the people are Poles, with small groups of Ukrainians, Belorussians, Germans, Slovaks and Lithuanians. Polish traditional food, a cuisine that was suppressed during Communist times, is now making a comeback. Polish Food is diverse and delicious. It is made with almost all of the four basic food groups in mind, with a little something from each in every dish (Veterano, 2008). Polish cuisine and dining table etiquette is a perfect reflection of the warmth in the Polish character. Having a meal with one’s family is not just consumption of food – it is celebration.
Guests are always welcomed (Grocer, 2006). Breakfasts are generally heavy with vegetables and cold cuts of meat; dinners, even more so. Only suppers are a tad lighter, perhaps, keeping in touch with the universal proverb: After dinner rest a while, after supper walk a mile. The Poles are the original potato eaters and potatoes have been the darlings of the Polish kitchens through centuries. Meat is also a mainstay (cold cuts and sausages mainly) and is grilled more or less ceremoniously at the country home, in the garden, or on the front lawn (Zamojska-Hutchins, 1985).
Poland is a haven for food buffs. Polish cuisine ranges from the simple to the exotic, with a dish to suit the most eclectic and eccentric of taste buds. In Poland, you have staple foods, seasonal foods as well as territorial foods. Polish food ranges from kielbasa (Polish sausage), to Golabki (stuffed ‘pigeon’) and bigos (hunter’s stew) to stuffed eggs, and from dumpling soup to mushrooms in sour cream. Meat is an important feature of most Polish food, so the main meal in Poland nearly always consists of some type of meat.
Pork is the national meat of Poland and many main course dishes will contain it. There are also many other dishes containing meat and other dishes containing fish. These fish dishes make use of: eel, pike, perch, carp, sturgeon, sea fish, catfish and many others. There are also many desserts like poppy seed cake, crullers, royal mazurek, a dish much like a cherry pie, saffron babas, and buckwheat and raisin pudding (Veterano, 2008). Dring the Late Middle Ages, the cuisine of Poland was very heavy and spicy. The two main ingredients were meat and cereal.
As the territory of Poland was densely forested, use of mushrooms, forest fruits, nuts and honey was also widespread. Thanks to close trade relations with Asia, the price of spices was much lower than in the rest of Europe, and spicy sauces became popular. With the ascension of the Italian queen Bona Sforza, in 1518, countless cooks were brought to Poland from Italy and France. If in France one cannot count all the types of cheese, in Poland the same applies to sausages and cold cuts. Polish food is a mixture of Slavic culinary which is rich in chicken, pork, and different types of noodles (Grocer, 2006).
The main meal is eaten about 2pm, and is usually composed of three courses, starting with a soup, followed an appetizer, then the main course which is usually meat (Zamojska-Hutchins, 1985). Until the Partitions, Poland was one of the largest countries in the world, encompassing many regions with their own, distinctive culinary traditions. Among the most influential in that period were Lithuanian, Jewish, German and Hungarian cuisine. With the subsequent decline of Poland, and the grain production crisis that followed The Deluge, potatoes began to replace the traditional use of cereal.
Also, because of numerous wars with the Ottoman Empire, coffee became popular. Under the partitions, the cuisine of Poland became heavily influenced by cuisines of the surrounding empires. This included Russian and German cuisines, but also the culinary traditions of most nations of the Austro-Hungarian empire. In the Russian-occupied part of the country, tea displaced the then-popular coffee. Under German influence the tradition of making white sausages was adopted in Greater Poland.
Perhaps the most influential was the culinary tradition of multi-national empire of Austria-Hungary, which led to development of a Central European cuisine in Galicia (Veterano, 2008). After the end of World War II, Poland fell under Communist occupation. Restaurants were at first nationalized and then mostly closed down by the authorities. Instead, the communists envisioned a net of lunch rooms for the workers at various companies, and milk bars. The very few restaurants that survived the 1940s and 1950s were state-owned and were mostly unavailable to common people due to high prices (Grocer 2006).
The lunch rooms promoted mostly inexpensive meals, including in soups of all kinds and noodles such as pierogi. A typical second course consisted of some sort of a ground meat cutlet served with potatoes. With time, the shortage economy led to chronic shortages of meat, eggs, coffee, tea and other basic ingredients of daily use. Many products like chocolate, sugar, meat were rationed, with a specific limit depending on social class and health requirements. Physical workers and pregnant women were generally entitled to more food products. Imports were restricted, so much of food supply was domestic.
Thus no tropical fruits (citrus, banana, pineapple etc. ) were available and fruits and vegetables vere mostly seasonal: occurring only in the summer. For most of the year the Poles had to live by with only domestic winter fruit and vegetables: apples, onions, potatoes, cabbage, root vegetables. This situation led in turn to gradual replacement of traditional Polish cuisine with food prepared of anything that was available at the moment (Kapowski, 1998). Among the popular dishes introduced by the public restaurants was an egg cutlet, a sort of a hamburger made of minced or instant egg and flour.
The traditional recipes were mostly preserved during the Wigilia feast (Christmas Eve), for which most families tried to prepare 12 traditional courses. With the end of communism in Poland in 1989, restaurants started to be opened once again and basic foodstuffs were once again easily obtainable. This led to a gradual return of traditional Polish cuisine, both in everyday life and in restaurants. In addition, restaurants and supermarkets promote the usage of ingredients typical to other cuisines of the world. Among the most notable of ingredients that started to be commonly used in Poland were cucurbit, zucchini and all kinds of fish.
During communist times, these were available mostly in the seaside regions. At the same time, fast food is growing more and more popular in Poland. Apart from McDonald’s and KFC, Pizza Hut is very popular, as well as many Polish pizza chains. Pizza in Poland is characterized by the Polish habit of using ketchup on top of the pizza, rather than sauce. There are many small-scale, quick-service restaurants which usually serve items such as zapiekanka (baguette with cheese, sometimes meat and/or button mushroom and ketchup), kebap, hamburgers, hot dogs and kielbasa (Kapowski, 1998).
Bruderszaft is a fraternal toast, a sealing of comradeship and declining it can be seen as an insult. Relationships become more cordial after this ceremony and people graduate to using first name of each other. Bruderszaft is two people raising toasts simultaneously with arms interlocked and downing their drinks together. The last part is an exchange of kisses and a “Call me Marek,” – “Call me John” (Nikkhah 2007). There are many different types of Polish food. First there are many different kinds of soups. Chlodnik is a cold soup made of soured milk, young beet leaves, beets, cucumbers and chopped fresh dill.
Then there are many different kinds of main dishes. Bigos is a stew of sauerkraut and meat, similar to the French choucroute, but generally less acidic and including unfermented cabbage. Nalesniki is creps which are either folded in to triangles or rolled in to a tube typical servings include sweet white cheese with sugar and sour cream, various fruits topped with bita smietana (whipped cream) or with bite bialka (whipped egg whites). The most popular noodle dish is called Pierogi. Pierogis look like the Chinese dumpling and are usually fried. They can be stuffed with cheese, potato, sauerkraut, blueberries or other fruits.
You can top them off with sour cream or sugar. Another widely known dish is Kielbasa. Kielbasa is a Polish sausage that is usually boiled. You can eat it with mustard, ketchup or bar-be-que sauce. Kielbasa also refers to a garlic flavored smoked sausage, made from pork or beef and pork. Kielbasa usually is sold precooked in medium rings about 18 inches long and an inch and a half thick. Polish cuisine also contains many sweet desserts. Paczek resembles a jelly donut. It is filled with rose marmalade or other fruit preservatives. Kutia is the typical Christmas dessert.
It is small square pasta with poppy seeds, nuts, raisins, and honey. Zrazy is Polish traditional food that will stick to your ribs. A filling of bacon, breadcrumbs, mushrooms, and cucumber is rolled inside a seasoned slice of sirloin beef then fried or grilled to allow the flavors to mingle. With a side of mizeria, or cucumber salad, you’ll have a meal bursting with all the flavors of the best Polish traditional food. This chilled salad is composed of thinly sliced cucumbers, sprigs of dill, and chopped onion in a sour cream and lemon juice dressing (Nikkhah, 2007).
In Poland bread is treated almost with religious reverence since the early days. Many people, until now, mark freshly backed bread with the sign of the cross, newly wed couple is welcomed at the entrance of their home with bread and salt, bread is blessed during Christmas and Easter. Religion is also a big part of the Polish customs. To the Polish families Christmas Eve is more important than Christmas Day. A bunch of hay is put under the tablecloth and it is supposed to bring good crops and remind everyone of the poverty in which Jesus was born.
In some houses this is accompanied today by money, a fish scale or bone put into a wallet – all to ensure affluence in the New Year. An extra set of plates and cutlery is laid on the table for an unexpected guest. Sometimes an empty plate is a reminder of those who have passed away. Traditionally, Christmas Eve dinner begins when the first star has appears in the sky. The family wishes one another all the best for the New Year and, as a sign of reconciliation, love, friendship and peace, and share oplatek (Christmas wafers) that symbolize holy bread. Fun Facts About Poland, 2008) The dinner consists only of meatless dishes. Traditionally, there should be twelve courses – reflecting the number of months in the year or, in different interpretation, Christ’s apostles. Fun facts about Poland. (n. d. ).
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