Calendars \ Calendar 2014 \ Polish cuisine


“You’ll eat potatoes every day and herring on a Sunday if you’re lucky” are the words my Florentine friends laughingly said when I told them I was moving to Poland to follow the love of my life.
It was 1983 and lots of foods were rationed, assuming you could actually find them (meat, butter, flour, rice and sugar). At the same time there was a thriving black market which offered every possible culinary delight but finding the suppliers took time and involved a certain amount of risk, as well as consistent sums of money.
Despite all the objective difficulties, I was amazed by the extraordinary wealth of a gastronomic tradition which was still upheld in people’s homes. Slightly stiff, old-fashioned cuisine, with jealously guarded recipes handed down from mother to daughter, it produced remarkable dishes and reached its peak with Christmas Eve dinner and Easter breakfast.
A world of brand new culinary experiences opened up before me: from beetroot soup (barszcz) and sour flour soup with mushrooms, potatoes and sausage delicately scented with marjoram (żurek) to pierogi, which are a kind of ravioli filled with meat or cabbage and mushrooms or, again, potatoes and a fresh cow’s milk cheese called twaróg.
Last but not least, a series of wonderful desserts, including one which is simply heavenly, makowiec, a roll of pastry filled with ground poppy seeds, sultanas, orange zest and walnuts. I learned to drink litres of strong black aromatic tea and to eat delicate syrupy strawberries, sour cherries or raspberries with it. I discovered that with greasy, shiny and tasty herring fillets, served with a sublime boiled potato and lots of sour cream, all you can drink is ice-cold vodka, and so on.
1989 marked the turnaround, also with regard to food. The advent of the market economy and the reopening of the national frontiers triggered an intense process of exchange with transformed the face of Polish gastronomy.
After an initial and understandable enthusiasm for everything foreign, recent years have been characterised by a return to traditional cuisine and a rediscovery of local products, of which Poland has every right to be proud.
Warsaw is now a European capital with a remarkably varied and interesting gastronomic panorama.
There were very few restaurants in the days of real socialism and the few that did exist were rather sad. Typewritten menus listed a long series of dishes with very posh names, accompanied by the weight and price, but this was all just theoretical; in actual fact the dishes were never available. The monotonous answer given by bored staff to every question asked by diners was nie ma - we don’t have it. After hearing a series of nie ma you ended up ordering what they gave you, which usually consisted of dreadful quality ingredients put together even more dreadfully.

Fortunately these are distant memories and now, when you enter some of the excellent restaurants specialised in Polish cuisine, the memory of those years seems to be nothing more than a bad dream.
One of my favourite places is Restauracja Polska Różana (ul. Chocimska, 7). Situated in an old house with a beautiful garden in the residential district of Mokotów, it offers excellent quality traditional Polish cuisine. You really have to try their really delicate pierogi with veal and Porcini mushrooms and the dessert trolley with its delicious sernik (a sort of ricotta-based dessert) or the famous coffee or orange meringues.
For a food writer, a trip to a small venue right in the centre of town is an absolute must: Opasły Tom (ul. Foksal 17), a famous former book shop which has been transformed into a restaurant. The genius in the kitchen is Agata Wojda one of Poland’s few female chefs, and she presents the very finest quality Polish cuisine with a twist, using regional produce only and respecting the seasons.
For those who venture into the Old Town (Stare Miasto), it’s definitely worth eating at La Rotisserrie (at the Le Regina Hotel at ul. Kościelna 12) where an exceptionally talented chef, Paweł Oszczyk, proposes food which interestingly combines elements of traditional Polish, Italian and French cuisine. The tasting menu changes with the seasons and is absolutely fantastic.
Poland has earned its first Michelin star this year, thanks to the talent and inventive brilliance of Wojciech Modest Amaro, a young chef who has worked with people of the calibre of Ferran Adria and Rene Redzepi. His restaurant, Atelier Amaro (ul. Agrykola 1), invites guests to venture into the extraordinary world of 21st century Polish cuisine, where, as Wojciech himself says, “Nature meets Science”.
For those who love a delicious fillet or an excellent steak, the place to go is Butchery & Wine (ul. Żurawia 22) and those who really can’t resist Italian food should dine at Delizia (Hoża 58/60), run by Luca Bo and Lorenzo Robustelli – who are just great.

Tessa Capponi Borawsca

Tessa Capponi Borawsca

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