Polish Food: 24 Popular Dishes + 6 Secret Recipe Tips
Polish food is a hearty and incredibly flavorful cuisine that can satisfy the pickiest palate. But what if we told you that there is more to Polish food than meets the eye? In fact, traditional Polish cuisine has an incredible variety of dishes, and with our tips, you can make them even more delicious.
In this article, we will explore 24 of the most popular Polish dishes, as well as six secret recipe tips that will help you prepare them like a pro. So whether you’re curious about Polish food or you’re planning to try out some of the authentic dishes, this guide will have you covered.
Traditional Polish Cuisine
The history of traditional Polish cuisine is a long and rich one, dating back from the Middle Ages to the 19th century and post-WWII times. Polish cuisine is known for its hearty flavors, rich sauces, and use of fresh, seasonal ingredients.
One of the most important influences on Polish cuisine was the country’s location. Since Poland is located at the crossroads of Central and Eastern Europe, many of its dishes are inspired by regional cultures, mainly the Slavic and German cultures.
The variety of Polish food recipes and ingredients is also due to the country’s rich history and fluctuation of wealth and power. For that reason, some recipes will include a variety of meats and elaborate ingredients while others use relatively modest ones to accommodate the hardships of their origin.
However, this variety earned Polish food a special place among world cuisines, which is why many people from around the world visit the country mainly to experience its unique and flavorful dishes.
Most Popular Street Food in Poland
Many of Poland’s street food is inspired by its traditional cuisine. This is mainly because most Polish people preferred home-cooked cuisine, which is also why Polish street food wasn’t quite common until recently in history.
Today, you can find a variety of delicious and enjoyable street food across many Polish cities, especially Krakow and Warsaw. Here’s a quick look at the most popular street food you can try in Poland:
1. Zapiekanka: One of the most popular Polish street foods since the 1970s. It’s an open-faced sandwich made with a long roll of bread and topped with sautéed mushrooms, ham, cheese, and ketchup.
2. Obwarzanek: This braided, ring-shaped bread is made with wheat flour and boiled before baking. The savory bread is typically sprinkled with poppy seeds (sometimes sesame seeds) that give it its distinctive look.
3. Knysza: This one is a popular Polish fast food, consisting of a spongy bread roll filled with various ingredients, including cutlets, vegetables, and sauces. Some versions of Knysza use pre-grilled bread.
4. Kanapki: Also known as Polish canapes, they’re also open-faced sandwiches but are typically shaped in the form of smaller bites. Each Kanapka is topped with cucumbers (pickled and fresh), cheese, smoked meat, chives, and parsley.
5. Polish Hot Dogs: There are several versions of Polish hot dogs out there, but they’re typically similar to regular hotdogs with a traditional twist. They typically include vegetables like tomatoes and dill, and they may also use traditional smoked sausages like kielbasa (more about it in the following sections)
Polish Food in the World
Polish food is becoming increasingly popular around the world. In fact, studies show that Polish food is one of the most highly-rated and well-received cuisines in America, after reviewing over 785 restaurants and an average rating of 4.59 stars.
One of the main reasons people like Polish food is that it’s heavily traditional and prepared with fresh ingredients and delicious herbs and spices. There’s also a decent variety of dishes in Polish cuisine, so it has something for everyone.
How Healthy Is Polish Food?
Polish food can be both healthy and unhealthy, depending on the type of dishes you choose and how you prepare them. For instance, if you’re looking for meals prepared with fresh, seasonal ingredients, Polish food is one of the best options to consider.
That being said, Polish food typically contains a lot of meat. It also uses large quantities of ingredients that can cause weight gain if you’re not careful, such as lard and potatoes, so it really depends on the quantities you eat and the specific dishes you want to try.
The good news here is that Polish food is quite filling and a little bit of everything can go a long way in keeping you full for a long time. You can also find a variety of meals cooked in healthy ways, such as baking and grilling instead of frying.
Famous Polish Dishes You Have to Try
Now that you know more about Polish cuisine and its history, it’s time to take a closer look at some of the most popular dishes you must try. Polish food is quite varied and has everything from hearty soups and salads to side and main dishes.
Soups & Salads
Poland is known for making a variety of soups and salads, both warm and cold. They’re typically made with fresh ingredients and cooked for a long time to get rich and more flavorful.
Rosol is easily one of the most iconic soups in Poland. Many Poles enjoy it as a comfort food as well as a traditional remedy for hangovers and colds. Besides being a causal treat, Rosol is also commonly present on special occasions like holiday feasts and ceremonies.
The rich broth is mainly made with chicken soup and often includes sauteed vegetables and spices. While the soup is made with simple ingredients, it takes some time to develop its flavor to full richness.
The chicken is simmered for hours, along with aromatic vegetables and spices, resulting in a broth that is both delicate and flavorful.
This delicious stew is so popular among Poles that it has been commonly named as one of the national dishes of the country. It is also a hearty and warm stew, which is perfect for cold winter nights.
Bigos is made with sauerkraut, white cabbage, and spices along with a variety of meats, including sausages and pork (typically dark cuts). You can also add mushrooms to the stew, such as dried porcini mushrooms if you want to tune the tangy flavor down.
Preparing Bigos can take some time, but the ingredients are typically easy to find, so it’s an excellent recipe to consider if you’re getting started with Polish food and don’t want to go over a certain budget.
Zurek is a soup made with fermented rye, vegetables, potatoes, as well as white Polish sausages. However, some ingredients may vary from one region to another. The creamy flavorful dish is also an authentic Polish dish that isn’t influenced by regional cuisines.
It is typically eaten at Easter but you can enjoy it year-round as well. One characteristic aspect of Zurek is that it’s often served with a sliced boiled egg and traditionally served in a hollowed-out loaf of bread.
Chlodnik is a perfect example of how Polish cuisine improves on other cuisines for inspired dishes. While the cold beet soup is originally Lithuanian, this unique version is a staple in Polish cuisine.
Chlodnik gets its unique pinkish-red color from combining cooked fermented beets with probiotic-rich yogurt, sour cream, or kefir.
The soup typically includes extra flavoring ingredients, such as green onions, cucumbers, radishes, and other herbs. The dish is served relatively cold with a garnish of boiled potatoes or hard-boiled eggs.
Gulasz (Goulash) is a common dish that’s popular across all of Central Europe. However, each country has its unique twist to the stew that makes it its own, and Poland is no exception to this rule.
The comforting thick stew is made with beef, onions, garlic, and red pepper. It’s also flavored with various spices, such as paprika, cumin, and caraway seeds. The stew is usually simmered for some time to allow all these delicious flavors to combine together.
Polish Goulash is typically served with Placki Ziemniaczane, which are savory potato pancakes topped with sour cream. We’ll talk more about this delicious side dish in the following section, as it’s also quite popular in Poland.
As previously established, throughout Polish history, people had to be resourceful in order to survive, and that’s where dishes like Flaki come to light. This traditional Polish soup is made using well-cleaned, thin beef tripe, which is the cow’s stomach.
While this may sound a bit extraordinary, it’s a surprisingly delicious and rewarding culinary experience that you must try during your stay in Poland. The dish dates back several centuries and was considered a delicacy at some point, enjoyed by nobles and even royals like King Władysław II Jagiełło of the 15th century.
Salatka Jarzynowa is a traditional cold Polish vegetable salad that is often prepared at home during holidays, celebrations, and family gatherings. It doubles as both a salad and a side dish, depending on whether you eat it alone or alongside other dishes.
The base ingredients for Salatka Jarzynowa may vary from one region to another. However, the traditional recipe typically includes cooked vegetables (usually unpeeled) along with potatoes, parsley, green peas, onion, and pickled cucumber.
These ingredients are all combined with hard-boiled eggs garnished and tossed in mayonnaise to give them their distinctive look.
Starters, Sandwiches, and Sides
Besides soups and salads, Poles are also big on their sides and starters. These simple recipes are often enjoyed alongside other dishes but many people enjoy them on their own as a side snack between meals.
Pierogi and Pierogi Leniwe
While Pierogi is enjoyed across various Central and Eastern European countries, it’s associated with Poland more than any other country in the region. These delicious dumplings are made by wrapping a variety of delicious fillings with unleavened dough and boiling them in water.
While pierogi is considered a fairly simple recipe, you can take it a notch easier by making Pierogi Leniwe, which means “Lazy Pierogi”. Besides simple preparation, Pierogi Leniwe also features a unique ingredient known as twaróg or quark, which is a type of fermented cheese.
As one of the top 10 exporters of potatoes across the globe, it’s easy to say that Poland uses this root vegetable in almost all shapes and forms, and the Placki Ziemniaczane is an excellent example of that.
These Polish potato pancakes are made from grated potatoes, mixed with eggs and flour to form an easy-to-mold dough.
These potatoes often include a variety of additional ingredients to enhance their flavor, including minced onions and mushrooms. The pancakes are often served alongside other sides as well as a generous dollop of sour cream on top.
Similar to Pierogi, Kopytka is also a type of dumplings made with mashed potatoes, flour, and eggs. They are usually boiled in heavily salted water and served with a variety of toppings, including melted butter or fried onions.
Kopytka is typically shaped like goat hooves, which is where they got their name which literally translates to “tiny hooves” in Polish. They’re equivalent to Italian Gnocchi, except for the shape. It’s a fairly easy form of dumplings that you can make at home with readily available ingredients.
Polish Krokiety is a unique combination of classic crepes and croquettes. The traditional side dish is made by stuffing crepes with a variety of ingredients, including mushrooms, sauerkraut, onions, and so on.
After stuffing your crepes, all that’s left is to have them breaded and fried until golden brown.
This delicious recipe is an excellent snack for any occasion, but you’ll typically find it commonly enjoyed on Christmas Eve’s suppers in Poland.
Oscypek is a traditional Polish cheese made with sheep’s milk that hails from the meadows of the Tatra Mountains in southern Poland. The cheese is known for its delicious smoky flavor as well as its characteristic hard decorative texture.
The process used to make this cheese has been around for centuries and is currently protected by a European Union Culture Preservation Act. The sheep’s milk is first boiled and curdled, then pressed into unique wooden ovens to get its shape and smokiness.
After that, the cheese is aged for a few weeks. Since the cheese has a strong salty flavor, it’s typically paired with sweet jams (mainly cranberry) to neutralize the flavor. While this type of cheese is relatively pricey, it’s a must-try experience if you’re planning to visit Poland.
Śledź w Śmietanie
Śledź w Śmietanie literally translates to “ Herring in Sour Cream”, is a classic and beloved dish that is enjoyed by people of all ages in Poland. It’s also one of the easiest dishes to prepare at home, as it uses easy ingredients, besides the herring filets.
To make this side dish, you herring filets, sour cream, onions, and dill. The traditional recipe also calls for apples, and don’t worry, as it blends nicely with the rest of the ingredients. The salad-like dish is best served chilled, but you can also enjoy it at room temperature.
Poland is also known for having a plethora of delicious main dishes. In this section, we’re going to check out some of the most popular dishes along with some underrated gems that you must give a try.
Golabki is a popular Polish dish that consists of ground beef, mushrooms, and vegetables, wrapped in white cabbage leaves. These wraps are then cooked to perfection for a long time under low heat.
As you can see, Golabki is technically a type of cabbage roll that is popular in many regions around the world. Still, Golabki is unique in terms of fillings and sides, as it’s typically served with potatoes and topped with some tomato sauce to give them extra flavor and improve their presentation.
Ryż z Jabłkami
Ryz z Jablkami is a classic Polish dish that literally translates to “rice with apples”. This dish might seem like an odd combination at first, but you’ll quickly change your mind after trying it out.
Besides being relatively easy to prepare, rice casserole with apples is a fairly healthy and vitamin-rich meal. As you might think, you can also turn this delicious recipe into a fully-fledged dessert by adding some cinnamon and extra sugar while preparing it.
Kotlet Schabowy is one of the most popular cutlet dishes in Poland. This one includes a pork cutlet that is coated with breadcrumbs and fried until golden brown. Kotlet Schabowy shares a lot of similarities with other European dishes, such as the Italian Cotoletta and Viennese Schnitzel.
You’ll often find this main dish served with various sides, especially cooked vegetables like mashed potatoes, carrots, and beets. You can also try it with traditional sides like fried mushrooms and coleslaw.
Another type of cutlet you should try in Poland is the Kotlety Mielone, which is originally derived from the Nordic Frikadelle. However, these meat patties are a staple in Polish households. These delicious patties are typically made of ground pork.
After that, it’s combined with stale bread, bread crumbs, eggs, milk, and seasonings, and then baked in the oven until the thick patties are cooked all the way through. Like Kotlet Schabowy, you typically enjoy them with various sides like mashed potatoes and cooked vegetables.
Golonka Gotowana is another staple in classic Polish cuisine. It literally translates to “Pork Shank”, which is a pig’s ankles.
This dish can be prepared in various ways, such as boiling in water, boiling in broth, and baking. The is typically marinated for some time before cooking and seasoned with herbs to give it a unique flavor and aroma.
Polish Kielbasa is easily one of the most popular types of Polish sausages (it literally translates to sausages in Polish). While the world-famous version of kielbasa is typically U-shaped and made with pork, authentic Polish Kielbasa can take any shape and include any type of smoked meat.
Kabanos is a fairly unique type of sausage that originated in Poland and spread across many countries across Central Europe. These sausages are characteristically long and thin, with the diameter of each one typically around 1/3 of an inch.
Depending on the freshness of the pork sausage, it can range from soft to hard and dry. The sausages have a unique smoky flavor that stands out perfectly from other types of Polish sausages.
As a main dish, you enjoy Kabanos with a side of cheese, but you can also eat them on their own as a snack.
Zrazy is a classic beef roulade that is flavored with simple spices and stuffed with a variety of ingredients. These can include potatoes and vegetables, but also mushrooms, eggs, bacon, and pickles.
The meat rolls are initially fried in hot oil then quickly removed and slowly stewed in a casserole under low heat for some time before it’s ready. The casserole typically has extra spices, beef stock, and vegetables like onion and celery.
Ryba po Grecku
Ryba po Grecku or “Fish in Greek” is a Greek-inspired fried fish recipe that is widely popular as a main dish in Poland. In fact, this meal is so popular among Poles that it has become a tradition to enjoy it on Christmas Eve.
You can use a wide range of fish filets for this recipe, ranging from Tilapia and Cod to Pollock and Miruna. After frying the fish filets, you stew them in a special tomato sauce that includes a variety of chopped, cooked vegetables, including celery, carrots, onions, and parsley.
Fasolka po Bretońsku
Fasolka po Bretońsku, or Polish baked beans, is a hearty and flavorful dish that is commonly enjoyed in Poland in winter. The dish is made with haricot beans (a type of white beans), tomato paste, and spices, and may also include sausages.
The history of Fasolka po Bretońsku is a bit murky. However, it has been around since the 19th century, with most people believing that it’s a Polish adaptation of the popular dish. Fasolka po Bretońsku can be eaten with a spoon or with bread.
Pyza (plural is Pyzy) is a popular main course meal in Poland. It’s a type of dumpling made from raw potatoes, boiled potatoes, or a mix of the two. Each Pyza is typically oval-shaped and can be served with a variety of fillings including meat, cottage cheese (quark), and mushrooms.
While you typically eat stuffed Pyza, some varieties of the Pyzy are non-stuffed. In that case, you’d typically serve them with a variety of simple sides, such as fried onions, baked potatoes, rice, or bacon.
Secret Recipe Tips for Polish Food
If you’re planning to try out some of the previously mentioned dishes, there are some secret tips that will help you take your Polish cuisine to the next level. In this section, we’ll walk you through some of them:
Always Choose High-Quality Vegetables and Mushrooms
Although many people associate Polish cuisine with meats, you can notice that mushrooms and vegetables play a remarkable role in many of the popular Polish recipes, such as Bigos, Pierogi cutlets, and more.
If you want to achieve the same deliciousness of authentic dishes, you need to pick high-quality ingredients from farmers’ markets, as their vegetables and mushrooms are typically extra fresh. Also, take your time and pick them yourself to get the maximum quality.
Don’t Be Afraid to Use Fat
Polish cuisine is known for its hearty and flavorful dishes, and one of the main secrets behind this rich flavor is that fat is typically a major ingredient in Polish recipes. This doesn’t only include butter but also lard, tallow, and full-fat cream.
Besides richness, these ingredients add necessary moisture, flavor, and tenderness to various meals. Of course, too much fat can be unhealthy, but using natural fat in moderation will add a lot to your dishes without racking up the calories.
Patience and Time Management Are Key
Traditionally, Polish cuisine is based on simple ingredients, such as potatoes, pork, cabbage, and mushrooms. However, to make up for the simplicity of these ingredients, Poles gave their food a lot of time and care during the preparation process.
For that reason, it’s quite typical to find a classic Polish dish that takes hours or even days to prepare. For example, in pierogi, each dumpling must be rolled out and stuffed by hand. In other words, if you want to prepare authentic Polish food, make sure that you dedicate enough time to it.
Choose Fresh Spices over Dried Ones
Besides fats, another method that Poles use to give their food a unique flavor and character is using a unique blend of spices. Thanks to the fertile soil of Poland, many Poles used to grow their own herbs to access a quick supply of fresh flavors while cooking.
For that reason, if you want to get as close as possible to what a real Polish dish is, you need to use fresh herbs and spices and avoid commercial-dried options.
That being said, if you’re in a hurry, using dried spices can work, but you’ll need to add around 10 percent to 15 percent extra to make up for the mild flavor.
Garnish Is Essential for Polish Dishes
In many Western European dishes, garnish is simply there to add an aesthetically pleasing element to a dish. However, for Poland and other Central and Eastern European countries, the garnish is typically an indispensable part of the dish.
As previously established, Poles are resourceful, so garnishes in Polish food are usually made of simple ingredients. For instance, the most popular garnishes would typically include sliced hard-boiled eggs, mashed potatoes, and tomato sauces with chopped vegetables.
Pair Up the Dishes with Pickles
When it comes to Polish food, you can never go wrong with pickles, as they always add a unique flavor profile to any traditional dish you might think of. Some of the most common Polish pickles include pickled cucumbers, sauerkraut, and pickled beets.
While not mandatory, having a side dish of pickles is always appreciated while making Polish dishes. For example, pickled cucumbers are often served with Kotlet Schabowy while Sauerkraut is often the most common pairing with Bigos and Pierogi.
Beverages in Polish Cuisine
Besides main and side dishes, Poles enjoy a wide variety of beverages and drinks alongside their meals. In this section, we’ll check out some of the most popular beverages in Polish cuisine:
Kompot is one of the most popular traditional drinks in all of Poland, and it’s typically enjoyed by Poles of all ages. The delicious beverage is typically made from fresh fruits, water, and spices (mainly cloves and rhubarb) along with generous amounts of sugar.
Ideally, almost any fruit can work while making Kompot, but the most common ones are currants, apricots, apples, cherries, strawberries, and plums. Making Kompot is fairly easy but it takes some time to boil and then chill the refreshing drink.
Orangeade, commonly known as “Oranżada” in Poland, is one of the most popular drinks across Poland. Although the original recipe for this drink is originally French, the drink has been a household staple in Poland since the late 1700s.
Orangeade is typically a soft carbonated drink made from water, orange syrup, and sugar. It has a distinct red-orange color, which is inspired by one of its old recipes made from black carrot juice.
As you might’ve guessed, Wódka is Polish for Vodka, which is one of the most popular alcoholic drinks across Poland.
While the origins of Vodka aren’t quite clear, Poland is the only country in the world, besides Russia, that claims to have invented the drink back in the 15th century.
Among the most popular Vodka brands in Poland are Żubrówka and Wyborowa Klasyczna.
Grzaniec is a type of traditional mulled wine that is generally popular during winter and especially the Christmas season in Poland. This one is made with a red wine base, which is infused with a variety of aromatic spices, such as star anise, cloves, and cinnamon.
The drink shares a lot of similarities with other types of mulled wines from nearby regions. However, what makes the Polish version a bit special is that they add a bit of honey to the wine, which adds a much-needed sweetness and enhancement to the flavor of spices added.
Nalewka is a potent Polish alcoholic beverage with around 40% to 75% alcohol by volume. The liquor is typically made by infusing rather than distilling, which gives the drink a distinctive color, flavor, and aroma, depending on the original ingredients.
The beverage usually contains neutral spirits with macerated fruits, spices, and honey, and it’s typically served at room temperature or chilled, and poured in tiny glasses. The drink is claimed by Polish people to boost immunity and energy levels, which contributed to its popularity over the years.
Ingredients in Polish Food
As you try out a variety of Polish meals, you’ll notice that some ingredients are more common in many popular recipes than others. Having these ingredients in your house will allow you to create a huge range of dishes, so here’s a brief overview of them.
Potatoes are the most common ingredient used in Polish cuisine and are included in a variety of dishes, from main courses to side dishes and stews. Boiled potatoes are also used to make mashed potatoes on the side as well as dumplings.
The versatility and affordability of potatoes are among the main reasons behind their huge popularity, which allows them to become a part of many national dishes, such as Pierogi, Kopytka, Placki Ziemniaczane, and much more.
Cabbage is also a popular part of Polish cuisine, and it’s common for locals to enjoy it in a variety of styles. One of the most popular ways Poles eat cabbage is through Sauerkrauts, which is a type of fermented cabbage that is a common side dish for many Polish dishes.
Additionally, cooked cabbages are also commonly used in the Polish staple, Bigos. Alternatively, cabbage leaves are stuffed with various vegetables and meats and cooked, such as Gołąbki.
Mushroom picking is a national sport in Poland, and it’s common for the youth in the countryside to collect huge quantities of delicious mushrooms during the summer.
For that reason, including mushrooms in traditional recipes is fairly common, as it makes for a perfect protein source and alternative to expensive meats during times of hardships throughout history.
As the largest producer of red beets in Europe, it’s no surprise that there are plenty of beetroot-based dishes in Poland. One of the most popular examples here is Barszcz (Borscht), which is beetroot soup often served on Christmas Eve.
Other dishes that also include beets as the main ingredient are Chłodnik, Ćwikła (beetroot salad served with sandwiches), and Zupa Buraczkowa (a type of hot beetroot soup served on holidays.)
Herbs and Spices in Polish Food
As we mentioned above, adding fresh herbs and spices to your Polish dishes is one of the secret keys to reaching the deliciousness of Polish food.
While you can try out any combination of spices you like, here are some essential herbs and spices to keep in your pantry if you want to cook Polish food.
- Dill: Besides being a common garnish for salads and soups, the aromatic flavor of dill works wonders with many Polish dishes. It’s also essential to create dill pickles, which are common side dishes in Poland.
- Parsley: Parsley is another popular herb in Polish cuisine and is often used as a garnish. It has a bright, slightly peppery flavor that makes it a wonderful companion in many potato-based dishes.
- Bay Leaves: While not as popular as the previous two, Bay Leaves still have their presence in Polish cuisine. The strong, slightly woody aroma adds a lot of depth to many Polish soups’ flavor profiles.
- Caraway: Caraway seeds are used for both decorative and flavoring purposes, especially with corned beef and rye bread. They’re also an ingredient in Polish Sauerkraut and sausages.
- Paprika: Paprika’s presence in Polish cuisine is somewhat limited. However, it’s still crucial for some major dishes, such as goulash, where they add flavor, aroma, and even color.
Polish Food Culture
The food culture in Poland is not limited to food alone, as there’s a thriving culture surrounding food in Poland. In this section, we will explore the different aspects of Polish food culture, including eating habits, meal structure, and etiquette.
It may come to a few people’s surprise that Polish cuisine is quite meat-heavy. The most popular meats in Poland are pork, followed by beef and chicken. Another element that contributes to the heartiness of Polish dishes is using plenty of lard and butter.
Poles typically prefer homemade food over eating outside, although fast food restaurants are slowly changing this long-standing culture. However, the introduction of new cuisines and access to new herbs and spices allowed many variations of traditional dishes to rise.
Like most cultures nowadays, Poles typically eat three meals a day. Breakfast is usually the lightest meal, consisting of bread, cheese, pancakes, and crepes.
Lunch is usually the primary meal of the day, which includes main dishes of soups with meat and vegetables. Dinner is typically a lighter version of lunch, consisting of leftovers or simpler, quicker dishes.
The dining etiquette in Poland is heavily influenced by the country’s family values. For example, you should always wait for everyone to sit at the table before you start eating. If you’re invited to someone’s house, you’ll also have to wait until the host invites you to dig in.
As for utensils, most dishes in Poland are eaten with forks, spoons, and knives. The knife typically remains on the right of the plate while both the fork and the spoon are always on the left.