When Italian Princess Bona Sforza became the Queen of Poland in 1518, she brought along her Italian court staff, who soon introduced ingredients previously unknown to the Polish, including tomatoes, lettuce, leeks, cauliflower and chives. Today, the Polish word (wloszczyna) for standard soup greens, including parsley root, celeriac, cabbage and leek, translates to "Italian stuff".
Poland’s relentless cold climate means soups play a key role in Polish meals. Barszcz, a bright red fermented beetroot soup, is often served with beans for festive occasions, as is Żurek, a soup made of sour rye flour and boiled meat. A hearty hunter's stew, bigos is the national dish of Poland, made from a combination of cabbage, mushrooms and various meats. Traditionally, the rich and dense stew is made from pork or Polish sausage, cooked over several days to intensify, but it can also contain venison or duck.
Polish cuisine is also renowned for its distinctive dumplings, especially pierogi, dough filled with minced meat, brined cabbage, mushrooms, potatoes, onions or cottage cheese. Meanwhile, popular desserts include pastries and cakes, commonly made from yeast dough; including Polish doughnuts, paczki, stuffed with jam, chocolate or even liqueur.
But one of Poland’s most famous specialties is clear vodka, traditionally enjoyed neat, without ice or mixers. One of the most distinctive varieties is Żubrowka, known as bison grass vodka, where each bottle contains a blade of grass from Poland’s Białowieża Forest.
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This Polish cheesecake is recognisable by the lattice pattern layered over the sweet cheese and sultana filling, which is created using a reserved portion of the pastry base.
Mushroom picking is a popular Polish activity, and there are places across Australia where you can go to harvest your own fresh mushrooms. Autumn is the best time to pick mushrooms and to cook this recipe.
Duck is a favourite meat in Polish cuisine, and serving it with apple and cranberries is a traditional combination. If you have time and want to ensure you get the skin as crisp as possible, season the duck inside and out with salt, pepper and dried marjoram and leave uncovered in the refrigerator overnight before roasting.
Vibrantly coloured chlodnik is a popular summer dish in Poland. The warm version of beetroot soup is called barszcz.