Culinary Travels To The East

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Poland Tastes Good

…was the headline of a little journey just before Christmas last year. I have been amongst some others to get invited on a culinary round trip through Poland. Even though we are neighbors, I did not know to much about the country´ s culinary background. So I made my way to Warsaw to find out whats going on on Polands plates and in their glasses. Prior to the trip, I have decided not to do any research before, leaving me with no expectations and an open mind. For me that was the best way to be able to experience everything from our hosts perspective.

One recipe, I have created following up on this journey can be found here!

Łódź

After a dinner to get to know our hosts and travel mates on the first night, we woke up to drive to Łódź to get a first introduction into the regions cooking at Baccaro Studio with the lovely Malgorzata Pindych. When stepping out of the bus in a small alley, we went through a little hallway to enter a typical industrial yard as one knows from Berlin too. The old factory buildings are all reawakened with renewed life, such as art, gastronomy, apartments or in our case: a cooking studio.

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Zero Waste

The studio had a very welcoming appearance on me and it felt good to dive into the Polish cuisine like this for a start, rather than a dry presentation. Malgorzata wanted to show us her way of celebrating a zero waste kitchen with traditional influences. One thing I recognized was the simplicity of the ingredients, even some “leftovers” were presented on the table. Potatoes, matjes, duck, apples and flour just to name a few. The art of a delicious meal is always created by the chef and can be achieved without luxury food very nicely.

Our Menu

We started with a very comfy soup called “Zalewajka”, which was made of minced duck, the produced whey from ricotta for the main instead of fermented rye and the thick leftover peels of potato. This soup unfortunately got eaten by me without taking a picture to show you but that’s only a sign of good taste. Second was a Tatar of Matjes with cucumber pickles and a very fast produced bread. That was something I am familiar with, as we eat this in the northern parts of Germany too. I very much liked the mayonnaise made from the fish oil which was made to accompany the fish. These little things are always making the difference and are something I take home with.

The main Malgorzata had in mind was much to my liking too. We prepared some confit pork belly with beets, potato dumplings and homemade ricotta. The meat has been cooked in oil at low temperature until nice and tender to be then caramelized. Accompanied by the other ingredients a very tasty dish. Of course a sweet treat has been on the agenda too, which was a banana cake with an apple chutney.

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So, what do you think? We enjoyed not only the meal but the preparation too. The whole process of being together in the kitchen, having good company and somebody who takes care that in the end something can be served was simply a great introduction for me to this trip. So many thanks for your efforts at Baccaro Studio.

Heading North

With a full stomach and a good feeling we took a guided tour along town and made space for more food to come. We took the bus to the countryside to arrive at Gozdawa Palace which is the place to go for some real goose eating. People come here from all over Poland and even further to get a taste of what is been brought to the table here. This place actually started out as an event location only but fortunately the restaurant opened its doors to public 4 years ago and it is possible to have a meal without joining a large group to celebrate now.

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Polish Greeting

Gozdawa Palace is looking like one would imagine it when learning its name for the first time. It has a lavish appearance with all the glass, marble and golden wall papers that make it a popular destination for weddings and anniversaries. We were warmly welcomed with a glass of vodka and got a short introduction about the place and what was about to come while looking on the opulent buffet.

The Goose Whisperer

Now it was time for chef Piotr Lenart to take over, who has a long background in very traditional Polish cuisine and was very straight forward as a person. He described his cooking very modest as “countryside cooking” but I doubt you find something like this a lot in other places. He has planned to show us different ways of preparing a goose and by this I mean more than making just a roast from it.

Piotr set up a buffet with pâté, salami, terrine, rillettes, pickles and cheese to show us only a few ways to prepare the meat. He only gets his meat from nearby farms, where he knows whats going on and says “a goose from the supermarket just does not taste as it should” and if you have been sitting on his table, you know what I mean. That being said, I certainly would not have ten types of meat products on my table, though he wanted to point out each part is used in order to respect the animal.

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Ham

There have been a few stand out products on this evening, I wanted to point out here. All these were of course handmade in the kitchen. Goose Ham was for sure a real delicacy. Chef Piotr is cutting off the breast first, which will be salted afterwards to cure for 10 days. The meat will then be watered for two hours and left to dry for another day but it’s not done yet. The ham will now be hanging in cold smoke for one week and left to ripen after and only now it is ready to be served. The result is delicious, if one is only patient enough.

Tatar

I know Tatar is nothing new to most of you guys but I bet many of you have not tried it made from goose drumsticks. The meat, including the fatty skin was minced and simply seasoned with salt, pepper, marjoram and…that is it. Served on a slice of bread, it was clearly one of the nicest things to discover on this journey. I will make my own variation of this and share it here with you guys soon.

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After the cold starters, I have actually been stuffed already and so were my travelmates, but we got served a few hot dishes as well. Unfortunately these were hard to finish but I had to try the traditional soup made with goose blood. It sounded weird and really not tempting, yet my curiosity was stronger and it turned out to be very tasty. It was cooked with blood, dried fruits and plum vinegar and was served with tiny dumplings inside. The soup reminded me a lot of some recipes from the southern parts of Germany, where offals are also cooked sweet and sour. So if you ever make your way to Poland and are nearby, make sure to book a table at the Gozdawa Palace and experience Piotr´ s food!

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Toruń

After a hard night of sleep, because of all the food from Piotr, we were going to Toruń. One of the few relics of the medieval taste of Toruń are the famous Toruń gingerbreads or pepperbreads. It is besides Nicolaus Copernicus one of the most branded products from here with a heritage going back to the 14th century. At this time the city has been a very prosperous Hanseatic city, importing also spices from the east which were very valuable back then.

Making Our Own Gingerbread

A visit to the gingerbread museum to bake our own gingerbread, made us travel back in time a little. Under the strict eyes of the gingerbread master, we prepared a dough just as it has been done hundreds of years ago, without the time to ripen of course. Kneading together flour, honey and the spices in no time, we were able to mould our desired pieces of gingerbread, all in a traditional environment with a very funny master.

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Tasty And Pretty

All of us know the big gingerbread hearts being sold at fairs but besides the fact that they do not even taste nice, the decoration there is rather poor. After baking our pieces, we went up the stairs to be taught how to properly decorate a gingerbread. Tiny piping bags filled with different colored icing have been handed over to us to rather draw our ideas on the gingerbread. It was funny to see all the different ideas and we could watch a lady making an art out of it, which was stunning to see. The Museum of Gingerbread, a very entertaining place for kids and grown-ups.

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Finally Some Food Again

By only reading this you can tell, there could not possibly have been a time to get a feeling of hunger but hey, that was the whole purpose of the trip and we only had limited time to pack in as much as possible. Taking a guided tour around town, our way led to 4 Pory Roku restaurant, which can be translated to four seasons. Chef Ariel Gomez Carusso, originally from Buenos Aires serves fresh and regional sourced products and is a rather contemporary chef, though with strong influences from his grandmother.

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Not The End Of The Day Yet

From Toruń we made our way further north to Gdańsk, the capital of the Pomeranian Voivodeship. The first and also last stop of that day was at the Brovarnia Gdańsk and as it sounds, a bear brewery. Gdańsk once had a lot of breweries at a time beer had been drunken rather than water, due to hygienic aspects. Even kids did but that was at another time with beer being a little different from today. Unfortunately the second world war destroyed many parts of the town including most breweries. Fortunately nowadays many micro breweries were brought to life and the town serves a wide variety of beer again.

House Beer & Dinner

We had a little tasting in the brewery before putting our feet under a table again. Brovarnia produces three different beers which are only durable for a short time. At the time of our visit it was a classic Pils, a Pale Ale and a Christmas beer, all different and each one has its fans. With a small production like this, it is crucial to maintain a constant stock, we got told, due to the time a beer needs to be drinkable. Again a nice effort, only to produce as much as needed. If you would want to get your hands on a beer, you would have to travel to the brewery as it is only sold at Brovarnia.

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Gdańsk

The town of Gdańsk reminded me a little of Amsterdam with all the narrow houses. Unfortunately all rebuild due to the destruction of the war but with the effort to show people what it was once like. At some points though, I was not quite sure if the whole rebuilding has been pushed a little to far in order to attract tourists. We got told that the prices went up so much, that locals can sometimes hardly effort to spend a night there. Nevertheless very pretty to have a walk around here.

Historic Dining

Having made some space for more food to experience, we went to Pod Łososiem house, which equals underneath the salmon. Inside the restaurant Winne Grono was located with a beautiful museum style interior due to its heritage. The house´s restaurant history dates back to 1598 and is therefore fairly longer existent than most restaurants nowadays will be. It features not only original fish dishes, like the name is pointing out but also a famous liquor called Goldwasser. The latter is a traditional clear and sweet herbal liquid with pieces of gold in it. No offense here, but that was not much to my liking…for others it was though.

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We were greeted by the friendly owner Arkadiusz Onasch, who actually only opened the place for us, as it has been closed for renovation. So we have been the first lucky guests to dine here after the makeover. We were served a beautiful and slightly oaky Chardonnay while listening to Artur Michna, a food critic, telling us more about the food scene. A mix of Hering compositions made the starter in the meantime. Hering is one of the most common local fishes and the chef presented different ways of preparation, from the owners family recipe to a more contemporary asian influenced one and all very tasty. Followed by a rustic fish soup with cheese and the main which was a crispy pikeperch with duxelles, gnocchi like dumplings and dill sauce, the cooking by the chef did really satisfy all of us. We said goodbye with a glass of Goldwasser…Na zdrowie!

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Back To The Countryside

With a full belly, we got on the bus again to continue the loop toward the west to arrive at Kozia Farma goat farm.  By then it was 3.30pm and it should not be the last stop of the day. Welcomed by the lovely owners, we sat down on a small kitchen table which was already prepared with homemade cheeses, jams and dried fruits. It was the first time of the trip, that felt so cozy and a little as you would be visiting friends.

From Management To Goats

Both, Katarzynę and Grzegorza stepped out of their “normal” jobs to realize this farm. Today, they produce different kinds of goat cheese, yoghurt and milk but also veggies and fruits. If you feel like taking a break from busy days, book a room and spend some time on the farm. While you can enjoy the silence out there, learn how to take care of the goats or how the delicious cheese is being made.

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100 % Organic

Katarzynę and Grzegorza have the ambition to run their farm in a fair and respectful way for climate and nature and therefore do it all organic. This status is tested each year in order to be maintained. As a result, they may not produce tons and tons of cheese and milk but for sure they contribute to a better agroculture today. Katarzynę gave each goat a name and is even able to recognizes them by their look. Fairly good as quite a few of them are living on the farm.

After the tasting and some delicious homemade fruit liquor, we were allowed to visit the goats in their stalls. I got to admit, they all looked like happy goats in the hay. Everything was clean and the goats were so relaxed, even asking for cuddles. For sure this may not be an easy life for those two and their kids but definitely a satisfying one. I might be back on my own some day and spend a few days here.

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From Pickles And Fish

The last stop of the day was made at Aktywna Agroturystyka, a farm with the concept of activities combined with regional cuisine. The goal here was to learn something about preserving food. As you all know each season has something to give but to enable people to eat ingredients off season at times with less to harvest, one has to preserve these. A really common way to do so in Poland is to make pickles and the other is to smoke meat or fish.

One thing we could experience was, that everyone loves to host guests and here on the farm it should be no different. At our arrival the table has been set with different pickles, from cucumbers to pepper, homemade cake and smoked trout. If you ask me, that is all it needs, you arrive at a place and directly know what it is about. And I loved the fact we saw something different at each stop.

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Pickles

Time to get our hands on some pickles, so we learned how to make Sauerkraut and cucumber pickles. The Cabbage has been grated first and after this salt was added. The cabbage was kneaded then for quite some time. Afterwards the mix has been firmly pressed into big clay pots to keep out oxygen as good as possible. The outer leaves of the cabbage were used as a lit to cover things up. The pots are then kept at room temperature for three to five days to ferment the cabbage. Once a day a wooden stick is pressed in to allow the fermenting gases to escape the pots. When the cabbage is fermented to the desired point, it will be kept on a cold place to prevent an ongoing fermentation.

Does not sound to complicated but will take some time to practice until when to leave for fermentation and what suites your taste. Another tasty way to pickle have been the salty cucumbers. In order to prepare these, water and salt is brought to the boil and left to cool down again. The cucumbers are then stuffed into clean jars together with some herbs and spices to be topped up with the salt water. This as well, stays at room temperature for a few days until fermentation is brought to the desired level and kept in a cold place from then just like any other ferment.

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Smoked Trout

Tastewise this might not be on the agenda for everybody, as ferments have a certain flavor but I really like it a lot and already made my own attempt to ferment some kimchi at home. It even came out very nice for the first try but still room to improve things further and I will try other things too. Slowly getting in dinner mood, we prepared some trout to be smoked fresh for our feast. To do so, we learned some fish tying technic to be able to hang the fish into the smoke. After this we went out into the dark to fiddle the fish onto metal bars and hung it into the smoker. Big chunks of beech wood fired the smoker for a good 45 minutes now to cook the fish. The other method could have been cold smoking, but as the name says temperatures do not exceed 40 °C here, which then would have kept us waiting for the meal a lot longer.

The dinner with different pickles, oven roasted potatoes and the tender smoked trout has been very good and again different from the prior meals. One funny thing though to mention here. On the table were some jars of preserved cherries which serve a complete different purpose compared to my sense for this. We always preserve the fruits to be able to enjoy them in winter but here the opposite is the case. Everyone is only after the juice in the jars rather than the fruit, which are more or less side works here. Different point of view…

Bees

The next day we made our way further towards Warsaw again. First stop was at Stowarzyszenie Nasze Pszczoły or the Association of Beekeeping Enthusiasts in Jabłonna. Sure, no bees to see at this time of the year but one really important stop on our journey to remind us on the importance of these small animals. Bees do not only equal honey, bees are the major factor in order to make it possible to grow the food we need to feed us.

Help The Bees

Bees react very sensitive to changes in their ecosystem, a whole population can easily vanish, when pesticides are used nearby and you do not want to know what happens if the bee disappears completely from this planet. This is why a lot of beekeepers are traveling with their bees to clean places. Now, I know not all of you can have their own bees but everyone can at least do little things to help them. Simply by doing some of the following:

  • plant some bee friendly flowers in your garden or even on your balcony
  • do not use pesticides or chemicals for your plants
  • by local honey and vegetables to support the beekeepers and farmers who grow food without chemicals

We can make the right decision by what to eat and where to buy our food on a daily basis. This tiny decision can make a change in agriculture happen and make sure the bees will fly.

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Natural Imune System Booster

Bee products have so much to offer besides the sweet taste of honey on your toast. You want to stay healthy all year round without swallowing pills or powders? Here is how: Bring 250 ml of water to the boil and leave it in a clean jar to cool down. Add 1 tbsp of bee pollen and 1 tbsp of honey and leave to dissolve over night, done. Have 2 spoons each day and be good. The pollen content vitamins, enzymes, minerals and proteins and make it the perfect nutritional supplement.

Vodka – Polish National Heritage

Arriving in Warsaw again, our way led to the Polish Vodka Museum to find out more about the clear liquid. First question, who invented vodka, Russians or Polish? The Polish first came up with vodka around 1400, by then only half as strong as today and made from rye, which has been grown a lot. The name relies on the Polish word “woda” meaning for water. We got told a good vodka should be clear and strong and should not have any artificial aromas. This is why Poland and Russia want a purity law just like for beer brewing. According to this one should not use other than cereals or potatoes and water to distill.

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The first step in vodka production is very similar to that of brewing beer. One begins with the production of the so-called mash, the mixing of the respective raw material, i.e. ground and malted grain or crushed potatoes, with water, whereby in the case of potatoes, additional enzymes, e.g. from malt, must be added. During subsequent heating, the enzymes contained in the malt (especially amylase) become active and break down the starch molecules. Yeast is added to the now sweet mash (the wort) to start the fermentation. During fermentation, the sugar in the mash is converted into alcohol, up to a content of 6 to 7 percent alcohol by volume. Then the actual distillation takes place, whereby the so-called raw alcohol is obtained. Filtered water will then be added to bring it down to the drinkable level which is usually around 40% volume.

Drink The Right Way

Vodka in Poland is enjoyed in good company and not ment to be drunken alone, if so, you are considered an alcoholic. Usually you drink it with food and that might be a reason for the hour long meals, with the food being brought to the table until far after midnight. To drink properly, hold your breath and down the small glass at once, breathing out deeply after. Even considered a neutral spirit, vodka has different tastes depending on the base ingredient and the percentage of alcohol. So there are differences in their aromatic character, sweetness or texture (smooth or a little harsh in the throat).

ZONI

Being in a good mood after the vodka tasting, which is ment to be swallowed not like on a wine tasting, we went only around the corner to Zoni restaurant. Located in parts of the former vodka factory, this restaurant is quite a place to be in Warsaw for contemporay fine dining. The interior relies on the history of the building, combining copper, wood and metal and the guests can enjoy the open kitchen as a stage for the ambitious chefs.

Last Supper

A choice of Polish white and red wine was offered together with bread and butter. I got to admit, that I did not expect Poland to grow wines at all and they have not been too memorable yet, but a starting point is set and good vines need decades to carry excellent grapes. Nevertheless both variations have been easy going, not being complex at all for my taste. Fortunately Magda, our guide was willing to share the menu with me, so we could have a taste of each dish from the menu that offered two choices for each course.

This dinner has been by far the most complex one in terms of composition and technics, not meaning being better than the others we have tasted. Yet it was a great way to end the trip and to be able to see what chefs are up to here. I really liked the roasted cauliflower with brown butter for starter and the tender ribs we had as a choice of main. Zoni restaurant would not be booked out for long in advance if it would not offer the standard we could taste that last evening. I was just a very nice location with great staff and very fine food.

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Wrap Up

First of all, Poland really tastes good and I feel very fortunate having attended these days. From the arrival to the departure, I always felt appreciated, no matter whilst on a farm or in a fancy restaurant. Polish people are great hosts by nature and know how to make you feel welcome. They like company and they like to celebrate that. The reason for me to come here was, that I wanted to find out about a cuisine that is under the radar of most people, including myself but some Polish too.

As mentioned earlier, by the time influences from western or Asian countries were possible, a big part of the nation wanted to experience everything but their own cuisine. Today worldwide influences are still to find in many restaurants but the young generation tries to find its own way by first of all keeping traditions and by combining the Polish heritage with the rest…and that just works very well. I am happy to have met all these people with their different stories and their very own products, they have come up with. Polish cuisine can not be packed in one sentence, it is a feeling you discover while sitting on their table, listening to stories, cooking and eating together.

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