What’s for dinner?
Dinner eaten at home has traditionally been the main meal of the day in Poland. At present, particularly in big cities, dinner is often supplanted by lunch eaten at a canteen or bistro near the workplace or by fast-food take-aways. Nevertheless, many families try to sit down to a common combined dinner and supper during the week and an early-afternoon dinner on weekends and holidays.
The typical Polish dinner consists of two courses and is followed by a home-made dessert. First comes the traditional soup course, an especially important element of Polish cookery. The varieties of Polish soups is truly impressive and stands out from those of other European cuisines. Many soups are seasonal. In spring, a soup made with young sorrel leaves and containing a hard-boiled egg as well as asparagus soups are served in spring. In summer it may be chłodnik, a cold creamy borscht made with young beetroot leaves and buttermilk or clabber and containing a hard-boiled egg, or vegetable soup made with young spring vegetables. In winter, hearty, filling soups are preferred such as potato, mushroom or split-pea with bacon. Some soups are so filling that one can make a meal of them. Amongst the most popular is tomato soup (served with rice or noodles) and, of course, home-made chicken or beef noodle soup. Other typical soups
include tripe soup seasoned with marjoram (Warsaw style is served with tiny forcemeat balls). Then there are sourdough-based soups such as white borscht and żurek (tart ryemeal soup).
The second dinner course has traditionally been a meat dish (e.g. roast chicken, minced cutlets, steak roll-ups), a salad or home-made pickles and boiled or mashed potatoes, less frequently fish.
Farinaceous dishes occupy a significant place in Polish, hence also Warsaw cuisine. These include various kinds of pancakes such as crêpes, grated-potato dumplings, plain and plum-filled mashed-potato dumplings and the well-loved pierogi, filled dough pockets somewhat reminiscent of ravioli.
The fillings include meat, sauerkraut and mushrooms, pot cheese and mashed potatoes (known as “pierogi ruskie” or Ruthenian dumplings). Sweet versions are filled with in-season fruit or sweet pot cheese. To this day, those have been the stock in trade and the well-known milk bars, a communist-era gastronomic invention. Milk bars were intended to provide affordable meals for people working in big cities. They owe their name to the fact that the bulk of their menu comprised inexpensive, meatless dishes made with groats, dairy products, potatoes and inexpensive types of meat (e.g. offal). Although times have changed, milk bars
continue to function, serving much the same foods as they did several dozen years ago. Some of them such as the Bar Prasowy (Press Bar) and Bar Gdański (Gdańsk Bar), despite their interesting modern décor, continue to offer such classic milk- bar fare as tomato soup with rice, pot-cheese dumplings garnished with butter-fried bread crumbs and sugar and potato pancakes. These are washed down with the inevitable glass of kompot, home-made fruit drink.
And these eateries continue to be popular amongst people of different age groups and in various walks of life, from businessmen and students as well as OAPs and families with children to tourists wishing to learn about Warsaw’s culinary scene.