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Past Pierogi: The New Face of Polish Delicacies

When somebody says “Polish meals,” what dishes come to thoughts? When you’ve conjured up photos of hearty gołąbki, kiełbasa, and bigos, you’re not alone—as confirmed by one take a look at the 71,000-strong Fb group I Love My Polish Heritage. However again in Poland, folks’s consuming habits are altering quickly, and at this time these conventional dishes are extra the exception than the rule.

Left: Cookbook creator Michał Korkosz (Photograph: Katarzyna Pruszkiewicz). Proper: Korkosz’s half-sour cucumber melon soup (Photograph: Michał Korkosz)

Whereas the rich have at all times loved fat-rich dishes in Poland, the delicacies obtained markedly stodgier for everybody throughout communism. “Communism had unfavorable penalties for Polish delicacies. Individuals lacked not simply meat however even probably the most primary substances, together with spices,” says Monika Milewska, a meals anthropologist on the College of Gdańsk who wrote a guide about Polish meals tradition beneath communism. “The authorities wished to standardize recipes, which led to the diminishment of regional cuisines. Kuchnia Polska, (“The Polish Kitchen,” printed in 1954), a preferred cookbook on the time, additionally promoted fat-rich, heavy dishes.”

Jarosław Dumanowski, a meals historian at Nicolaus Copernicus College in Toruń who’s engaged on a docuseries on the historical past of Polish delicacies, says the gastronomy was traditionally characterised by spicy, bitter, and umami flavors (from wild mushrooms and smoked meats or prunes); foraged substances (mushrooms, bilberries, herbs, and extra); ancestral grains resembling buckwheat, millet, and barley; and root greens like salsify that predate the arrival of potatoes within the seventeenth century. Fermenting and pickling have been widespread as effectively, as a result of not solely did it preserve greens from being spoiled, it was additionally very a lot in keeping with the Polish folks’s love of bitter meals.

Duck mussels and freshwater fish together with pike, lamprey, carp, and lake sturgeons have been extremely necessary in a rustic that took spiritual fasting critically. “Fasting in Poland was a lot stricter than in Protestant and different Catholic international locations,” Dumanowski says. Throughout that point, the Church forbade not simply consuming meat but in addition animal-based merchandise resembling dairy and eggs, though fish was allowed. Based on Dumanowski, many fasting dishes “resembled the vegan eating regimen of at this time.” 

One other facet of Polish delicacies that the majority usually will get ignored by folks outdoors of Poland was that it was closely influenced by meals traditions from everywhere in the world, together with the Center East. By the late Center Ages, Polish folks already had entry to spices resembling pepper, ginger, cloves, and saffron. “This was the case in all of Europe, however in Poland it simply lasted longer,” Dumanowski says.

Within the sixteenth century, Queen Bona Sforza launched asparagus, carrots, and artichokes from her native Italy, hereto unknown in Poland, ceaselessly altering the way in which Polish folks ate. The Italian roots are obvious within the Polish language: Whereas different European languages use phrases like tomato or tomate for “tomato,” the Polish time period is pomidor, which harks again to the Italian “pomodoro.”

Culinary evolution got here from inside Poland as effectively by way of the nation’s vibrant pre-war Jewish communities, whose dietary staples included pancakes, latkes and completely different sorts of noodles. “Jews had been residing on Polish lands for 1000’s of years,” says Magdalena Maślak, culinary program curator at Warsaw’s Museum of the Historical past of Polish Jews. “You may see that affect in each on a regular basis meals in addition to in vacation dishes.” One instance is jellied carp, also called Jewish-style carp, which is usually served throughout Christmas Eve dinner and bears placing resemblance to gefilte fish

However regardless of its many influences, Polish meals has at all times been inextricably linked to the land and to the seasons. “We’re consuming quite a lot of meat now, however it is because we’ve been overwhelmed by all of the prosperity,” Korkosz says, particularly of the older generations. Milewska supplied extra context: “Beneath communism, meat grew to become political. Earlier than WWII, peasants and laborers ate it solely through the holidays, however the communist authorities promised to alter that, so appetites for meat grew. By 1956 there have been common social protests over the dearth of meat, which led to the autumn of a number of communist governments.” Meat had such social cachet that there was even a black marketplace for it. “No surprise the older technology remains to be connected to it, regardless of the abundance of different merchandise,” says Milewska.

After the transition from communism to capitalism, Polish folks had a a lot wider alternative of various meals, most notably at grocery store chains resembling Géant, which started popping up everywhere in the nation. By the mid-’90s, folks began to prepare dinner much less and eat out extra. You could possibly hear older folks complain that “lunch was once a bread roll and kefir, however now it’s a kebab.” Round that point, my father obtained a gig reviewing eating places for a Polish day by day, and there have been loads of non-Polish spots to speak about together with English steakhouses, pizza parlors, and Indian eateries. Once I turned 18 and voted for the primary time, we celebrated with Chinese language meals.

As of late, Polish cooks and residential cooks aren’t simply going out for worldwide meals—they’re weaving it into Polish recipes and vice versa, and in flip, are giving the nationwide delicacies a contemporary twist.

Epoka chef Marcin Przybysz (Photograph: Aleksandra Zając)

“Poland goes by way of the identical culinary transformation as Scandinavia did within the late Nineteen Nineties and early aughts with Nordic Delicacies, and it’s starting to unfold everywhere in the nation,” says Marcin Przybysz, winner of “Polish High Chef” and chef at Epoka, a buzzy Warsaw restaurant that will get its inspiration from outdated Polish recipes. The old-meets-new fusion pattern is clear within the many “New Polish” cookbooks printed in each Polish and English, and within the rising variety of eating places serving dishes like conventional Polish potato dumplings paired with a gorgonzola or camembert sauce (a fan favourite at The Eatery in Warsaw). In Polish’d, Korkosz suggests including miso paste to żurek (a soup sometimes served for Easter that makes use of fermented rye flour) or substituting cream cheese for twaróg (farmer’s cheese) in a Basque cheesecake.

In Poland, “now we have a knack for experimentation and altering up what we eat. There’s a little bit of fusion in all of us,” Korkosz says. “If I’m speaking to somebody and so they inform me they’ve dill pickles with hummus for breakfast daily, then that is new Polish cooking.”

Plating a dish at Epoka (Photograph: Grzegorz Grzeszczak)

Conventional dishes resembling pierogi nonetheless have their place in Polish cooking, in fact, though the fillings now embrace feta or goat cheese alongside the extra conventional twaróg.

Typically, shifting ahead means taking a step again, and in Poland, meaning trying again not solely at our personal traditions, but in addition the worldwide influences which have left their mark on our meals tradition. “We’re going again to our roots,” Korkosz says. “We have now come full circle.”

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