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Polish Cooking

An article on Polish cooking in Britain. Plenty to discuss.

Migrant workers spark boom in Polish cooking

British food owes a great deal to migrants, from the Romans to the Bengalis. Without migrants, and particularly their shops and restaurants, we wouldn't be familiar with tandoori chicken, Greek mezze or even spaghetti bolognaise.

Now it's the turn of Polish food. Some two million people of Polish extraction live in the UK, many of them wartime refugees. But it is the sudden influx of many thousands of workers since Poland joined the EU in 2004 that has seen the real explosion of Polish food in Britain.

The Chiswick/Hammersmith borders in west London are one hub of the Polish community and there, close to the King Street Polish Centre, you'll find The Knaypa, a recent addition to the Little Poland restaurant scene.

Its owner, Monika Milcarz, has lived in England for 10 years and is astonished at the latest changes: "When I came here it was difficult to find anyone Polish. Now it's hard to find anyone not Polish."

Her kitchen is populated entirely by Poles. Adrianna, the pastry chef, hand-shapes uszka, which are like little mushroom-stuffed tortellini, while head chef Dariusz fries placki, a type of potato cake reminiscent of Swedish rosti.

Anyone on the Atkins diet should look away now. The Polish love their carbs - even the cheesecake has potato in it. But even though it's filling, well-made Polish food isn't stodgy.

Pierogi, a popular dish often translated as "dumplings", is more like ravioli and the placki are lightened with egg. Meals generally begin with soup, including barszcz, or Polish bortsch, although this garnet-red consommé bears little relation to the thick, chunky bortsch of Russia or Ukraine.

A sourness, from mild to pronounced, pervades much Polish food. The barscz was originally flavoured with the juice of beetroot left for a few days to ferment naturally.

Sauerkraut (pickled cabbage) is popular and zurek, an intriguing soup sometimes called "white bortsch", is based on a soured rye flour mixture. This may seem odd to Anglo-Saxons, but bear in mind that yogurt and sourdough bread are both made in similar ways.

What Milcarz misses most from Poland is not the hundreds of kinds of kielbasa (sausage) or the dense, wholesome bread, but the vegetables.

"Farms are small and don't use a lot of chemicals," she says. "The tomatoes are fantastic, better than Italian ones even." Watch out, River Café. The Poles are coming.

The Knaypa is at 268 King Street, London W6 (020 8563 2887).


The best foods:

Kapusta kiszona: Sauerkraut-type pickled cabbage.

Pierogi: Polish ravioli, pronounced pee-eh-roe-ghee, often stuffed with sauerkraut, minced beef, or cheese and potato.

Sledzie: herrings cured in salt.

Bigos: "Hunter's stew" of game, pork or sausages and cabbage.

Golabki: stuffed cabbage, usually braised in tomato sauce.

Pierniki: gingerbread biscuits.

Chrzan: horseradish, eaten with fish and vegetables as well as meat, and often coloured red with beetroot.

Flaki: tripe soup. Strong-smelling and not for the faint-hearted.

Ogorek kiszony: gherkins that can be either sour, sweet or sour-sweet.


Polish borscht, or barszcz, is a clear, consommé-like soup, classically soured with home-pickled beetroot, although nowadays a splash of cider vinegar is often used instead. Little mushroom dumplings called uszka are the traditional accompaniment. You'll find a recipe via the link at the top of the page, or you can use small mushroom tortellini instead.

Serves 4

4 beetroot, peeled and grated
2-3 slices of dried porcini or shitake mushroom
2 pints vegetable stock (home-made is best)
1 tbsp cider vinegar
24 uszka or mushroom tortellini, cooked
Put the beetroot, mushroom and stock in a pan and simmer for about half an hour until the beetroot is cooked.

Strain the liquid and throw away the vegetables. Return the liquid to the pan and add the vinegar. Taste and season with salt and pepper and a little more vinegar if it needs it.

Serve with half a dozen uszka or tortellini in each bowl.

The rest of the article:

Re: Polish Cooking


Re: Polish Cooking

""Farms are small and don't use a lot of chemicals," she says. "The tomatoes are fantastic, better than Italian ones even.""

I don't believe this to be true. Tomatoes sold in shops are produced en masse, in the same way they are everywhere else. Also most I've seen for sale in Poland have been grown in Spain.

Re: Polish Cooking

Most Polish farms are certainly small, but they still use chemicals. The farmers in my area seem constantly to be spraying their active fields with chemicals.

Re: Polish Cooking

depends on where you buy the tomatoes. There seems to be a fair bit of organic produce in the South. At least the tomatoes I've eaten in Poland don't taste of fish fertiliser. A lot of people also grow their own on dzialki. Unfortunately the spread of intensive farming will eventually force the decent stuff out of the market.

Re: Polish Cooking

Fish fertiliser?

My Sainsburys sourced tomatoes always taste fine. But maybe I've just grown used to the taste?

Re: Polish Cooking

A lot of tomatoes in the UK are tasteless because of the fertilizer used. If they use fish fertiliser they are particularly foul.

Re: Polish Cooking

Eating tomatoes out of season in Germany results in a statistically increased risk of thyroid cancer.
Organophosphates - within EU acceptability limits.

My mother-in-law's tomatoes are really good - in season. Out of season I use passata from cartons.

Getting back to Polish cooking - in common with English cooking it can be fantastic, wholesome and filling. It depends on the cook.

The increasing problem is to be found with women who can't be bothered to make the effort. Let's face it, men generally (myself excluded) tend not to cook - now women are following suit for the first time in history.

Another little hobby horse of mine - Polish ham is generally rubbish. Make your own ham and what colour is it? Sort of brownish. Buy ham and what colour is it? Efflorescent pink. And that's natural?

Re: Polish Cooking

I agree that it comes down to the cook and the effort. I do the lion's share of the cooking for our family, and my wife will make the occasional Polish dish. No one complains at all about what we serve. As far as foodstuffs here... when things are in season fruits and veggies are great. When not in season...overpriced, tastless junk (the same as any other place I have been).

I think most pork is okay here, but the chickens seem to be tougher and tougher lately. A decent piece of beef is all but impossible to find in our neck of the woods.

And tomatoes...Tinned tomatoes are excellent for sauces, soups and stews (picked and canned at the peak of freshness); we avod "fresh' tomatoes until the summer.