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Polish cuisine (Polish: Kuchnia polska) is a style of cooking and food preparation originating in or widely popular in Poland. Polish cuisine has evolved over the centuries to become very eclectic due to Poland's history and it shares many similarities with neighbouring German, Czech, Slovak and Silesian culinary traditions. It has also been widely influenced by other Central European cuisines, namely Austrian and Hungarian as well as Jewish, French, Italian, and Turkish. Polish-styled cooking in other cultures is often referred to as à la polonaise.
Polish cuisine is rich in meat, especially pork, chicken and beef, in addition to a wide range of vegetables, spices, and herbs. It is also characteristic in its use of various kinds of noodles as well as cereals and grains. In general, Polish cuisine is hearty and heavy in its use of butter, cream, eggs and extensive seasoning. The traditional dishes are often demanding in preparation. Many Poles allow themselves a generous amount of time to serve and enjoy their festive meals, especially Christmas Eve supper (Wigilia) or Easter breakfast, which could take a number of days to prepare in their entirety.
Among the well-known Polish national dishes are bigos [ˈbiɡɔs]; pierogi [pʲɛˈrɔɡʲi]; kiełbasa; pork loin kotlet schabowy breaded cutlet [ˈkɔtlɛt sxaˈbɔvɨ]; gołąbki cabbage roll [ɡɔˈwɔ̃pkʲi]; zrazy roulade [ˈzrazɨ]; sour cucumber soup (zupa ogórkowa) [ˈzupa ɔɡurˈkɔva]; mushroom soup, (zupa grzybowa) [ˈzupa ɡʐɨˈbɔva]; tomato soup (zupa pomidorowa) [ˈzupa pɔmidɔˈrɔva]; rosół meat broth [ˈrɔsuw]; żurek sour rye soup [ˈʐurɛk]; flaki tripe soup [ˈflakʲi]; and red beetroot barszcz [barʂt͡ʂ].
A traditional Polish dinner is composed of three courses, beginning with a soup like the popular rosół broth and tomato soup. At restaurants, the soups are followed by an appetizer such as herring (prepared in either cream, oil, or in aspic); or other cured meats and vegetable salads. The main course usually includes a serving of meat, such as roast, breaded pork cutlet, or chicken, with a coleslaw-like surówka [suˈrufka], shredded root vegetables with lemon and sugar (carrot, celeriac, seared beetroot), sauerkraut or mizeria salad. The side dishes are usually boiled potatoes, rice or less commonly kasza. Meals often conclude with a dessert including makowiec, a poppy seed pastry, napoleonka cream pie or sernik cheesecake.
Internationally, if a Polish culinary tradition is used in other cuisines it is referred to as à la polonaise, from French meaning 'Polish-style'. In France, the use of butter instead of cooking oil, frying vegetables with buttered breadcrumbs, minced parsley and boiled eggs (Polonaise garnish) as well as adding horseradish, lemon juice or sour cream to sauces like Velouté is known under this term.
Polish cuisine in the Middle Ages was based on dishes made of agricultural produce and cereal crops (millet, rye, wheat), meats of wild and farm animals, fruits, forest berries and game, honey, herbs and local spices. It was known above all for abundant use of salt from Wieliczka and permanent presence of groats (kasza). A high calorific value of dishes and drinking beer or mead as a basic drink was typical of Middle Ages Polish cuisine.
During the Middle Ages the cuisine of Poland was heavy and spicy. Two main ingredients were meat (both game and beef) and cereal. The latter consisted initially of proso millet, but later in the Middle Ages other types of cereal became widely used. Most commoners did not use bread and instead consumed cereals in the forms of kasza or various types of flatbread, some of which (for instance kołacz) are considered traditional recipes even in the 21st century. Apart from cereals, a large portion of the daily diet of mediaeval Poles consisted of beans, mostly broad beans and peas. As the territory of Poland was densely forested, usage of mushrooms, forest berries, nuts and wild honey was also widespread. Among the delicacies of the Polish nobility were honey-braised bear paws served with horseradish-flavoured salad (now species protected in Poland), smoked bear tongue and bear bacon.
Thanks to close trade relations with Turkey and the countries in the Caucasus, the price of spices (such as black pepper and nutmeg) was much lower in Poland than the rest of Europe, hence spicy sauces became popular. The usage of two basic sauces (the jucha czerwona and jucha szara, or red and gray blood in Old Polish) remained widespread at least until the 18th century.
The daily beverages included milk, whey, buttermilk and various herb infusions. The most popular alcoholic beverages were beer and mead; however in the 16th century upper classes began to import Hungarian and Silesian wines. Mead was so widespread that in the 13th century Prince Leszek I the White explained to the Pope that Polish knights could not participate in a crusade as there was no mead in the Holy Land. Also, vodka became popular, possibly among the lower classes first. There is written evidence suggesting that vodka originated in Poland. The word "vodka" was recorded for the first time ever in 1405 in Akta Grodzkie, the court documents from the Palatinate of Sandomierz in Poland. At that time, the word wódka (vodka) referred to chemical compounds such as medicines and cosmetic cleansers, while the popular beverage was called gorzałka [ɡɔˈʐawka] (from the Old Polish gorzeć).
Along with the Italian queen Bona Sforza (second wife of Sigismund I of Poland) many Italian cooks came to Poland after 1518. Although native vegetable foods were an ancient and intrinsic part of the cuisine, this began a period in which vegetables like lettuce, leeks, celeriac and cabbage were more widely used. Even today, some of those vegetables are referred to in Polish as włoszczyzna, a word derived from Włochy, the Polish name of Italy. During this period the use of spices, which arrived in Poland via Western Asian trade routes, was common among those who could afford them, and dishes considered elegant could be very spicy. However, the idea that Queen Bona was the first to introduce vegetables to Poland is false. While her southern cooks may have helped elevate and expand the role of various vegetables in royal Polish cuisine, records show that the court of king Jogaila (in Polish Władysław II Jagiełło, who died in 1434, over 80 years before her reign) enjoyed a variety of vegetables including lettuce, beets, cabbage, turnip, carrots, peas and cauliflower.
Polish-style pickled cucumber (ogórek kiszony) is a variety developed in the northern part of Central Europe. It has been exported worldwide and is found in the cuisines of many countries. It is usually preserved in wooden barrels. A cucumber only pickled for a few days is different in taste (less sour) than one pickled for a longer time and is called ogórek małosolny, which means "lightly salted cucumber". Another kind of pickled cucumber, popular in Poland, is ogórek konserwowy (preserved cucumber) which is preserved with vinegar rather than pickled and uses different spices creating a sweet and sour taste.
The only indisputable fact is that the court of Queen Bona was fed in an Italian fashion, because she exclusively employed Italian cooks, some of whom were originally hired to prepare parties for aristocratic families but who were soon serving typical Italian dishes as part of the court's daily menus. Court records show that Queen Bona imported large volumes of southern European, American and Western Asian fruits (oranges, lemons, pomegranates, olives, figs, tomatoes), vegetables (potatoes and corn), nuts (chestnuts, raisins and almonds, including marzipan), along with grains (such as rice), cane sugar and Italian olive oil. The court also imported various herbs and spices including black pepper, fennel, saffron, ginger, nutmeg, cloves and cinnamon.
Until the Partitions perpetrated by the neighbouring empires, Poland was one of the largest countries in the world, and encompassed many regions with their own, distinctive culinary traditions. Two consecutive Polish kings, Władysław IV and John II Casimir (Polish: Jan II Kazimierz Waza) married the same French Duchess, Marie Louise Gonzaga (Polish: Ludwika Maria), daughter of Charles I, Duke of Mantua; persecuted by King Louis XIII of France for her affiance to his opponent Gaston, Duke of Orléans. Marie Louise arrived in Warsaw in 1646, was widowed, and married again in 1649. Ludwika brought along with her a court full of Frenchmen including courtiers, secretaries, army officers, physicians, merchants, craftsmen, as well as many cooks.
Records show that her visiting guests were entertained with the following fowl: waxwings, fieldfares, snow bunting, hazel grouse, partridges, black grouse, capercaillies, forest game, fish and molluscs loach, trouts, grayling, salmon fresh and smoked, flounders, salted herring, lampreys in vinegar, oysters, snails, and Genoese pâté, not to mention fresh fruit and chestnuts. French and Italian wines were served, as well as mead and local beers. The dishes were made only according to French recipes. The royal court with all its innovations exerted a broad influence over the rest of aristocratic residences and noble palaces across Poland. French cuisine was in fashion and many families willingly employed French cooks and pâté makers. In the mid-18th century on Polish tables appeared the French champagne. Also, among the most influential in that period were Lithuanian, Jewish, German and Hungarian cuisine, not to mention Armenian, which arrived in Poland before the 17th century along with many settlers especially in the south-eastern part of the Commonwealth. Signature dishes of the Western Asia reached Polish tables thanks to the Armenian trade and cultural exchange with Poland's neighbour - the Ottoman Empire. Rare delicacies were brought to royal court as gifts from sultans and royal envoys. The strongest influences were noted in the cities of Lwów, Kraków, Kamieniec Podolski and Zamość due to many Armenians living there permanently. Also, because of the close contact with the Ottoman Empire, coffee (kawa) and boza became popular.
With the subsequent decline of Poland, and the grain production crisis that followed The Deluge, potatoes began to replace the traditional use of cereal. The oldest surviving Polish cook-book, Compendium ferculorum, albo Zebranie potraw ("Collection of Dishes") by Stanisław Czerniecki was published in Kraków in 1682. Under the partitions, the cuisine of Poland became heavily influenced by cuisines of the surrounding empires. This included Russian and German cuisines, but also the culinary traditions of most nations of the Austro-Hungarian empire. The 19th century also saw the creation of many Polish cookbooks, by Jan Szyttler, Anna Ciundziewicka, Wincenta Zawadzka, Lucyna Ćwierczakiewiczowa and others.
After the end of World War II, Poland fell under Soviet / Communist occupation. Some restaurants were nationalized. The communists envisioned a net of lunch rooms called "bufet" for the workers at various companies, and milk bars for the public. The majority of restaurants that survived the 1940s and 1950s were state-owned. Workplace lunch rooms promoted mostly inexpensive meals, including soups of all kinds, meatballs and pork chops, and staples such as placki ziemniaczane/kartoflane (potato pancakes), placki z jablkami (apple pancakes), kopytka (potato gnocchi), leniwe (farmer's cheese gnocchi served sweet) and pierogi. A typical second course consisted of meat cutlet served with potatoes or buckwheat and "surówka" (raw, julienned vegetables). The popular Polish kotlet schabowy is a breaded cutlet similar to the Austrian Wiener schnitzel and the Italian and Spanish Milanesa.
With time, the shortage economy led to scarcity of meat, coffee, tea and other ingredients of daily use. Many products like chocolate, sugar and meat were rationed, with a specific limit depending on social class and health requirements. Physical workers and pregnant women were generally entitled to more food products. Imports were restricted, so much of the food supply was domestic. Cuisine became homogeneous, to be a chef was no longer a prestigious profession and for decades the country became basically disconnected from any foreign cuisine. Tropical fruits (citrus, banana, pineapple, etc.) were available during holidays and local fruits and vegetables were mostly seasonal but were available at private stands. For most of the year the Poles had to get by with only domestic winter fruit and vegetables: apples, plums, currants, onions, potatoes, cabbage, root vegetables and frozen products. Other food products (of foreign origins) were available at markets at high prices.
This situation led in turn to gradual replacement of traditional Polish cuisine with food prepared from anything available at the moment. Among the popular dishes introduced by the public restaurants was "kotlet mielony" meatball, a sort of a hamburger often served with beet puree and fresh carrots. The traditional recipes were mostly preserved during the Wigilia feast (Christmas Eve), for which many families tried to prepare 12 traditional courses.
With the fall of communism in Poland in 1989, a wave of new restaurants opened and the basic foodstuffs were once again easily obtainable. This led to a gradual return of rich traditional Polish cuisine, both in home cooking and in restaurants. At the same time, restaurants and supermarkets promoted the use of ingredients typical of other cuisines of the world. Among the most notable foods that started to become common in Poland were cucurbits, zucchini and all kinds of fish. During communist times, these were available fresh mostly in the seaside regions.
Recent years have seen the advent of a slow food movement, and a number of TV programmes devoted to other cuisine and as well as traditional Polish cuisine have gained popularity. In 2011 a nostalgic cookbook (written in English) combining a child's memories growing up in the Gierek era with traditional Polish recipes was published in London.
American food in Poland, most commonly McDonald's, KFC and Pizza Hut, are declining in popularity as Polish people prefer their own cuisine. Meanwhile, Doner kebabs are gaining popularity. Nonetheless, in most of Poland one can still get traditional and very popular Polish fast-food such as zapiekanka (baguette with cheese, mushrooms, onion or peppers, sometimes meat and ketchup), kebab, hamburgers, hot dogs and sausage. There are also many small-scale, quick-service restaurants which usually serve items such as zapiekanka.
Traditional Christmas Eve supper called Wigilia is meatless, usually consists of barszcz (borscht) with uszka (small dumplings) – a classic Polish Christmas Eve starter, followed by fried carp, carp fillet or cod with apple & leeks fresh salad, carp in aspic etc. traditionally carp (fried or Jewish style) provides a main component of the Christmas Eve meal across Poland. Other popular dishes, for the next day, include pickled matjas herring, rollmops, pierogi with sauerkraut and forest mushrooms, fish soup, kiełbasa, hams and bigos (savory stew of cabbage and meat) and vegetable salads. Among popular desserts are gingerbread, cheesecake, various fruits like oranges among others, poppy seed cake makowiec (makówki in Silesia), fruit kompot, kluski with poppyseed and gingerbread. Regional dishes include żurek, siemieniotka (in Silesia) and kołduny, stuffed dumplings with mushrooms or meat from the eastern regions.
Tłusty Czwartek or "Fat Thursday", is a Polish culinary custom on the last Thursday before Lent, it is equivalent to Pancake Day. Traditionally it is an occasion to enjoy sweets and cakes before the forty days of abstinence expected of Catholics until Easter Day. The most popular sweetmeats on Fat Thursday are pączki, Polish doughnuts, "faworki", sometimes called, "chrust", equivalent to the French beignet. Traditional Polish doughnuts are filled with rose petal jam, plum jam or apple and covered with icing with orange peel or powdered with icing sugar. Fat Thursday used to mark the beginning of a "Fat Week", a period of great gluttony during which Polish ancestors consumed dishes served with smalec (lard), bacon and all kinds of meat.
The original doughnuts, popular until the 16th century, were made of the same dough as bread, would be filled with pork and fried on smalec. Only later were they made as patisserie.
A typical Easter breakfast often consists of cold-cuts served with horseradish sauce and beet salads, breads, bigos, żurek, kiełbasa, smoked salmon or herring, marinated vegetable salads, Easter salad (chopped boiled eggs, green peas, ćwikła, carrot, apple, potato, parsley and mayonnaise) coffee, tea and cakes, i.e. chocolate cake, makowiec, mazurek, sernik, etc.
Poland has a number of unique regional cuisines with regional differences in preparations and ingredients. For an extensive list of the dishes typical to Galicia, Kresy, Podlachia, Masovia (including Warsaw), Masuria, Pomerania, Silesia, Lesser Poland, the Tatra mountains and Greater Poland (see List of Polish cuisine dishes).
Sweet pierogi may be filled with sweet curd cheese, or with seasonal fruit such as bilberries, plums, sour cherries, etc.
Bread (chleb) and bread rolls (bułka, kajzerka) makes the Polish cuisine and tradition complete. It has been an essential part of them both for centuries. Today bread remains one of the most important foods in the Polish cuisine. The main ingredient for Polish bread is rye or wheat. Traditional bread has a crunchy crust, is soft but not too soft inside, and has unforgettable aroma. Such bread is made with sourdough, which lends it a distinctive taste. It can be stored for a week or so without getting too hard and is not crumbly when cut.
In Poland, welcoming with bread and salt ("chlebem i solą") is often associated with the traditional hospitality ("staropolska gościnność") of the Polish nobility (szlachta), who prided themselves on their hospitality. A 17th-century Polish poet, Wespazjan Kochowski, wrote in 1674: "O good bread, when it is given to guests with salt and good will!" Another poet who mentioned the custom was Wacław Potocki. The custom was, however, not limited to the nobility, as Polish people of all classes observed this tradition, reflected in old Polish proverbs. Nowadays, the tradition is mainly observed on wedding days, when newlyweds are greeted with bread and salt by their parents on returning from the church wedding.
Traditional Polish alcoholic beverages include mead, beer, vodka (old Polish names: okowita, gorzała) and to a lesser extent wine. In recent decades beer has become very common, while wine is less frequently drunk, though in recent years the trend for its consumption is rising along with increasing production of local grape wines in small vineyards in Lesser Poland, Subcarpathia, Silesia and West Pomerania regions. Among the alcoholic beverages, Polish vodka is traditionally prepared from grain or potatoes – it essentially displaced the formerly widespread mead.
Some sources suggest that the first production of vodka took place in Poland as early as the 8th century, becoming more widespread in the 11th century. The world's first written mention of the drink and of the word "vodka" was in 1405 from Akta Grodzkie recorder of deeds, the court documents from the Palatinate of Sandomierz in Poland.
Vodka production on a much larger scale began in Poland at the end of the 16th century. By the 17th and 18th centuries, Polish vodka was known in the Netherlands, Denmark, England, Russia, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Romania, Ukraine, Bulgaria and the Black Sea basin. Vodka was the most popular alcoholic drink in Poland until 1998, when it was surpassed by beer.
In contemporary times, tea is perhaps the most popular, drunk sometimes with a slice of lemon and sweetened with sugar. Tea came into Poland from England shortly after its appearance in Western Europe, mainly due to the Dutch merchants. However its prevalence is attributed to the Russians in the 19th century – at this time samovars imported from Russia become commonplace in Polish homes. Tea is usually served with a slice of lemon and sweetened with either sugar or honey. Tea with milk is called a bawarka ("Bavarian style"). Coffee is also widely drunk since the 18th century, as Poland bordered the Ottoman Empire at the time. Kwas was also consumed in eastern parts of Poland, however, it is not as popular as it once was centuries ago. It is typically made from rye bread, usually known as black bread, and is not classified as an alcoholic beverage in Poland, as its alcohol content usually ranges from 0.5-1% or 1-2 proof. There are many variations of the drink, however, a traditional Polish recipe exists. Frequently consumed beverages also include: buttermilk, kefir, soured milk, instant coffee, various mineral waters, juices and numerous brands of soft drink. A considerable number of Poles enjoy carbonated water and customers in restaurants are always offered both still and sparkling (carbonated) water to drink.
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