Polish Food to Look Out for in the Spring
Polish winters aren’t exactly polar, though they do tend to fall on the harsh side. Don’t get it wrong, we love a white cover of snow as much as anyone else, but after five months of wading through it we’re thrilled to see the sun break out and melt the damn stuff. Even though summer is still a couple of months away, we know that great things are waiting along the way—and, like most great things, they’re edible! Come join us in the search for Polish springtime must-haves.
01. Easter Fare
Easter came early this year, thus becoming the culinary harbinger of spring. Easter-inspired menus are all the rage in restaurants around this time, allowing everyone a taste of traditional dishes. White sausage is a popular choice, served either roasted with a generous helping of horseradish on the side, or dunked in sour rye soup—a flavorful concoction of fermented flour and spices. While meat is the main event at a Polish Easter Sunday breakfast (we discovered that devouring insane amounts of food is easier if you start early), no celebration would be complete without the seasonal sweets: fluffy cheesecake, yeast-leavened babka, and mazurek in all its layered gooey glory—you can’t put your paws on this last one at any other time!
Before greenhouse agriculture and year-round imports, winter was a time when most fruit and vegetables could only be enjoyed frozen, pickled, dried or even fermented; and even though you can make real wonders with sauerkraut (we call bigos to witness!), by March everyone would be yearning for some fresh veg. When it finally appears, we Poles go crazy to the point of having a special word for produce from the first harvest—the crispy little radishes, salad, onion greens and other springtime bounty are collectively known as nowalijki, and they’re best enjoyed with twarożek—a mixture of quark and sour cream. As other plants come in season later on, we can’t resist tiny wild strawberries (you can spot them in every forest and even some city parks!), and then we top it off with a local equivalent of the global asparagus frenzy—new potatoes. June doesn’t truly begin until your first plate of sweet, no-peeling-necessary taters with a fried egg, a sprinkling of dill, and a glass of sour milk. Yum!
03. Sheep’s Milk Cheeses
By April, the spring is in full swing even in Poland’s majestic mountains, where patches of snow are known to linger as late as June. The sunnier slopes, however, sprout blankets of crisp lime-green grass, and as soon as these show up, sheep are herded onto the high meadows to graze on all that juicy goodness. Not long afterward, fresh cheeses will be on the market. They will remain available until the fall, however the best time to try them is when sheep’s milk is most abundant in late spring and early summer. That’s the high season for the soft bundz cheese, the tart bryndza and the smoked, spindle-shaped bricks of oscypek, which also happen to be a favorite souvenir from the upland city of Kraków. Just stay wise and don’t buy these in winter, no matter how tempting a fried slice of oscypek may seem on a frosty post-ski evening—unless you want to be fooled by a cow’s milk counterfeit.
04. The Return of Street Food
As it gets warmer outside, we shed the different layers of clothing we’d accumulated over the winter. Before the last scarf is tucked away in the closet, we are already able to enjoy a proper meal outside. The street food revolution took Poland by storm in recent years, and each spring a true parade of food trucks rolls down the roads of major Polish cities. They sell some of the best snacks in town—not just the classic burgers, but also gorgeous tacos, seafood, and even surprises like ramen (we dare you to eat that on the go!). To top it off, breakfast markets pop up in Warsaw and other towns on weekends. Warsaw’s charming Żoliborz district becomes the perfect venue for a walking brunch—by the time you’re done with one delicacy, another interesting stall comes into sight and oops, you may just have a little space left for these amazing pastries!
06. The Barbecue Season
May marks the official beginning of Poland’s barbie season, and we even have a long weekend dedicated to that occasion—it’s called majówka. Two public holidays in close succession just call to take the intermediary day off, right? In the preceding weeks, all grocery stores would stock up on kiełbasa (a.k.a. Polish sausage) and beer, as ever since the 1990’s barbecue has become one of our national pastimes. The grill is a centerpiece of many a Polish garden, and even some balconies. The favorite meats are, of course, sausage—after all, some types of kiełbasa have been specifically designed for grilling—but also karkówka (chuck steak) and szaszłyki, which are a skewered meat and vegetable dish not unlike the Middle Eastern shish kebab. All of that demands an ice-cold beer and a toast to the glorious Polish springtime! Smacznego!