Discovering Polish Food: Essential Dishes to Try

Discovering Polish Food: Essential Dishes to Try

Polish cuisine is a delightful and often underrated gem in the culinary world. With its rich history and hearty ingredients, it offers a comforting blend of flavours that can surprise and satisfy any food enthusiast. If you find yourself in a Polish restaurant and are unsure what to order, this guide will help you navigate through some of the must-try dishes. So, sit back, relax, and get ready to discover the essentials of Polish food.

The Heart of Polish Cuisine

Polish food is deeply rooted in the country’s history and culture, influenced by various neighbouring regions and historical events. The cuisine is characterised by hearty, comforting dishes made from simple, locally-sourced ingredients. Key staples include potatoes, cabbage, pork, and a variety of breads. Polish meals are known for their warming qualities, perfect for the country’s often cold climate.

Starters and Soups

Pierogi: The Iconic Dumplings

Pierogi are perhaps the most famous Polish dish, and for good reason. These delightful dumplings are made from unleavened dough and filled with a variety of ingredients. Common fillings include potato and cheese (pierogi ruskie), minced meat, mushrooms, and even sweet fillings like fruit or sweet cheese. You’ll find the best Pierogi at Mamuśka! Polish Restaurant Southbank.

How to Enjoy Pierogi:

  • Fried or boiled, depending on preference.
  • Served with sour cream, onions, or bacon bits.

Bigos: Hunter’s Stew

Bigos, also known as hunter’s stew, is a traditional Polish dish that epitomises the country’s love for hearty, slow-cooked meals. Made with sauerkraut, fresh cabbage, various cuts of meat (often including sausage and pork), and mushrooms, it’s a flavorful and satisfying start to any meal.

Key Ingredients:

  • Sauerkraut and fresh cabbage
  • Mixed meats (sausage, pork, sometimes game)
  • Mushrooms and spices

Zurek: Sour Rye Soup

Zurek is a distinctive Polish soup made from a fermented rye starter, giving it a tangy flavour. It’s typically served with sausage, potatoes, and a boiled egg, making it both hearty and nutritious.

Serving Suggestions:

  • Often served in a bread bowl for added rustic charm.
  • Garnished with fresh herbs.

Main Courses

Kotlet Schabowy: Polish Schnitzel

Kotlet schabowy is the Polish take on the schnitzel, a breaded and fried pork cutlet. It’s a simple yet delicious dish, usually served with mashed potatoes and a side of pickled cabbage or salad.

Cooking Tips:

  • Tenderise the pork before coating it in breadcrumbs.
  • Fry until golden brown for a crispy exterior.

Golabki: Stuffed Cabbage Rolls

Golabki, which means “little pigeons,” are cabbage leaves stuffed with a mixture of minced meat (usually pork or beef) and rice, then baked in a tomato sauce. This dish is a staple in Polish households and is loved for its comforting, homely taste.

Preparation Steps:

  1. Blanch cabbage leaves to soften.
  2. Prepare the filling with minced meat, rice, and seasonings.
  3. Roll the filling in cabbage leaves and bake in tomato sauce.

Kielbasa: Polish Sausage

No exploration of Polish food would be complete without mentioning kielbasa. This versatile sausage comes in many varieties, each with its own unique blend of spices and flavours. It can be grilled, fried, or served cold, making it a versatile component of any meal.

Popular Varieties:

  • Kielbasa Krakowska: Cracked pepper and garlic.
  • Kielbasa Wiejska: Traditional country-style sausage.

Sides and Accompaniments

Placki Ziemniaczane: Potato Pancakes

Placki ziemniaczane are crispy, golden potato pancakes often served with sour cream or applesauce. They’re a popular side dish but can also be enjoyed on their own.

Tips for Perfect Placki:

  • Grate potatoes finely for a smooth texture.
  • Fry in hot oil until crispy and golden.

Mizeria: Cucumber Salad

Mizeria is a refreshing cucumber salad made with sour cream, dill, and a touch of vinegar. It’s the perfect side to balance out the richness of Polish main dishes.


  • Sliced cucumbers
  • Sour cream
  • Fresh dill
  • Vinegar and sugar


Sernik: Polish Cheesecake

Sernik is a creamy cheesecake made with twarog, a type of Polish curd cheese. It often includes a hint of vanilla or lemon zest and can be topped with fresh fruit or a dusting of powdered sugar.


  • Baked or no-bake versions.
  • Flavour additions like chocolate or raisins.

Pączki: Polish Doughnuts

Pączki are deep-fried doughnuts filled with jam or other sweet fillings. They are particularly popular around Fat Thursday, the Polish version of Mardi Gras, but can be enjoyed year-round.

Popular Fillings:

  • Rose petal jam
  • Plum butter
  • Custard

A Few Tips for Dining at a Polish Restaurant

  1. Embrace the Family Style – Polish meals are often enjoyed family-style, with large portions meant to be shared.
  2. Try the Beverages – Don’t miss out on traditional Polish drinks like kompot (a fruit drink) or mead.
  3. Save Room for Dessert – Polish desserts are rich and indulgent; they’re the perfect end to a hearty meal.

Final Thoughts

Discovering Polish cuisine is like taking a culinary journey through the heart of Eastern Europe. Each dish tells a story of tradition, culture, and the simple joys of hearty, well-prepared food.

Whether you’re trying pierogi for the first time or enjoying a comforting bowl of bigos, Polish food is sure to leave a lasting impression. So next time you visit a Polish restaurant, dive into these essential dishes and savour the rich flavours of Poland. Smacznego!


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