What is Polish "comfort food"?

Sczęśliwego New Year everyone!

Judging by the way 2011 has kicked off, I have a feeling many of us will be in need of goodly portions of comfort food this year. The economic problems that have made a misery of at least the last two years are still here, which will mean another year of uncertainty and struggle for anyone whose livelihood is in any way dependent on economic growth and a decent amount of money sloshing around the system. Most banks now seem to be reporting very healthy figures and associated bonus plans but their tactics appear to be to keep the vast majority of the money coming in and give very little of it out, thus improving their balance sheets at the expense of stimulating activity elsewhere.

To make matters worse we still have the ‘ghost of crashes past’ hanging around in the shape of the sneaky feeling that some people are not telling the whole truth about their situation. This could almost apply to anyone but most fingers are pointing at Spain and Portugal with the consequential worry about the Eurozone as a whole. Every time I manage to catch Jeff Randall on Sky he seems to be asking the same question, “Who will be left in the Eurozone when all this is finished (or will there even be one)?”. It’s not just Spain and Portugal though. There are still unanswered questions about those already bailed out, Ireland & Greece as well as the effectiveness of measures taken in the UK, USA and just about everywhere else. Even below the country level, how many companies that have been hanging on by the skin of their teeth for the last two years will hear the fat lady singing in 2011?

Even locally here in Poland we should not be complacent. While most people blithely quote statistics of this country leading the pack for growth in 2010 as if this makes Poland somehow immune to every economic virus, there remain plenty of possibilities for us to fall from grace and even to be a star member of the ‘third wave’ of trouble makers – first wave being the likes of USA, UK, Germany, second being Hungary, Spain, Ireland, Portugal & Greece and the third……… Let’s hope that the run in to 2012 footie combined with a generally good sentiment compared to other countries encourages more companies to reconsider Poland as a place to invest the little they have available. There are some early signs of this happening.

Let’s just say I have yet to find anyone taking a seriously up-beat optimistic stance about the world / European economy in 2011 and hence the reason you should stock up on your comfort food items!

Now that I’ve cheered you all up, let’s talk about the concept of ‘comfort food’. It is a popular term but it wasn’t really one that I thought related to me very much, until last week. Last week was the first week back from holidays for most people and it was a 24 carat bitch of a week. For varied reasons, every day was non stop aggravation from start to finish, occasionally even beyond the finish. So it was that on one particular evening having gone yet another day without food I reached out for a tin of cream of chicken soup and suddenly realised that this meant more to me than just a tin of crappy soup. As I tore off chunks of bread and threw them into the warm soup I could feel the stress that had built up during the day slipping away and by the time I’d finished I was ready once more to conquer the world, or at least Młociny! Admittedly, this was only a tin of M&S chicken soup, not the real Heinz variety but beggars can’t be choosers.

The more I think about it, the more foods I might put into this category although it is hard to draw the line between genuine comfort food and just food I like to eat, which is why I’ve had such a hard time with the concept in the past. The only other one I can definitely say is ‘comforting’ is a “full English”, especially after too much alcohol.

I’ve been trying to establish whether any Polish food has yet to truly comfort me and I’m not sure. There’s no question that a lot of it has the potential to make that league but I will hold judgment for now.

I’d like therefore to hear from you, especially the Poles and especially Poles abroad about what food comforts you? I’d guess that kiełbasa, pierogi, flaki, żurek, Polish bread (whatever that is), barszcz and other beetrooty things are contenders but I might well be wrong.

UPDATE: Here’s the list so far from the comments in no particular order or language -

Placki ziemniaczane/potato pancakes
zupa chrzanowa
grochówka i gulasz z kaszą i ogórki
Liver pate (pasztetowa),mushroom soup (grzybowa) and poppy seeds cake (makowiec)
soups – flaki, rosół, żurek & pomidorowa
bigos
Scrambled eggs with onion and tomatoes or with bacon and mushrooms
chicken liver with onion and bread
płucka, chicken hearts gulash
Polish chocolate
Polish bread with Almette salmon spread
Pierogi z jagodami, barszcz z uszkami, ogorki kiszone, makowiec, agrest, anything with chrzan
mielony z ziemniakami i buraczki.
Pierogi Ruskie
kaszanka
ogorek kiszony
Polędwica wołowa “burger”
“pyzy ziemniaczane” with “skwarki”
Jajecznica!
stale bread (3-4 days old) put into hot oven for a few minutes and then sliced
naleśniki z serem

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44 thoughts on “What is Polish "comfort food"?

  1. Jimmie says:

    Does vodka count as food?

  2. ana says:

    pickled cucumbers.
    oh look, it fits to the 1st proposal…

  3. scatts says:

    Ana, thanks, I totally forgot ogórki and they are certainly going to be popular choices.

    Jimmie – do people get comfort from vodka? I suppose some might claim they do, even if it’s only short term but no, I wasn’t really including ‘drugs’ in the question.

  4. Jajecznica! I.e. scrambled eggs. Quick variant is just the eggs. Sophisticated variant involves onion and toast, for example.

    In my parents’ home, what passed for toast was actually stale bread (3-4 days old) put into hot oven for a few minutes and then sliced. Sill love it.

    Also, naleśniki z serem, i.e. crepe pancakes with a cheese filling. My favourite filling is mascarpone cheese with maple syrup (don’t try it if you have diabetes), but most homes will use either twaróg or any variety of sharp yellow cheese (with olives, if you’re feeling fancy). Personally, I often prefer cold naleśniki with no filling at, because they don’t take an hour to prepare.

  5. odrzut says:

    For me it’s certainly fresh, home-made “pyzy ziemniaczane” with “skwarki”. Eating this makes me fell like I’m child again, on vacation in my granma house. And it’s delicious.

    But frozen “pyzy” bought in shops are not really the same kind of food – “pyzy” have to be made “manually”.

  6. scatts says:

    Thanks guys, we are developing a good list here. When we’re finished I’ll open a restaurant that sells nothing else!

  7. Name says:

    Polędwica wołowa (finest beef fillet) may have gone through the roof price-wise, but for something tasty, comforting and quick to make…

    A single slice of polędwica is around 5zł (14-15zł for three). Fry gently in hot oil with sliced shallots; cut one kajzerka (bread roll) in half and place face-down into the oil to brown nicely. When beef is done to your taste, remove bottom half of kajzerka, place beef on it, smother with fried shallots, garnish as you will (my children like grated cheddar and ketchup, I eat mine straight), then position the top half of the bun onto the whole enterprise, press down, eat, and the world suddenly becomes much better place.

  8. Haggis of course with a side of ogorek kiszony

  9. Bartek says:

    Most banks now seem to be reporting very healthy figures and associated bonus plans but their tactics appear to be to keep the vast majority of the money coming in and give very little of it out, thus improving their balance sheets at the expense of stimulating activity elsewhere.

    Someone has to stand up for the downtrodden banking industry! Bonuses in Poland are not really that high, though when good time were rolling bankers could get an equivalent of six monthly salaries at the end of the year as bonus. Now they can get much less, if they get.

    If a lot of money flows into the banks and little goes out in loans, what do you think they do with that money. Times when deposits were placed in central banks or when banks were buying government bonds are over. Now gitls are not even a good alternative as they are not considered risk-free. The risk management policies are still stringent, but believe me, in Poland a healthy balances that ensures soundness of banking systemsand good quality of credit portfolios. The explanation why things go on like this is that while analysts and credit officers low in the hierarchy are more liberal when it comes to assessing creditworthiness, senior executives responsibile for credit risk management are more reluctant to bring off some deals.

    And yes, I want a bonus at the end of the year and I promise to ensure all viable undertakings get the financing.

    edit: I forgot to mention 2011 will be better than 2010, but might be also better than 2012 (GDP growth might be higher this year than in the coming one).

    Scatts, you asked about the food. I don’t know. I eat to live, not the other way round.

  10. Decoy says:

    For me it’s some kaszanka (black pudding) with a few dollops of honey flavoured mustard and some freshly cut Krakowska bread.

  11. Paddy says:

    Zurek neatly hits the hangover spot as well as being great on a sober day as well. It’s a different kind of satisfaction to a full English but significantly healthier I’d suggest. My Mother in Law makes the best don’t you know….

  12. Paddy says:

    Ps I am contractually obliged to say that.

  13. dangoth says:

    Concerning the ‘polish bread’ thing I’d say its the bread baked in a local bakery with a thick crust that is not rectangular in shape, and it’s probably not a good idea to toast it. During my stay in England I’ve gotten so frustrated with the English variation of incredibly soft, tasteless, crustless toast bread that after barely any consideration I’ve decided never to buy it again and choose the imported Lithuanian alternative closest in resemblance to what I had at home for 1 pound a loaf.

  14. Pierogi Ruskie …fried.

  15. Monika says:

    For me has to be rosół z makaronem babuni
    i mielony z ziemniakami i buraczki.

  16. scatts says:

    Ding – you mentioned the magic kaszanka word! Hmmmm

  17. scatts says:

    I love Ruskie, but not fried.

  18. scatts says:

    Try making a bacon sandwich with that Lith bread! ;-)

  19. Outsider says:

    Bastards, the lot of you!

    This post ought to carry some kind of warning. It’s almost midnight here in Belgium and suddenly I’m craving food I haven’t eaten for years. There’s no way I can lay my hands on any of it at this hour though. Screw you all for making me go to bed with a raging culinary hard-on.

    PS. Pierogi z jagodami, barszcz z uszkami, ogorki kiszone, makowiec, agrest, anything with chrzan on it – :-o~~~

  20. Steve says:

    From times when I regularly went between Poland and England by coach, I would say that one of the most popular dishes for Poles (and myself) returning home was flaki. It might not be a comfort food as you describe it, but it was definitely a “Thank God I’m back home” dish. Polish roadside-cafe coffee is also a marvellous travel relaxant.

  21. bigos! I’ve only recently discovered how great this can be and had some on my trip to Poland this last summer. Since then, I’ve learned to make it myself. Wonderful comfort food.

  22. daa says:

    that would be soups – rosół & pomidorowa/ few slices of Polish “whatever that is” bread with Almette salmon spread/ lots of Polish (“whatever that is”?) chocolate. if any of above are available at home of course, which is not in Poland but the UK. hubby has his fish+chips and I don`t suppose his liver benefits from this load of grease too much.

  23. Kris says:

    Scrambled eggs with onion and tomatoes or with bacon and mushrooms :) and chicken liver with onion and bread. Also flaki, płucka, chicken hearts gulash :D

  24. scatts says:

    Jeeeesus! That’s disgusting – flaki, płucka & chicken hearts gulash….YUK!

    Is your real name Bear Grylls?

  25. scatts says:

    Downtrodden banking industry!

    Small bonuses!

    You have a future in stand-up.

  26. Grze$ko says:

    Unfortunately there’s no Polish bread in Melbourne.
    The last bastion of bread in the land of sliced sponge, a German bakery, is closing down due to the inability to source milled flour (rolled flour just doesn’t cut it but is so much cheaper to produce). Hooray for mould inhibitants, glycol and a range of Es!
    The only Polish fare I resort to in the depths of Australian winter is bigos. Keeps you warm and farty for hours.

  27. Rosołek! Especially the one that my mum makes.

  28. Monika G. says:

    Liver pate (pasztetowa),mushroom soup (grzybowa) and of course a poppy seeds cake (makowiec)!

  29. daa says:

    @Grze$ko – I know the pain of having to live on sliced sponge – even so called “Polish Bloomer” sold here is miles away from the real thing and dies on the very next day. Now, because I don`t want to be a fatty, I basically only eat diet rye bread only available, and not always, in 2 shops in this quite big town – but then I`ll get 2 or 3 to survive.

  30. Kuba says:

    My kind of woman

  31. If you can’t find decent bread outside of Poland then it means you’re trying to buy the cheapest crap on the supermarket shelf. I’ve never been to a foreign country that didn’t have great bread – you just have to find it. Same for all the rest of the staples – beer, chicken/beef, etc. Just because it is cheap and fairly ubiquitous does not mean you MUST buy it.

  32. daa says:

    I can`t indeed find anything in the UK that won`t turn into a stone after a day or two. Also having a decent taste. That having 2 or 3 bakeries literally around the corner, selling “German” bread, “Polish bloomer” and the likes. How much is “expensive” bread according to you, Brad, by the way? Should I just look for a £5 loaf and that would be it? The best bread that tasted like bread I have had in Poland, France and Italy, never here.

  33. Maria says:

    No Polish bread in Melbourne, Grze$ko? What about at the Polish Deli at the Vic Market? Or Acland St? Carlisle St? Or any of the Polish Delis in the ‘burbs?

  34. polkaontheisland says:

    For me it’s army food – grochówka i gulasz z kaszą i ogórki (split pea and bacon soup, goulash with groats and pickles)

  35. Grze$ko says:

    Too far from VM…
    Carlisle St – used to buy mine from what I call “grumpy russians” but recently they changed a supplier and the bread quality went down. They do get good ciabata now and then, but not always.
    Aroma used to have a caraway sourdough, but no more.
    Acland? Where?
    Burbs… which one has a Polish deli? Just don’t say something like scary like Dandenong please. Looking for is one thing, travelling 35km one way to get a loaf verges on obession for me.

  36. adthelad says:

    Over the Easter period there is one food which I’ve never had in any other houshold but my mother-in-laws, and that is zupa chrzanowa. Served cold with cured meats and hard bolied eggs thrown in (that last part is self service). Gobsmackingly delicious. We always make sure she makes a surplus, which we then take home and comfort ourselves with over the next few days.

  37. Monika G. says:

    Enough with a “Polish Bread” whining!
    Buy a Bread Maker machine..they do not cost much.
    “Home made bread” guarantee!
    Lots of room for imagination,tradition and other stuff.
    Good Luck!

  38. Monika F says:

    Placki ziemniaczane/potato pancakes. Whenever I find a Polsi restaurant that’s what I order.

  39. adthelad says:

    Ahhh Placki ziemniaczane. Top class comfort food especially with śmietana and lightly sprinkled with sugar :)

    What do you like on yours?

  40. guest says:

    - Gołąbki
    - Pierogi
    - Rolady, kluski i czerwona kapusta,
    - kapusnik
    - Zurek
    - wodzionka z kartoflami
    - makaron z jagodami
    - galert z octem
    - tatar
    - grochowka

    This is what Silesians like ;)

  41. Grze$ko says:

    And all you need is a 40 year old yeast culture (zakwas) which is widely used by many well established bakeries.

  42. Yana says:

    Ultra sweet, thick and sticky home made cherry preserve plus hot, black tea. Heavenly!

    Home made rose hip or cherry wine and cherry brandy (wiśniówka)

    and some delicious, sweet and slightly surreal things like sękacz.

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