When is a kanapka not a sandwich?

Look in any Polish-English dictionary and you will find the following entry:

kanapka sandwich

Lies, deception, subterfuge, trickery! Flagrant misdirection and fibbing! It must stop and I’m the man who’s going to stop it. Polish food is generally pretty tasty. I’m not convinced it’s as great as a lot of people seem to think it is, you can please a lot of simpletons with meat, cream, and salt, but there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with it. The one thing the Poles can’t do, however, is make a sandwich. They know how to start making a sandwich but always fall down at the last hurdle. Two pieces of bread. You need two pieces of bread to make a sandwich, not one. I’m sorry, but I refuse to be dissuaded on this point.


A sandwich. Count the pieces of bread. If the total is divisible by two you’ve got a sandwich, if not it’s just some food near bread.

I’m willing to allow a kanapka may be formed using just one measly piece of bread. If that’s the way you want to do it go ahead, it’s your funeral, but I will not stand for such an object being translated as a sandwich. It isn’t one. It’s flagrant bread theft. What’s the problem here anyway—national bread shortage? Bread phobia? A morbid fetish for the insides of sandwiches? Sandwich-related Attention Deficit Disorder? How are you supposed to eat those ridiculous semi-formed things? Tomato slices are tricky enough to manage when you’ve got the advantage of a top layer of bread for gripping purposes, without it you’re doomed to sticky-shirt syndrome. I’ve seen people eating kanapkas with knives and forks, it’s just wrong I tell you. The clue is in the verb “to sandwich” meaning to put something between two other things as in the sentence “I spent a happy few hours sandwiched between Halle Berry and Megan Fox before waking up in jail.”


The beginnings of a damn good sandwich,
sadly never to be finished.

I felt so strongly about this that I decided to write an earnest letter to International Sandwich and Snack News, the journal of the British Sandwich Association:

Dear Sirs,

It has come to my attention that the otherwise blameless and upstanding citizens of Poland are bringing the good name of the sandwich into ill repute. I don’t know how to put this delicately so I’m just going to go ahead and say it: they only use one piece of bread. The insides of their “sandwiches” are naked and open to the public gaze. Children see them every day with untold risks to their future mental health. I’m sure you will be as shocked by this as I am and can only hope the British sandwich industry will bring every possible pressure to bear on the government to have Something Done About It.

This was their, lightly edited, reply:

Dear Island1

If you don’t stop sending us these disturbing emails we’re calling the police. Get a grip on yourself you sad insane man.

We agree completely and you are absolutely right. As usual.


International Sandwich and Snack News.
The voice of reason in a world gone mad.

I think we’ve cleared that one up. Would I be right in thinking, by the way, that “kanapka” is derived from the French “canapé?” In which case it’s just another example of the evil and pernicious influence of the French on yet another innocent nation.

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60 thoughts on “When is a kanapka not a sandwich?

  1. Pistefka says:

    I’m with you on this one, but have a slightly different take on it. Its surely one of those engrained slight mistranslation thingies. Since we have the word “canapes” in English (no, I won’t bother with the accents,) “kanapki” could quite happily be translated as canapes. And that would be the end of the matter, give or take the odd chin covered in mayonnaise and slices of gherkin on the carpet.
    Surely there are hundreds of similarly lazy translations, where word A in English doesn’t quite fit with word B in Polish. I always get annoyed by the English word “dumpling” having to make do when describing a whole range of culinary treats across central and eastern Europe – kluski, pierogi, strapacky, galuska, csipecka, knedle, nokedli, etc etc.

    The Czechs are just as bad when it comes to forgetting the top slice. I have to say though that Czech “chlebicky” tend to be slightly more artistically presented than the Polish kanapki. I’m sure lots of Polish people will now do their utmost to prove me wrong, and possibly invade Zaolzie, but there you go.
    Its little differences like this that make things interesting, and one day I may even put together an atlas of maps showing the distribution of electric kettles, the zone where soup is invariably eaten as a starter, availability of decent tea etc. Or perhaps my employers will give me some work to do.

  2. Clare says:

    I understand your defense if Polish people were claiming to be making “sandwiches” but they are not… they are making kanapkas! That is something completely different. I think your issue should be rather with the translator that decided these two things are apparently the same.

    These two dishes are tasty in their own ways. But personally I think a sandwich (two bread-slice format) should be used mainly for sandwiches that really need to be held together – for example a BLT, roast beef sandwich (really anything with lots of ingredients).

    A kanapka is good for simple flavours – also they are not as filling and are much healthier. For example I would find that a simple ham sandwich (two slices of bread, some butter, a slice of ham) would be much too bready. Competing with that much bread, you wouldn’t be able to even taste the ham. An open-faced kanapka however, would let the ham shine!

    p.s. that sandwich photo (is that carrot inside??) is not doing much to defend itself against that tasty looking kanapka… i’m getting hungry…

  3. Natalia says:

    In my family sandwich is just called “sandwich” or “schowana kanapka” (hidden kanapka?) – makes sense to me ;) and I prefer kanapki over sandwiches, because you can see the toppings in all their glory :D Yummy

  4. James says:

    O’Briens’ tripledecker sandwiches are a good counterexample for the modulo-2 definition.

  5. island1 says:

    Hidden sandwich, crouching mayonnaise?

    Being able to see the toppings is all very well, but later you get to see them all down the front of your T shirt, which is less attractive.

  6. island1 says:

    I was having a go at the translation not the kanapka. Or at least I was until I got a bit carried away :)

    Carrot? I see no carrots. Just look at that kanapka. With tomatoes and that hard-crusted bread you stand no chance – it will be all over you.

  7. island1 says:

    The dumpling translation is also particularly absurd I agree, but at least it poses less risk to clothing. We await your map of other culinary hazards with some anticipation.

  8. island1 says:

    If some people are going around using three slices for their sandwiches this may explain why parts of the world have to make do with only one. These O’Brien people should be ashamed of themselves.

  9. Ania says:

    ‘And open-faced kanapka’ – LOl, that’s brilliant, Clare!

    I feel for you, Island! I suffer as well surrounded with square bread sandwiches instead of yeast rolls with butter and Edam cheese. What would I give for a normal BUŁKA!

    I think the British sandwiches really shine when they are toasted baguettes based, with your excellent beef. Yum.

  10. Natalia says:

    That’s why polish children goes through special training and certification in order to be allowed to eat kanapka ;) Special skills are needed ;)
    But for real … I had never had a problem with eating kanapka before – I didn’t even know that there could be a problem! :D I feel so special now haha

  11. Steven says:

    I asked my wife about the missing bread one time, it bothers me too. Know what she said? …… Wanna make your own lunch smart ass? keep talking.

  12. pinolona says:

    canapé is French for sofa…

  13. kuba says:

    When the K is taken out and you can lay on it.

  14. island1 says:

    I think what you and Kuba may be hinting at is that I’m an idiot with a feeble understanding of both French and Polish. There’s a growing body of evidence that you may be right.

  15. One thing I found odd about Polish was the way an English word would be adopted into Polish but then take on a quite different meaning.

    Such as ‘doping’, which as a noun in Polish means cheering, as in the cheering of the crowd at a match. How did that happen?

    I accept that this point has little to do with the issue under discussion, on which I tend to agree with author ISLAND 1.

  16. Randybvain says:

    Well, I think, the main difference is the quality of the bread. The good Polish bread is thicker, stronger and it has a hard rind. English bread is much lighter so you have to use two slices for a sandwich to keep it whole. The slice of Polish bread could afford to be a salver for anything you put on it, the slice of English bread, even toasted, could not.

  17. kika says:

    Because Kanapki do come from canapes! It’s a French word for little canapes, exactly the same little buggers, and maybe you remember that the aristocracy used to eat their canapes with a fork and a knife !
    To be able to eat the sandwich a man need TWO hands , not very elegant I would say, little barbarian, but you can eat kanapka just holding it in one hand….
    And I am against sandwiches, as for me there is too much bread in them – the proportions are just not right :)

  18. kuba says:

    All I can say is the kanapki we make on the farm are one slice of bread some margarin, a piece of meat or twarog and that is it.
    No second slice of bread.

  19. dagmara says:

    I cannot believe that u guys have this massive go about kanapki/ sandwiches. This is just ridiculous :)

  20. Steven says:

    Correct, Polish bread, garden fencing,walls,floors,trash can enclosures,all reinforced and prepared for world war three. But the window frames and toilets….flimsy plastic…I.m so confused.

  21. adthelad says:

    There were quite a few proper sandwich shops in the city and round about. I particularly liked the one off Sloane Square. Brilliant.
    Whilst studying in Portsmouth I used to visit a tea shop that made massive front step size sandwiches prepared on the spot from enormous crusty white bolsters cut on the diagonal, and filled (i mean filled) with egg mayonaise, tuna and cucumber or cheddar and pickle. Take one of those down to the student bar and have it with a pint of Bishops Tipple or Old Roger, and then wonder why you fell asleep at lectures in the afternoon:)
    Kanapki just aren’t in the same league.

  22. Monish says:

    My boyfriend (proudly representing England) fought many, many battles against kanapkas/kanapki(?) (I’m confused, which plural form should I use?)…and yet didn’t manage to win. There’s always that slice of cucumber, that bit of spring onion, or cheeky tomato which overcomes him.
    Seems like us, Polish people are endowed with some kind of supernatural powers allowing us to posses and devour this evil, one-side breaded kanapka without a bloodshed nor mayo stains on t-shirt. Or maybe it’s in genes? Genetic mutation originated over the years of dozens of generations repeating that eating habit? I keep pondering on it every morning, while consuming another tasty kromka z wedliną, or something else on top.
    By the way- do you find morning consumption of kanapka as weird? I encountered that opinion, being sustained by (British) theory that sandwich(or k.) equals lunch. Kanapka’s usage cannot be narrowed down to just once a day, at specific time. This is my postulate, and as a sign of protest against discrimination of kanapka, I’m going to have one at the evening.

  23. Karolina says:

    I normally love reading Poalndian, but on this occasion I am sorry, but I will have to defend the superiority of Polish kanapka till I drop :)
    Perhaps the sandwich needs two slices of bread because the consumer struggles to figure out what’s it actually made from. Surely not bread… Some paper-like substance combined with cotton wool…
    To be honest I am not sure if there is anything worse for a Pole in the UK than the illusion of a sandwich. The disappointment it brings with the bread and its texture… (lol)

    :D all the best

  24. island1 says:

    Morning sandwiches are an abomination to nature. I would have complained about it but I don’t know where to begin. Everybody knows bread may only be consumed before midday if it is toasted.

  25. island1 says:

    I always try and do six ridiculous things before breakfast.

  26. island1 says:

    British bread gets a very bad press, not entirely deservedly. The dreaded sliced white loaf that haunts the shelves of British supermarkets is generally awful, though good for making toast. You don’t have to look far to find good bread though, sometimes really great bread.

    I’m surprised it’s taken this long for somebody to mention bread :)

  27. island1 says:

    Or “mobbing” meaning bullying at work in Polish. Weird.

  28. Kiki says:

    Hi Pinolona, I must correct you – canape(s) is also a kanapka in French!
    I checked today if my memory was right – and it was.
    I work with three French girls, so believe me , that’s a 100% certain source :))

    By the way – I didn’t dare mention the English bread, but some people did, finally. Yeeee…we wouldn’t call it a bread first of all, and the sandwiches at work are made of the famous cotton-wool substance,
    flimsy, full of air and no taste – no wonder you need two of them to hold the inside together!
    Sorry Island, but if we are talking sandwiches, the only good ones here are made of bageuttes – crispy and fresh –
    that’s the only sandwich which will pass …

  29. stettiner says:

    Check out a real kanapka from Copenhagen, Denmark

  30. Ania says:

    Is it a herring kanapka? It looks blissful… :P

  31. stettiner says:

    It’s rye bread, potato, herring marinaded in honey (yes, yes, I know…), red onion, leek, thyme and trout spawn. Try to put this in your mouth with one hand….

  32. kika says:

    Windows frames? filmsy? in Poland? excuse me, but you must confuse it with England. The windows here are blown with the wind whenever there is a little wind outside.
    And you didn’t mention that we also build houses which last a little longer than 5 years before you have to start the work on them all over again. I wonder why

  33. kuba says:

    Windows are great and the screens even better.

  34. island1 says:

    I rest my case. 90 percent of that undoubtedly delicious concoction will end up on the floor.

  35. island1 says:

    This wandered across my subscription network too. I’m not sure it’s much of a story really: what is the non-white population of Poland—about 12?

  36. Radek says:

    Well, at least it’s better than what the bloody Yanks have:


  37. Kiki says:

    what screens?

  38. kasia says:

    island1, you’ve mentioned that it’s not impossible to get a delicious bread in England. Please, please, please tell me where to get it:) The only place I’ve found that offers something that tastes and looks like bread is… shop with oriental food (I think it’s Taj).

    I live and study in the UK, which means that during the academic term my diet is breadless (ASDA toast bread doesn’t count – it tastes like soft wool) and I’m desperate to buy a normal (fresh and crusty) bread and rolls. It’d be great if you could drop me some hints. Thanks:)

  39. island1 says:

    A bakery. Or the bakery section of a large supermarket such as Sainsbury’s or Tesco’s.

  40. Scatts says:

    Sandwiches –

    Things like (proper) bacon and sausages are at their most delicious, sandwichwise, inside the soft white ‘baps’ found in England. As an open sandwich with Polish bread they just wouldn’t work at all. Also I find that egg mayonnaise sandwiches don’t work well over here either. Prawn mayonnaise could work in open format but are never done properly here, if you can find one at all.

    I think therefore that the secret to sandwich-making is in the combining of ingredients with bread type and formation. Agree with Jamie that using cutlery on a sandwich should be illegal, also a hamburger or hot-dog.

    Also silly is this idea of piling 43 ingredients on top of some bread and calling it a sandwich. It is not a sandwich, it is a ham/cheese salad that accidentally fell onto a slice of bread. You should remove the bread, wave it in front of the waitress/waiter and say “Excuse me but I just found some bread in my salad!” (as if it were a fly, or some hair)

    Having said that, I confess that having been here for a while now the (well constructed) open sandwich is a part of my lifestyle. The only time I have a traditional two-slice sandwich now is when I buy one from Coffee Hell, not that they are particularly good.

    Warsaw would benefit from the opening of one of those little Italian cafes you find every 5th shop in London. They all do great sandwiches and it would be a good way to introduce the menu to Poland.

    In terms of bread, I’d be happy to have the choice in the shops of English style soft white and all the Polish varieties. The English stuff has its uses, even if it is not technically ‘as good’ as the Polish.

  41. news says:

    I think we should just accept that British sandwiches and Pollish kanapkas are just different things, they cannot be compared.

    I remember in the 80s there was a fashion in the UK for Danish open sandwiches, which seem to be similar to Polish kanapkas.

    Also, in the UK if you go to a party such as a corporate do, a book launch or an art gallery opening (I move in cultural circles!), they often serve what some people call canapes (ie the French word). These are either just like Polish kanapka or are posh versions of the British ¨sausage on a stick.¨ Most people would call them nibbles.

  42. kasia says:

    “bakery section of a large supermarket such as Sainsbury’s or Tesco’s.”

    Nope, THIS is not a bread

    Plus, there are hardly any bakeries at all, but maybe it’s just Brighton

  43. adthelad says:

    I’ve recently discovered that there’s a bułka in Poland (sort of like a shorter, narrower, ‘more pointy ended’, english bolster but super soft ‘crust’) which when sliced thinish is a dead ringer for the English sliced white sandwich bread. The Brits can no longer be accused of being the only ones with this sort of bread. Poland has it too only calls it a bun.

  44. Anglopole says:

    Oh dear… and wisdom, as usual, is in simplicity – ‘kanapa’ is a place for people to sit on and ‘kanapka’ a piece of bread(like) layer for various foods to sit on! ;))) LOL! Cool post, Island!

  45. kuba says:

    Kiki, my point there are no screens on most homes in Poland

  46. kuba says:


    Exactly. A place to park your pork butts……. i.e. yours and the hogs

  47. Scatts says:

    Try this place at 43 Trafalgar Street, 01273 570 719
    email: marie@realpatisserie.co.uk


    Not full of English soft bread at all.

  48. kasia says:

    Thanks Scatts sooo much:) I’ll try it:)

  49. Pawel says:

    13, you forgot about Brian Scott

  50. Pawel says:

    name three:)

  51. Pawel says:

    doesn’t it mean the same in English? I’m confused

  52. dagmara says:

    this is interesting, name 6 :)))

  53. Bartoszcze says:

    Well, an appropriate Polish word for sandwich is: klapsznita:)

  54. Maxx says:

    the whole problem results from approximation of translation; “kanapka” and “sandwich” are very similar…
    first meal in the morning is “breakfast” vs. “śniadanie”; believe me it is not the same, neither

  55. Nicolas says:

    xD funny thing
    Although ‘evil and pernicious influence of the French on yet another innocent nation’ Come on ! We talk about food here !!

  56. guest says:

    i’m sorry, but u got this really wrong. English food is shit. There’s no denying. Most Brits admit it so don’t argue. English sandwiches are tasty, but the ingredients are of a much lower quality than the Polish. I love England etc but food can’t compare. Overall a great site though :)

  57. Name says:

    I’ve been saying this for f*cking months!! IT’S NOT A SANDWICH!!!!! How can it be a sandwich if it’s not ‘sandwiching’ anything?? I don’t think anyone here is arguing about taste. Everyone has there own opinion so some prefer the Kanapka and some prefer the sandwich. That however is not up for debate. It’s the very name that is incorrect.

  58. guest says:

    What I find funny is that McDonald’s in Poland uses the word “kanapki” for it burgers so you can order “kanapka hamburger” for example.

  59. Charl says:

    There is a critical shortage of ifnromtavie articles like this.

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