Category Archives: FOOD AND DRINK

The mysterious case of the wooden mushrooms

There are many attractions to living in Poland and one of them is the menu translations!

It is always with a sense of excitement that I open a menu wondering what surprises I might find inside or even if I will find the holy grail of a perfectly translated menu from front to back. It’s a bit like like having Christmas over and over again every time you walk into a restaurant.

Most intriguing is the way most people seem to get some rather complicated things right and then slip up with what should be bread and butter translations (excuse the intentional pun).

Here’s a page from the menu of the cafe inside the castle at Nidzica (click for bigger version):

The most obvious amuse bouche, and the reason I took the photo, are the “Herring with wooden mushrooms”, which should probably be (including the bracketed ‘marynowane’) “Herring with preserved woodland mushrooms”. Reading further though you have steak tartar described mouth-wateringly as “raw beef”. True, at least. Then you have the rather awkward “King’s meat” or “King’s fish”, which I suppose should really be something like “Fish in a King’s style” but is actually quite hard for me to translate after so many years of seeing the “po Grecku” or “po something else” plopped on the end of the description.

Finally, my favourite gripe is calling pierogi, “dumplings”! I know this is perhaps the most obvious description but it really doesn’t do them justice. For most English speaking people dumplings (anywhere outside a Chinese restaurant) are big, stodgy, fatty, jabba-the-hutt type things that you don’t want to eat unless you’re about to swim the Baltic sea, naked. Pierogi are not like that, well most of them anyway, so we really do need a better translation for them. I suppose “Polish style dumplings” would be an improvement, or even using the word “ravioli”, which is actually a lot closer than dumplings.

Here’s a shot of a “pierogi” I took at the Star Wars exhibition in County Hall, London. Would you order this from the menu? I thought not!
Dumpling

The bottom line is that ordering food in Poland using the English translations is a hit & miss affair. So much so that I generally refuse the English menu I’m offered and ask for a Polish one. It’s the only way of knowing exactly what I’m ordering.

Bear in mind, these errors exist in every menu throughout Poland. It is not restricted by either class of restaurant or by geography. When I see this in a high quality restaurant I have to wonder how much they spent on printing the fancy menus and just how they would feel if the Polish menu was equally badly described. Surely they would be sending it back to the translator / printer and demanding a recount! Does every restaurateur in Poland have their second cousin who got a ‘B’ in English lessons do the translating for their menu??

I have often thought of starting up a “Menu translation service”. I have no idea how many of these things need translating each year but I’d be prepared to do it for a nominal fee of say 10 PLN per page (+VAT) just for the satisfaction of seeing better menus in restaurants. What do you think, good idea?

Interested in why we were in the castle at Nidzica? Go check out 20 east.

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Barszcz czerwony, Borshch, Borscht

The soup that most people associate with this part of the world is barszcz, or borshch if you want a screwed-up English spelling. The assumption is that this is always a red, beetroot, soup and comes from Russia. Of course, we know that there are in fact two main types, red & white and that the red type originates in………..Poland? According to this interesting, in a passing kind of way, article, red barszcz started out in Ukraine and then spread to all Slavic lands. Would any of our Polish readers disagree with that, I wonder?

Personally, I’m a huge fan of the white stuff which is very similar to a good żurek and in my limited experience comes as the liquid with floating bits of white kielbasa (and possibly egg?). I’m certain the recipe varies from place to place. If I recall correctly, Easter is the main occasion for white barszcz so not long to wait.

As for the red stuff, I can take it or leave it. For me, doing anything to a beetroot other than pickling it is to take it well outside its comfort zone and to heat it up is, well, strange. So this is a difficult country for me when hot beetroot is served up so often either as czerwony barszcz or as a hot vegetable with many meat-based meals. All the more difficult when everyone around me is waxing lyrical about whether the beets served up today are good, bad, indifferent and showing great interest in the recipes. The best thing you can do with red barszcz is to nuke it with as many spices and floaty bits as you can get away with without annoying the barszcz-police such that it becomes as far away from beetroots+water+heat as you can get. I think the sour cream helps a lot but I’ve not often had that served up with it here. It is often served here with uszka, dumplings (more or less), floating in it. Alternatively, you can get a cup of it and drink this while munching on a krokiet, sort of pastry-like thing.

Almost forgot. What is nice, in the summer, is the cold beetroot soup who’s name escapes me in Polish but it begins with “L”, I think? (EDIT – Thanks to Darth – the name is chłodnik – not an L in sight!). Poland’s own gazpacho. I have very little idea how this is made but it uses the green parts of the beet as well as the tuber. It resembles muddy pond water after a herd of buffalo have marched through leaving grassy bits floating around but it tastes really good. Most Poles I know, don’t like it. According to Wiki article linked to above, this is “Mostly Lithuanian”, well, it was all the same commonwealth once upon a time.

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Battle of Butcher’s Slab

WARNING – this article is not suitable for vegetarians, vegans, vulcans and sith.

Ever wondered about the differences between Polish and English meat? Well here’s my opinion for what it’s worth.

Sausages – have to be at the very heart of the battle. I asked some colleagues just now “What’s the difference between kiełbasa and British sausages?”. The answer was unanimously, “Yours are made from toilet paper and ours are made from meat!”. They are now seeking alternative employment, but the battle continues. British (or Irish) sausages are almost universally hated over here and the main reason for that, apart from differences in taste is the fact that British sausages are known for having large amounts of sawdust or other filling materials, whereas kiełbasa are, so they say, pure meat. “What about all those fatty gristly parts of kneecaps I need to spit out!”, I hear you cry. Well, nobody over here is owning up to those parts, no no, kiełbasa is 100% glorious meat. I’m prepared to admit that a good kiełbasa is good, possibly better than the sausages I grew up with as a stand alone food item. However, would I like kiełbasa for breakfast? No! Would I enjoy a kiełbasa sandwich? No! So, we have therefore proven that, in the two main instances that the British sausage is likely to be best used it stands supreme! Conversely, would you like slices of British sausage on your kolacja plate with the cheese, ogorki, grzyby, chleb and pasztet? No! So, in some instances the kiełbasa is champion. This leaves the disputed middle ground, the no-mans-land of sausagedom – the lunchtime/afternoon sausage based meal. And here I think we have a draw. Unquestionably fantastic is “bangers & mash with onion gravy” but equally good is grilled kiełbasa with ogorki and chleb or frytki. So here’s the verdict – British sausages for breakfast or brunch. Polish kiełbasa in the evening. Choice of either for lunch/obiad.

Bacon – not even going to waste my breath. Hands down, slam dunk, no brainer, open and shut case – British (Irish, Danish) bacon wins! There is no such thing as Polish bacon anyway. Boczek may be loosely translated as bacon but what it really means is fat & bits of bone.

Blood sausage – will I think have to go down as a draw or possibly a win in extra time for Poland. A good kaszanka is hard to beat, especially when accompanied by some fried onions and good mustard (yes, mustard, not horseradish!). QCHNIA ARTYSTYCZNA do a very good kaszanka. On the other hand, a little grilled or fried British style ‘black pudding’ is a pretty decent addition to any breakfast. This whole category is probably one of those love it or hate it things anyway, so those who love will love both and those who hate, vice versa.

Cold meat cuts – this may be the most controversial as it is, I think, entirely a matter of taste with no real quality issues on either side. All I know is this – in the UK they had riots in the street to bitch and moan about the amount of water in ham. We wanted to pay for the weight of ham, not the weight of water. You could take swimming lessons in Polish ham. I like dry ham, cut from the bone. I can remember now as if I were standing at the counter, watching the lady in Waitrose at Goldsworth Park, Woking cutting that mouthwateringly delicious ham from the bone. Now that, was good ham. Over here, there is also good ham but all of it is too wet for my liking, even the stuff that looks dry. So in terms of ham I’m saying a win for Britain but with a rider that when Poles develop a taste for dry ham, Poland will take the lead. For other meats I think it’s a draw or win for Poland. I don’t buy a lot of different meats but Poland seems to have plenty to choose from. I do miss corned beef though, or cold sliced beef generally, for some reason not a Polish taste.

Golonka versus a roast – very very tough call because I love them both. In fact, I can’t decide. If I had to decide, I’d kill myself before doing so.

Fowl – can’t beat a Polish duck (especially when the RSPB are around!) universally well cooked here except when they try to get all posh on you and call it “duck breast a la posh”, then it sucks. On the other wing, a British turkey beats the hell out of a carp as a Christmas meal. Chicken’s the same everywhere as are the more exotic things like pheasant, goose and so on. Polish win for the consistency and availability of the duck.

Chops & Schnitzels – the schnitzels are a draw because they are Germanic anyway, so it comes down to the ubiquitous ‘kotlet schabowy’ versus a good old British style pork chop. The same thing except the Polish version requires you to take a British pork chop, beat the crap out of it and then cover it with breadcrumbs. I like both so on the pork chops it’s a draw too. However, when you introduce the British cavalry, in the shape of a ‘gammon steak’, it’s game over for the Poles! And you thought the ‘kotlet schabowy’ was invincible?

Lamb, generally – don’t make me laugh! The only sheep in Poland are ones that have been cloned from a 27 year old sheep once owned by King Jan Nowak III Jagodamy. So, all sheep in Poland are 27 and taste like nasty mutton. Okay for a curry but not much else. Lambs frolic in England, Wales and New Zealand, until they are killed. A good roast lamb, or lamb chops are delicious but asking a Pole to eat lamb is like asking them to eat monkey’s brains. Clear win for Britain.

Other stuff – Unless it’s my imagination, I’m encountering more ‘other stuff’ here in Poland than in Britain. This category covers things that include meat but are not pure meat. It looks like coming down to things like – zrazy (don’t know correct spelling), meat pierogi, pyzy, gołabki, kotlety mielony and so on, on the Polish side, versus – steak & kidney pie, chicken pie, shepherd’s pie/cottage pie, Cornish pasty, hamburger on the British side. Much as I am a huge fan of the Cornish pasty and the odd pie, it is not enough to overthrow the extensive troops available to Poland. So, Polish win.

I make that 3 wins for Britain, 3 wins for Poland and 3 draws. Surprising that the crack forces of each country lost their respective battles – Poland’s kotlety schabowy and Britain’s pies!

Now I’m hungry!

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Garlic, vinegar, it’s all the same to a Polish vampire!

Poles HATE vinegar (ocet). That’s because this was the only thing in the shops during commy times and so they have a kind of psycho hang-up about the stuff.

They are always laughing about the fact that we English put vinegar on our chips. We might as well be smearing our chips with sewage. Chips are supposed to have salt and ketchup, perhaps mayo but most emphatically NOT vinegar.

There are only two known uses for Polish vinegar –

  1. cleaning scale off kettles and things
  2. making a tomato & onion salad (sałatka pomidorowa)

English vinegar comes in fancy packaging and a wide variety of specialist flavours. Polish vinegar is packaged like poison and comes in one flavour, “medical”.

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Eat this!

Blundering around the interweb thingy the other day I came across this diverting post on about:blank (always a good place to waste one’s time). The pictures below are from a book entitled Hungry Planet: What the World Eats. The authors visited 30 average families in 24 diverse countries and took photos of the food they ate on a weekly basis. Great idea for a book; especially great idea to get someone to pay you to travel around the world taking pictures.

Nice insights into eating habits and all sorts of accidental background things:

Poland
Nice table-full of fresh fruit and veg. I’m assuming the flowers are not to be consumed (a cynical person might suggest that they were added to fill the spread out a bit, but I am not that person). I’m also assuming the dog food is for a non-pictured dog and not to supplement the diet of great-grandma in the next room. I’m surprised there aren’t more bottles of water or cartons of juice; most Poles I know get through both at an alarming rate.

food-pol.jpg

England
What a hideous bunch! And what a hideous room! An awful lot of packaging there too. Note that, being British, the dog is included as a member of the family (although the cat isn’t). One bottle of wine? Hmmm, I thought they were supposed to be average.

food-uk.jpg

Germany
Is it just me or is the food laid out in a far more organized way here than in the others? Far be it from me to imply any kind of national stereotype that might explain this. At least they have the honesty to display their wine and beer.

food-germany.jpg

United States
Holy brightly-colored-packaging Batman! Fresh fruit and veg almost completely absent. Those pizzas are making me hungry.

food-usa.jpg

Japan
Contrast the whites and muted colors of the packaging here with the shouty ‘buy-me-now’ colors of the American table above. Note, everybody is sitting on the floor (not surprising) and the TV is on and included almost as a member of the family (the TV is ALWAYS on in a Japanese home).

food-japan.jpg

Sudan
Ooops… bit of a contrast.

food-darfur.jpg

Like this post? Head on over to Wyspianski Unwinding to read more by me. Do it now!

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