I do a lot of research before I pick a new destination, probably too much for any sane person. I read (or skim) travel guides, websites like tripadvisor, travel magazines (from Travel + Leisure to National Geographic), and other travel blogs looking for information on what to pack, what to wear, local insights, as well as the basics (such as voltage converters). These resources can be great when trying to decide where to go on my next trip or if I’m just adding to my (too long and ever-growing) list of places I need to visit.
I try not to over-research every place I go, though. There is something to be said for visiting a place on a whim, for wandering off the paths you had mapped (in your head), for staying out too late at a blues jam session when you need to be up early the next day.
Traveling is about
what you want to do,
not what everyone else says you should do.
The thing I investigate most is food. I am, by most others’ standards, an adventurous eater: I will eat (and probably love) anything that may or may not resemble food if you put it in front of me and call it a delicacy or specialty.
Burn-your-esophagus-spicy? Still alive? Oh, it has tentacles and they’re rubbery? Slime? You have to eat the tail and then suck the juices from its brain? It used to be green, has six legs, and hopped about in the grass before you caught the clacking thing?
You name it, I will try it. There is nothing more disappointing than coming home only to realize that I missed out on trying something insane, delicious, or insanely delicious in the location that is known for making it.
Food is such an integral part of understanding and embracing a culture that I can’t imagine traveling without at least trying everything, or almost everything, that a place calls their own or specializes in offering. With that in mind, I’ve decided to add a little post about what to eat in each destination I cover. I will also be adding food-centric tips for the destinations I already discussed over the coming weeks.
I’m not an expert and I’ve never donned a chef’s hat professionally, but I do love to try new things, which is exactly the kind of food inspiration I hope to compile in these posts.
What to Eat in Warsaw
Gofry: This Polish waffle, topped with whipped cream and any number of toppings, is best for dessert, breakfast, or a midday snack. They’re served like a pizza slice on white cardboard and are a pain to eat without making a mess.
Pierogi: These dumplings come with a number of fillings in both the sweet and savory categories. The most popular is the Ruskie (Russian), which is filled with nothing more than cheese and potatoes and is ideal for the less adventurous. The Z Kapusta is cabbage-filled, and as the Poles love their cabbage, this felt like a must-try.
Żurek: This concoction is Poland’s own, its origins undisputed. The clear soup (something like a chicken broth) is complete with white sausage (the fattier of Polish kielbasas) and a hard-boiled egg that seems wildly out of place but tastes amazing. It is often served with sour cream and depending on location, may also contain potatoes. This soup is hearty enough to be a main course.
Barszcz: This Eastern-European staple is made of beetroot and meat stock, though other vegetables such as tomatoes and garlic can be added. The soup can be eaten hot or cold, though Poles tend to eat it more often hot with pierogi, bread, or uszka (a miniature version of pierogi stuffed with meat and served inside the soup itself).
Chlodnik: This soup is made of soured milk, beet leaves, beets, cucumbers, and fresh dill. It is served cold and works best when accompanied by a larger main course.
Placki Ziemniaczane: These potato pancakes, much like those in the Czech Republic and Hungary, are similar to hash browns, only more compact and (a little) less greasy. Many eat these with melted cheese or goulash.
Gulasz: Your basic goulash for those who love it.
Kielbasa: This Polish sausage comes in two colors and hundreds of flavors and types. The white sausage found in many soups is fattier whereas the red sausage tends to have more added flavors, such as garlic. The red sausages will differ in content percentages as well as the casing, but most vendors will not specify the exact type they’ve used.
Oscypek: This tough and strong cheese can be found smoked or not, though smoked is more popular. The smoked version, set off with a spoonful of cranberry sauce, is a prime little taste of Polish goods.
Bigos: Cabbage, tomatoes, honey, mushrooms, and kielbasa or pork make up this traditionally Polish stew. It is usually served with potatoes or rye bread and in general, reminds me of a sauerkraut and meat stew.
Kaszanka: This Polish blood sausage is made of liver, lungs, and pork blood that have been spiced with pepper, onion, and marjoram.
Makoweic: This poppy seed swirl cake can also contain nuts, raisins, or both. It was by far my favorite dessert.
Sernik: This is not New York’s cheesecake. It is made of twaróg (a fresh cheese) and is one of the most popular desserts in Poland.
Chalka: This sweet wheat bread comes from Jewish origin and is best eaten for dessert.
Vodka: This should not come as surprise.
*These are the names/titles you’ll find on menus, hopefully the descriptions help you make an informed decision on the items you most want to try. Write them down; don’t depend on pronunciation (unless you’re comfortable with it, in which case, that’s even better).
– M. Ray Hall