While browsing through my enormous backlog of unread blog posts I came across a short post on Bar Mleczny, another UK-based Polish blog, about Polish food in the UK.
Well, there are two pieces of news to share in fact.
First, Tesco has decided to double the amount of Polish food it offers as its customers are now buying 15% more Polish products than a year ago.
The decision follows an earlier move to cut back the number of Polish items on Tesco’s shelves after large numbers of Poles decided to go back to Poland.
An article in the Daily Telegraph quotes Tesco’s Polish foods buyer Tomasz Zarebinski, who explains the decision:
“When jobs began drying up some Poles returned home in order to try and find work but many found it equally hard over there and have decided to come back to the UK.
“With unemployment currently higher in Poland than in the UK many of those who left are more hopeful of finding work over here.
“That has directly led to the first rise in demand for Polish food here for nearly a year and as a result we have now decided to extend our range.”
The second piece of news is that you can now get your groceries from Tesco’s website in Polish as well as in English. They’ve launched www.tesco.com/polski presumably to make it easier for Poles residing in the UK to order their groceries.
I only hope that this blog has also contributed to the popularity of Polish food in the UK.
So, it’s getting colder again. The summer is almost over. Yet my supermarket is still selling some lovely blueberries. Over the past couple of months I’ve been religiously buying them fresh. I just thought my daily cereal routine – dominated by bananas, apples and sometimes raisins – needed an injection of fresh, seasonal fruit.
And obviously, every time I picked up a punnet, I was torn between two extreme feelings. On the one hand, the fact that the fruit was flown into Britain from Poland made my eco-conscious mind acutely aware of the environmental cost of having my cereal sprinkled with a bit of summer yumminness.
On the other hand though, every time I see the blueberries they remind me of my innocent youth, when no-one cared about how much carbs they ate and how purple their teeth were as long as the blueberry Danish pastries were fresh.
But here’s where my other problem begins. The blueberries I’m buying are of the non-staining variety. The ones I remember from my Polish days were juicy, sweet, yet tangy and they made your tongue and teeth dark purple for, well, for days. I remember them from our outings to the Polish seaside and from the school canteen. The jagodzianki – blueberry pastries – were most teenagers’ staple diet. The wild blueberries picked in the forests of the Beskidy Mountains were the best rewards for day-long walks with dad.
So when I eat the supermarket variety I feel slightly disappointed, a bit cheated. They are sweet, yet they’re almost tasteless. They don’t burst with colour, they don’t stain, they are safe. They actually make me miss the real ones.
So the big project for next year is to go to Beskidy, go for a walk, find some blueberries, eat as much of them as possible and then grin at everyone with purple teeth and tongue.
For now though, I’ll cling on to the supermarket ones. By doing that I’m also clinging to the last vestiges of summer…
Image © lepiaf.geo via Flickr, used under Creative Commons licence
But I’ve just come across a rather impressive selection of Polish places – or venues serving Polish food in some form – on a user review site Qype.
The good thing about it is it comes with user reviews and I have to say I’m so far impressed by the fact that most places got between 4 and 5 stars. OK, quite a few of them have so far been reviewed by just one person, which is hardly sufficient for a balanced review, but it’s fair to say that whenever you have an average score of 4 stars from 6 reviewers, chances are the place will not disappoint.
I’m a bit embarrassed to admit I had no idea how many Polish places there really are in London. Some of them, like L’autre in Mayfair, are a bizarre hybrid of Polish and Mexican cuisine, some are serving Eastern European food in general, but the remaining ones are focused purely on pierogi, placki and bigos. Yum!
Qype also does a good job listing quite a few Polish shops in London, so whenever you have this sudden urge to get some kabanos, you know where to look for it online.
Image © Bartolo – via Flickr, used under Creative Commons licence
My good friend from uni, Kasia, came to London last week for a short trip with her students.
“What do you want from Poland?” she asked me over the phone. Hmm, the list can run into pages – new music, good books, a bottle of good vodka, sausages.
“Sausages,” I said without hesitation. “Actually just one, we have Polish shops in London nowadays, so I’m sure I can find some yummy smoked sausage here too. Surprise me.” So she did. Here’s the result (vegetarians, look away now):
Now, this picture doesn’t feature any of the sausages we managed to eat pretty much straight away, apologies for that, but as it’s a nice selection anyway (or what’s left of it) I thought I’d use this opportunity to introduce you to some of the best Polish sausages around.
1. Kabanos – just to clarify and satisfy the linguist in me, ‘kabanos’ is actually singular, the plural form is kabanosy. This type of sausage has in recent years found its way to Sainsbury’s cold meats section, where it can nowadays be found alongside chorizo, salami slices and other widely known European sausages. This dry, smoky and peppery sausage in its purest form is usually quite long (up to 60cm), is made from pork, but don’t be surprised to find other varieties too – with turkey, chicken and even wild boar on offer, depending on where in Poland you buy it. There are also shorter kabanosy which you need to boil in water, but however you choose to eat them, they’re divine. My favourite.
2. Krakowska sucha – aka Krakauer, a chunky, pork sausage named after Kraków, the city. Garlicky, usually herby and smoked it can be sliced and fried, but it’s best enjoyed as a cold meat, on a sandwich or on its own. I’ve seen a thinner variety of Krakowska at a Christmas market in London, where it was just boiled and served with bread an mustard, but the big one is a classic.
3. Polska surowa – now we’re talking sausage from the top shelf here, ok? Think Polska surowa, think chorizo or saucisson. Dry, pepery pork sausage which takes some time to mature, but then bursts with flavour (god, I should become a copywriter). I can’t think of any other uses for it apart from savouring from time to time. Yum.
4. Jałowcowa – Poland wanted to protect jałowcowa – together with kabanos and myśliwska (hunter’s sausage – sorry I missed it from the above picture, but we finished it before I managed to take the picture) – as a typical Polish sausage. The application to register them as a Traditional Speciality Guaranteed was lodged with the European Commission in January 2007, but so far it hasn’t been approved, as far as I am aware. So why exactly are we trying to protect it? Jałowcowa, apart from the usual suspects – pork meat and black pepper – contains juniper, which gives it its unique flavour. I kind of want to barbeque it, make it smoky and enjoy it with a slice of fresh bread and a cold beer….
5. Kindziuk – now, I have to say, this one is new to me. I even had to Google it. Kindziuk seems to be a Lithuanian speciality, which found its way to Poland. It’s made out of the finest pork cuts, can be really fatty and garlicky and according to this Wikipedia article, it can be used as a basis for various soups. I got two varieties, one with garlic, one with big peppercorns and it reminds me a bit of salami or sliced chorizo. It’s quite popular in north-eastern Poland.
Well, I have to say, the next few weeks will be a bit heavy food-wise, but let’s say I’m doing it in the name of research.
Next time Kasia comes to London, I’ll request a selection of alcohols….
Here I was, trying to find time (and inspiration) to write a post on Polish Christmas food, but it looks like yesterday’s thelondonpaper did a relatively good job.
Tom Moggach wrote a piece on how different countries celebrate Christmas from a culinary perspective and included this, rather well-researched, concise, yet informative bit:
Eat: Borscht soup [how many spellings does this word have?!], carp, mushroom dumplings, herring, potato salad, poppy seed cake and fruit compote.
Tradition: Christmas Eve is a day of fasting, before a feast of 12 dishes [oh, yes] – and no booze or meat until midnight. One place at the table is left free for unexpected guests [or as some prefer to call it, a lost traveller or a person in need], while custom dictates the sharing of ‘opłatek’, a thin wafer, with family and friends.
It’s actually surprising how much information there was in this short piece. Obviously, he didn’t even manage to scratch the surface, as there are as many variations of the Christmas Eve dinner as there are regions, cities and families in Poland.
My family for example never eats carp. We substitute it with another kind of fish, usually haddock. We don’t have mushroom dumplings, but we have a rich mushroom soup. The fruit compote tastes brilliant if it’s made from smoked dried fruit and cloves. YUM!
The area of Poland I come from also has several variations of the dessert – some of them are really rich and fruity, some sound weird (and include – among other things – beetroot), some are simply divine. Like makówki.
Now, this is a Silesian specialty with poppy seeds, almonds, nuts, milk, honey, vanilla, raisins, lemon peel, butter and milk. (Some people also use coconut and alcohol.)
I’m still hoping to make it for Christmas this year and if I do, I promise a photo recipe. That’s provided I can buy ground poppy seeds. The dish itself are supposed to have a drug-like effect on you, but I guess it’s just the combination of sugar and carbs that’s so sleep-inducing.
Anyway, have you ever experienced Polish Christmas food? What’s your favourite? I’m curious….
Image © rois Têtes (TT) via Flickr under CC licence
Ask any Pole in the UK, what food they miss and I’m sure quite a few of them will say they miss Polish bread. I do. Why?
To begin with, we hardly ever eat toast. Bread is something Polish people will be picky about. Take Tarnów, for example. This city in south-eastern Poland (116,000 people) sells almost 160 types of bread, including 40 types of ‘traditional’ bread. Its bakers were recently describing on Polish TV how to recognise a well baked loaf of bread (it’s all bout the crust, since you’re asking). So toast slices are perceived as something really inferior.
Then there’s the religious aspect – in a deeply Catholic country like Poland bread has always been revered as a highly symbolic type of food. Many people still make a sign of cross on a fresh loaf before slicing it.
Bread is also an important accompaniment to many dishes and is in itself an ingredient. For example, a Christmas delicacy called makówki, made traditionally in the region of Upper Silesia in the south of Poland, consists of layers of sliced bread (or baguette) soaked in a sweet mixture of ground poppy seeds, milk, nuts, almonds, raisins, orange peel and sugar. Hopefully I’ll be able to post a detailed recipe for this closer to Christmas.
And since I mentioned Upper Silesia, I also need to mention what is probably the only Museum of Bread in Poland. It’s situated in a small town of Radzionków, near Bytom and was set up several years ago by a local man who was extremely passionate about this most basic of foods. I remember interviewing him as a young journalist in the 1990s when was trying to convince Bytom’s president, that having a unique museum in a unique pre-war bakery building in the centre of the city would be a fantastic opportunity to attract some tourists. Sadly, as far as I am aware, the building is still decaying and the museum was later opened a few miles down the road and so far has been visited by tens of thousands of visitors.
Next time you’re in that area, go off the beaten track and see for yourself why Poles are so crazy about their bread.