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If you’re unfamiliar with Polish food, then you’re in for a treat. This rich European cuisine is full of succulent meats and hearty dishes for foodies from all walks of life.
The rich flavors and soothing textures of Polish cuisine should come as no surprise. Many renowned cuisines have made their way into Polish cooking.
Knives and forks at the ready, as we delve into sixteen of Poland’s most popular dishes and learn about how and what makes them so delicious.
The Polish equivalent of the Italian ravioli, the Chinese dumpling, and the Latin American empanada, pierogi are a classic in every grandmother’s kitchen.
Traditionally boiled, savory pierogi can be filled with farmer’s cheese and potatoes (ruskie), cabbage and mushrooms, or meat. These pierogi are usually topped with caramelized onions that have been fried in a pan with a healthy amount of butter.
Sweet pierogi are most commonly filled with fruits such as blueberries, plums, or cherries. These sweet variations are served with sour cream that has been sweetened with sugar.
It has become more popular in recent years to experiment with different fillings in pierogi, with flavors such as spinach and feta, chocolate, or chicken, but the classics are a must-try before you stray too far from traditional flavors.
A hunter’s stew is typically made with sauerkraut, shredded fresh cabbage, and a variation of meats. This soup will appease the heartiest of appetites.
Bigos is usually served in the cold winter months. It is a very traditional dish that has been around for generations, and so every family recipe will vary slightly. However, it is traditionally made with sausage or other red meat, such as venison or pork, and flavored with bay leaves and caraway seeds. Sometimes, other vegetables or even red wine is added for additional flavor.
It is best served with rye bread. Bigos will taste better the longer it cooks, and is often regarded as being most flavorful two to three days after it has been cooked.
Cabbage rolls are another important facet of Polish cuisine. Cabbage leaves are filled with a combination of ground pork and rice. They are then baked in an oven with a foil cover so that they can steam.
Cabbage rolls are served with either a tomato or mushroom sauce, both of which are usually cream-based.
A vegetarian variation of the cabbage roll is presented during Wigilia, the Christmas Eve meal, which is traditionally vegetarian. Vegetarian cabbage rolls are made with barley and mushroom filling and topped with a mushroom sauce.
Cabbage rolls are a fixture in many Eastern European cuisines, and spices and sauces vary slightly from country to country. In Poland, they are called gołąbki, the plural word for pigeon, due to their rolled shape.
Potato pancakes, or placki ziemniaczane, are a typical Polish food also found in the Hungarian and Jewish culinary tradition.
Grated potatoes and onions are combined with egg and a touch of flour. They are then fried in oil and topped with a variety of toppings.
Some people eat them with sauerkraut, others only with sugar!
Most typically you will find potato pancakes served with a goulash made of beef and peppers and seasoned with a touch of allspice. Potato pancakes are found on most restaurant menus in Poland, and goulash can sometimes be made with pork or even chicken. This is served alongside a serving of sauerkraut and sour cream.
Potato pancakes are best served and eaten fresh since they lose their crispiness quickly.
Leczo is a stew that comes from the Hungarian culinary tradition but has been a popular fixture on the Polish dinner table for years.
It is also considered traditional in Czech, Slovak, and Croatian cuisine.
It is made with a tomato base, and it includes peppers, onions, garlic, and often, sausage. It is typically spiced with bay leaves, paprika, and pepper.
Leczo is an often forgotten about Polish dish due to its humble ingredients. Although it is not the flashiest Polish dish, it is worth a taste, especially since it is so simple and quick to make.
Leczo can be easily made paleo or keto, making it a good option for experimenting with ethnic cuisine if you have dietary restrictions. Simply use a paleo-friendly meat source or lower-carb vegetables and enjoy a taste of Eastern Europe!
Red borscht is a beet soup commonly served during Wigilia on Christmas Eve.
It is made by combining vegetable stock with beetroots, onions, carrots, celery, and cabbage. Often flavored with bay leaves, it is a classic dish served alongside uszka (mini pierogi that are typically made with mushroom and cabbage filling) or krokiety (rolled crepes that are filled with shredded meat and coated in breadcrumbs).
It is not uncommon to drink borscht out of a cup alongside some pretzel sticks for a quick snack, meaning it is a quick and accessible meal to have during camping trips.
Red borscht has a deep, bold flavor that is hard to forget once you have tried it.
Zapiekani are the late-night food of choice in Poland.
Made with half of a baguette, a zapiekanka is a large open-faced sandwich that is toasted in the oven.
It can feature various combinations of ingredients such as mushrooms, peppers, cheese, deli meat, or sausage.
Often topped with ketchup, they are the perfect food to eat after a long night at the bar or dancing at the disco.
They are often associated with the 1970s, when the accessibility of cheese, mushrooms, and bread made it an easy item to serve at an eatery.
Zapiekanki have enjoyed a renewed popularity in the last ten years. Perhaps the most iconic place to eat a Polish zapiekanka is in the Kazimierz district of Cracow, where a few stands have developed large cult followings.
Pączki are likely the most widely known Polish dessert, and they can be found in every Polish cukiernia, or confectionary shop.
These yeast cake donuts are little pieces of fluffy heaven that are fried in oil and filled with a variety of different jams.
Most traditionally, pączki contain a plum jam that is flavored with wild roses. Oftentimes, you will also find pączki filled with raspberry or lemon jam. Some newer style bakeries have also been known to fill pączki with chocolate or vanilla pudding!
Pączki are either topped with a royal icing topping or powdered sugar for a bit of extra sweetness.
Pączki are often eaten before Lent, on a day known as Tłusty Czwartek, the equivalent of the North American Fat Tuesday.
Makowiec is a traditional poppy seed roll cake made with a sweet yeast cake base.
Poppies feature heavily in Polish desserts, likely since historically this was one of the most easily accessible sweet ingredients in the area.
In the roll, you can find a poppy seed paste that is often accompanied by raisins and finely chopped nuts. Sometimes the paste is made of chestnuts or walnuts instead of poppy seeds.
Makowiec is often topped with a royal icing topping and candied nuts or raisins.
This dessert is popular and has variations across Central and Eastern Europe, making it one of the most recognizable sweet treats in Poland.
Mizeria is a sliced cucumber salad that tastes quite similar to Greek tzatziki.
It is a classic Polish side dish that is often served alongside a meal of meat and potatoes.
Mizeria is one the most popular and widely eaten salads in Poland. Sliced cucumbers are combined with sour cream, onions, dill, vinegar or lemon juice, and salt and pepper for a refreshing addition to any dinner plate.
Mizeria can get messy, as the sour cream spreads into the other elements on the plate, but the combination of mashed potato and mizeria is one that every Polish child fondly remembers from their early years.
Many countries in Western Slavic countries use fermented cereals to create soups. In Poland, the most common variation on this tradition is soured rye flour soup, or żurek.
This soup is made with fermented rye flour, which is very similar to a sourdough bread base.
Another core ingredient is meat, either smoked bacon, sausage, or ham.
Żurek is often served with a hearty amount of meat and hard-boiled eggs. Another option is pouring it over mashed potatoes, without the other fix-ins.
It is a soup commonly served during Easter dinner but is eaten at all times of the year.
It is, of course, served alongside a piece of rye bread.
Naleśniki are the Polish version of crepes, and they are usually rolled into thin rolls and served with different filings.
Typically filled with a farmer’s style cheese that has been sweetened with sugar and browned with butter in a pan, they can be eaten as a side dish or as a dessert.
They are topped with jams, whipped creams, and powdered sugar, and sometimes even chocolate or custards.
Naleśniki can also be made with savory fillings such as potatoes, mushrooms, or cabbage. Another variation of naleśniki are called racuchy, which are a thicker crepe more akin to a pancake filled with steamed apple slices and topped with powdered sugar.
It is worth noting that naleśniki and racuchy are not usually covered in maple syrup, since it is still little known and extremely expensive to purchase in Europe.
Kompot is a sweet beverage akin to a juice. It is made by boiling fruits in water along with additional sweeteners, such as sugar or honey.
Kompot is made with any fruits one has on hand, but typical variations of this beverage are made with plums, apples, strawberries, rhubarb, or peaches.
Kompot is non-alcoholic, and it can be served warm or cold depending on the time of the year.
Making kompot was likely an important way to preserve fruits before refrigeration, and the consumption of kompot as a popular beverage has declined over the last twenty to thirty years. Despite this, it can still often be found in mom-and-pop restaurant operations in Poland, and almost always, in any Polish grandmother’s pantry.
Kiełbasa is perhaps the best known, and most stereotypical, Polish dish. The Poles have really refined the creation of this culinary staple, and different regions offer many variations.
Kiełbasa is either fresh or smoked, and comes in a variety of shapes and sizes.
A popular type are called kabanosy, which are long pepperette-shaped smoked sausage links that are typically made of pork.
Kiełbasa can be made with pork, lamb, veal, turkey, chicken- the sky is the limit!
It is often served at Polish weddings as a part of the midnight meal, and it is an important component of a traditional Easter breakfast.
Kiełbasa is often added to other Polish foods such as bigos, żurek, leczo, and zapiekanki, which shows how important it is to the Polish culinary landscape.
Polish gingerbread varies from region to region, but is typically formed into a cookie. Some variations have spiced nuts and dried fruit, while others showcase deep rich chocolate. It is also common to have no fillings at all.
The gingerbread from the town of Toruń is perhaps the most famous, as it has been produced since the Middle Ages. Pierniki in Poland are more than food: they are also a very common souvenir given to others after traveling to large cities like Toruń or Kraków.
The cookies are large, heart shaped, and covered with messages of love and affection. This tradition is likely a keepsake from the time that government leaders in the city of Toruń presented important people, distinguished guests, or valued and honoured members of society with gingerbread as a gesture of thanks and appreciation.
Flaki is a traditional Polish meat stew, the main ingredient of which is tripe.
Flaki are a polarizing Polish dish: one either adores them or despises them. Despite this, they are one of the most recognizable dishes in Polish cuisine.
Flaki are commonly made with beef tripe, a beef broth, carrots, and onions. Typical spices include marjoram, salt, pepper, bay leaves, and paprika.
Sometimes, flaki can be made in a tomato concentrate.
A variation on the classic flaki are “flaki po warszawsku” or Warsaw-style flaki, which have the addition of meatballs in the stew. These are meant to elevate the dish, since its origins are so humble.
Flaki are a common fixture at Polish weddings as one of the hot meals during the midnight buffet. They are served alongside fresh rye bread for dipping.
Once you grace Europe, you know you’re in for a culinary treat. There are so many sumptuous and diverse cuisines in Central Europe.
And Poland is no doubt one of the surprise packages of Central Europe. Its geography has a lot to do with its wide-ranging cuisine.
Many Central European, Mediterranean and Eastern European flavors have all found their way into Polish food.
Combine their flair flavors with the wholesome and hearty ingredients Poles hold dear, and you have yourself a dynamite selection of dishes.
The term à la polonaise, meaning ‘in the manor of Poland’, sums up Polish cuisine quite nicely.
When food is served à la polonaise, its commonly garnished with hard-cooked eggs and generous helpings of breadcrumbs.
Hearty root vegetables are one of many dishes served à la polonaise. Polish cooking takes wholesome, simple dishes, and injects a little spice and flair into proceedings.
This is why you’ll also find plenty of herbs and spices in the foods of Poland. They are simple, stomach-soothing dishes, with a little extra kick.
Amid the famous cuisines of Europe, Poland brings a whole range of delicious and underrated delicious to the table.
If you love your tender meats and hearty carbohydrates, with some extra layers and flavors, Polish food will serve you up plenty of surprises.
Before we go, let’s take one last look at the full list of all Polish foods covered in this article.
Be sure to have this list of Polish food handy when you visit so that you can try one or more of these popular and traditional foods.
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Contributor: Pauline Wegrzyn is a Polish-Canadian writer based in British Columbia. A trained physiotherapist, Pauline is a talented content creator and writes passionately on a number of topics, including health, wellness, and Polish culture.
Images licensed via Shutterstock
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