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20 Best Traditional Polish Foods You’ll Love

20 Best Traditional Polish Foods You’ll Love

One thing I noticed is that in the US many items presented as ‘Polish food’ aren’t actually Polish. I was even on a food tour in NYC once and got served ‘Polish cheese’ which was actually Gouda, just packaged in Poland (Gouda is a Dutch cheese).

While some people know a few famous Polish dishes such as Pierogi, Polish cuisine has much more to offer. As a native Pole, let me introduce you to some of the best Polish foods.

If you’re brave enough to try some weird dishes that aren’t weird to Poles but definitely raise an eyebrow of foreigners, make sure to check out my other list as well.

20 Best Traditional Polish Foods You Should Try

1. Pierogi

Undeniable, pierogi is the most popular Polish food. Pierogi is already plural in Polish (pieróg is singular), but in the US people love to call it pierogis which makes no sense. They are thinly rolled-out dough filled with a variety of fillings, savory or sweet. They could be served as an appetizer, main dish or dessert.

The most popular fillings are meat, sauerkraut with mushrooms, spinach, buckwheat, potatoes with fried onions, pepper and cottage cheese called Ruskie which means “Ruthenian pierogi (not “Russian” as they’re often wrongly classified), sweet cottage cheese with raisins and seasonal fruit (blueberries, strawberries and cherries), buckwheat, sweet cottage cheese or boiled potatoes with fried onions (called Russian dumplings.

You can get them either boiled, baked or fried, but traditionally in Poland you eat them boiled with butter and onions on top.

Plate of Pierogi with garnish, a classic Polish dumpling dish, served in a traditional setting, perfect representation of Poland's culinary heritage.

2. Golabki / Gołąbki – Cabbage Rolls

Polish golabki (translating directly it means ‘little pigeons’) is cooked minced meat, often with onions and mushrooms, wrapped up in a leaf of white cabbage and stewed. It’s one of the dishes that was surely brought to the US by Polish immigrants.

They’re served with either boiled potatoes or bread and poured over with a thick and creamy tomato sauce. Get recipe for golabki here.

Stuffed cabbage rolls, known as Gołąbki, topped with tomato sauce, a staple in Polish cuisine, showcasing the heartiness of Eastern European meals.

3. Bigos

Poles love to pickle food. The Polish pickled cucumber is a bit different than the traditional gherkin you might be used to – it’s a bit sour, with a lot of dill, similar to kosher-style pickles.

Cucumbers only pickled for a few days have a different, less sour taste than those pickled for longer. They’re known as ogórek małosolny, which literally means ‘low-salt cucumber’. There is also kiszona kapusta, literally sauerkraut, which might appear strange, due to the method of preparation. Like wine, one has to keep on stepping on it in a barrel…

Authentic Polish kapusta kiszona preparation in wooden barrel, highlighting traditional food preservation methods in Poland's culinary practices.

Bigos is a rich stew which is sometimes translated into ‘hunter’s stew’ is made with various types of chopped meats, sauerkraut and shredded fresh cabbage.

The recipe generally changes from house to house but it’s very hearty and sometimes describes as the Polish version of chili. Get a recipe for bigos here.

Bigos, often called Polish Hunter's Stew, made with sauerkraut and meat, a popular comfort food in Poland's traditional gastronomy.

4. Kotlet Schabowy

Kotlet Schabowy is a pork cutlet in a coating. It’s like Wiener Schnitzel, but thicker. If you ask a Pole to serve you something typically Polish, you’ll be served schabowy with boiled potatoes and warm beets – alternatively with a boiled carrot chopped in cubes mixed with peas. 

The history of Polish kotlet schabowy dates back to the 19th century (which is way later than first recipes described in the most famous Polish cookery book Compendium Ferculorum from 1682) when the recipe was found in a cookbook by Lucyna Cwierczakiewiczowa.

Classic Polish Schnitzel served with mashed potatoes and sauerkraut, a testament to Poland's rich tradition in comfort food.

5. Kotlet Mielony

Similar to the Danish meatballs, the Kotlet Mielony is a flat, pan-fried meatball but in a coating. They’re usually eaten with boiled potatoes, or a cold salad like sauerkraut or pickled/boiled beetroots. 

Golden fried Polish meat patties, known as Kotlety, in a cast iron pot, a beloved Polish dinner staple with roots in home-style cooking.

6. Gulasz

The gulasz in Poland is the local version of the well-known Goulash dish, of which many Central European countries have their own recipes. The main ingredients are usually tender pieces of beef and then a broth of bell pepper, carrots, mushroom, onions and paprika. 

A typical way to serve the dish is with potato pancakes or buckwheat kasha (also known as toasted groats).

Bowl of spicy Polish pork gulasz, a warming and aromatic dish reflecting the robust flavors found in traditional Polish cooking.

7. Kluski Slaskie / śląskie

Known in English as Silesian dumplings, these are a simple recipe of eggs, mashed boiled potatoes and flour that are usually eaten with fried beef roulades and rich gravy with some boiled red cabbage. 

Another version of these dumplings are kopytka – literally little hooves. They’re made the same way as kluski slaskie, but have a different shape. Get recipe for kopytka here.

Polish potato dumplings, called slaskie, a beloved traditional food in Poland, often filled with meat and served with crispy bacon bits.

8. Pyzy & Knedle

‘Pyzy’ is a type of large oval-shaped dumpling (the singular being ‘pyza’) stuffed with meat, twarog cheese or mushroom stuffing and boiled in water. They’re so big that they’re usually only served two or three in a portion as a main course.

‘Knedle’ are quite similar, made from a potato dough that can be both side dish or a dessert because it is stuffed with fruit like plums that are slightly sweet but also a bit tart. 

Kluski Śląskie, traditional Polish potato dumplings unique to Silesian cuisine, presented as an essential part of Poland's gastronomic culture.

9. Leniwe – Lazy Pierogi

The lazy man’s pierogi is a simpler substitute for the very popular Pierogi mentioned above which is what makes it different from the normal recipe.

The dough is made by incorporating dry curd cheese such as farmer’s cheese or ricotta and when it’s rolled out into the dumplings, it’s left unfilled. The Lazy Pierogi is usually served as a side dish with sour cream or crispy golden bacon bits.  

10. Placki Ziemniaczane – Potato Pancakes

Authentic Polish potato pancakes are a traditional comfort food eaten all over the country. Everyone has their own family recipe but the base is always potatoes, grated onions, eggs and flour, flattened and fried into savory pancakes. 

You can have them with mushroom sauce or sour cream. Get recipe for Polish potato pancakes here.

Traditional Polish Zapiekanka on plate, a popular street food in Poland, featuring open-faced toasted baguette with toppings and cheese.

11. Golonka Gotowana – Pork Hock

Pork hocks, or ham hocks or ‘knuckles’ are actually the ankles of the pig, and when made the traditional way are fork-tender and literally fall off the bone.

A lot of places smoke the hock these days but that is not the real Polish way. It’s served with roasted vegetables, boiled potatoes and of course, some sauerkraut. 

It’s a simple meal, and since the part of the meat is quite inexpensive so was an affordable meal for the middle and lower class throughout the country’s history.

Wooden platter with an assortment of Polish grilled meats, including kielbasa and pork ribs, served with sauerkraut and baked potato, epitomizing the traditional Polish food.

12. Zrazy

This dish actually dates back to the 14th century and used to be served to the nobility. Today it’s not too restricted and is a very common main course in most places.

Zrazy (pronounced ZRRAH-ZIY) is essentially meat, usually beef, roulade that’s cooked for several hours in a slow cooker and served with potatoes and the popular side dish of red cabbage.

The beef is stuffed with various fillings like sauerkraut, mushrooms, onions and many more. 

Slices of traditional Polish beef roulade, or zrazy, garnished with gravy, paired with mashed potatoes and beetroot, displaying Poland's hearty meat cuisine.

13. Ryba po Grecku

Literally translated, this dish means Greek-style fish, so it’s quite obvious that the Polish borrowed this cooking style from the Greeks.

The main course meal is fried fish fillets in a sauce made from a tomato base and can be served hot and cold.  

14. Fasolka po Bretońsku

Fasolka po bretonsku is the Polish version of homemade baked beans. It’s made from Harico beans in a thick rich stew usually served with some fresh warm bread.

Hearty bowl of Polish bean stew, known as Fasolka po Bretońsku, served in a rustic bowl, a classic example of Poland's robust, bean-based dishes

15. Ryz z Jablkami / Ryż z Jabłkami – Rice with Apples

This may sound a bit like an odd mixture but this pudding is actually a delicious autumnal dessert baked with cinnamon and sugar. It’s served with a side of whipped sour cream with some sugar. 

16.  Barszcz z Uszkami

The word Uszka actually means ‘little ears’ and it’s quite appropriate given the shape of the little mushroom or minced meat dumplings that come in the Barszcz which is a sour soup or borscht that’s colored red by its beetroot base. Get the recipe for red borscht here.

It’s one of the most popular Polish soups.

Festive bowl of Polish red borscht with dumplings, served during Christmas, showcasing Poland's traditional holiday cuisine with a vibrant presentation.

17. Zurek / żurek

This unique and humble soup is popular in many West Slavic states but the Polish version is traditionally eaten around Easter time.

It’s known as the Polish Ryemeal Soup and is made by fermenting the cereal (Rye) and cooking it with sausage, bacon or ham. It’s creamy, smokey, cooked with lots of garlic and is not as sour as fermenting suggests, it’s more a rich savory sour taste.

Get recipe for Zurek here and find more iconic Polish soups here.

Traditional Polish Żurek soup with sausage and boiled eggs, a flavorful and comforting rye soup showcasing Poland's culinary heritage in soups.

18. Oscypek & Bryndza Cheeses

Who doesn’t love a good traditional cheese? Traditional Polish cheeses like Oscypek and Bryndza are made with sheep’s milk from the mountain meadows of south Poland, the Tatra Mountains. They’re made by smoking in a wooden oven or hut called a Bacowska. 

The process is so well known that in order to preserve the tradition and methods, the production is given an EU subsidy which allows the shepherds and cheese-makers to continue the processes.

Vibrant Polish farmers' market scene with various traditional foods, including Oscypek & Bryndza cheeses and fresh jams, reflecting Poland's rich agricultural produce.

19. Wild Mushrooms

Wild mushrooms are my favorite part of Polish cuisine. Mushrooming is a popular family activity, so unsurprisingly whatever you collect is eaten in many forms. I think as a kid I’ve learned to distinguish at least 20 different types of wild mushrooms.

They can be served as a sauce, soup, or many other ways. Even if you don’t like the traditional white mushrooms, I’d advise you to try the wild fungi.

During the summer months, a popular breakfast that Poles have been serving for decades is scrambled eggs with chanterelle mushrooms.

Jar of dried wild mushrooms, a staple ingredient in Polish cooking, used to flavor many traditional Polish dishes like soups and stews. Photo by kalorycznie.org

20. Famous Polish Desserts

Paczki / Pączki 

These Polish doughnuts are dusted with sugar or bits of dried orange zest and filled with a sweet filling similar to a jelly or jam.

Learn how to make your own Polish paczki here.

Traditional Polish pączki, sugared doughnuts filled with fruit, displayed at a market, a popular and sweet staple in Poland's pastry offerings

Sernik – Cheesecake

Made from a rich buttery pastry and being a cheesecake with a Polish twist, the creamy top layer is made from a sweetened farmer’s cheese called twarog. 

Learn how to make Polish cheesecake here.

Makowiec

This is one of Poland’s most popular sweet foods, the Poppyseed roll (pronounced mah-KOH-vyets) is rolled out sweet yeast bread with a rich bittersweet filling of poppy seed paste.

Alternatively, it can be filled with minced walnuts or chestnuts. Learn how to make makowiec here.

Slice of Polish Makowiec, a poppy seed roll cake, beautifully presented on a slate board, illustrating Poland's love for sweet, nutty baked goods.

Piernik

With a base of three simple ingredients, ginger, honey and treacle, the Piernik is the Polish Gingerbread loaf cake from Torun, traditionally made for festive occasions like Christmas. 

It’s one of the most common Polish candies.

Kisiel

Probably one of the simplest Polish desserts, Kisiel is essentially sweetened fruit puree, thickened with some sort of starch. It comes in so many different flavors including strawberry, coffee, chocolate, vanilla and almond.

It can be served hot or cold and is usually topped with a dollop of custard sauce or cream. 

Delicious Polish kissel dessert with strawberries, a smooth and thickened fruit treat, showcasing the sweet side of Poland's traditional desserts.

Faworki – Angel Wings

These crispy wisps of pastry dusted with powdered sugar have become quite popular all over many European countries but the Polish version definitely has its own unique twist.

You’ll see them most during Christmas time or traditionally during Carnival time around Shrove Tuesday.

Get the recipe for Faworki here.

Stack of crispy Polish Angel Wings, or faworki, dusted with powdered sugar, alongside a glass of red compote, encapsulating traditional Polish desserts

Sekacz

The Sękacz has both a Polish and Lithuanian history and involves such a big process to make that it is very rarely made at home, but is nonetheless a very popular sweet treat.

Translated, the word means ‘knotted cake’ and is made on a rotating spit, greased with butter in a big over, but traditionally over an open fire. Each layer has to cook completely before another layer is poured over it until a giant cake is made that resembles a tree with irregular knots.

The origins of this cake and its cooking methods come from the fact it preserves very well. In the old days, the cows could only be milked and the hens would lay eggs only in the summertime so the cake would be made and could be kept and eaten throughout the long cold winter. 


21. Polish Candies

Krowki / Krówki – Little Cows

Krowki (already plural; krowka singular), literally ‘little cows’. They’re Polish semi-soft milk toffee candies. When they were first produced, they were wrapped up in pieces of paper with a picture of a cow which resulted in their name.

Krowki are all malleable once produced, but with time they start to crumble, as a result of sugar crystallization. The best krowki are still soft inside.

Prince Polo

Prince Polo is a Polish chocolate bar, but it’s also sold in Iceland under a different name. It’s a bar of dark chocolate covered wafer, with four thin layers of wafer. You can find different flavors as well as seasonal ones, but the traditional one in golden packaging is the one you should try first. 

I just noticed that Amazon introduced them in Prime, if you live in the US and want to try them.

Sliwki w Czekoladzie – Chocolate-coated Plums

Chocolate covered plums are very traditional. An entire plum is covered with a cocoa mass and covered with hard chocolate icing. Some find these plums sour.

Ptasie Mleczko – Bird’s Milk

Ptasie Mleczko is something that could be described as a mix between a marshmallow and mousse. They’re simply rectangular-shaped pieces covered in chocolate.

Traditionally, the company that invented it – E. Wedel, made it only vanilla flavored, but with time more flavors like chocolate, strawberry, coconut, or caramel appeared.

P.S. So many of you were asking if you can get some Polish snacks in the US – you can! There’s a thing called Taste of Poland box on Amazon and they sent you a mix of imported goodies.

Assorted traditional Polish sweets and chocolate, including Ptasi Mleczko and Prince Polo, arranged on a wooden surface, showcasing Poland's favorite confectioneries.

Kukułki – Cockoos

I remember kukulki as those candies that my grandma liked, but only allowed me to have one. Cuckoos have a hard striped coating with a great alcoholic filling – 1.5% of spirit.

Sezamki – Sesame Snaps

These sweet treats are now commercially mass made and sold in most grocery stores. They’re made from toughened caramel with sesame seeds sprinkled inside. 

Nora Williamson

Wednesday 27th of September 2023

Great for trying to find things to bring in for culture show-and-tell! Being Polish means so much to me.

Nejat

Monday 31st of July 2023

Very basic cuisine, can be described as peasant food . Simple but hearty and flavourful. I’m a big Golabki fan. And I love the Ewes milk cheese.

tread well frank

Wednesday 26th of July 2023

Again , I love all these dishes . I am Polish on my mother's side/Italian father. But anything with pork or ham i have to leave the hog meat out or substitute it with something else like beef,fish,chicken or vegetable protein . I have personal reasons for not eating any pork . It has nothing to do with a religion or anything like that

ola

Wednesday 18th of January 2023

very informative had a British and Czech person review

steve

Monday 19th of December 2022

Hi I am looking for a recipe my grandmother used to make. She made a cheese that tasted like cottage cheese and cream cheese. I remember the wooden press she would use. Its not the farmers cheese that uses milk and vinegar. Thoughts? Thanks

Anna Karsten

Monday 19th of December 2022

You can make twarog (farmers cheese) without vinegar. Alternatively, she could have made it from kefir (buttermilk).

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