Why Do All Foodies Talk About Warsaw?

June 21, 2017

This, for example, we had at Der Elefant restaurant run by Israeli chef Ofir Vidavsky; photo by Shiri Klein and Annette Boraks, FOODsteps.

 

 

Everyone is talking about Warsaw these days. I know I'm not saying anything new here. But the thing with tourist destinations that everyone talks about is, well, that everyone talks about them but not necessarily with them. And yes, I know that feeling of excitement when you embark on a journey and are immediately intoxicated with new fascinating smells or the pleasure of discovering undiscovered and hidden places all on your own – places where you find only locals and where you can simply take a seat and take in the authentic surroundings. We love to act as though we were Christopher Columbus on a quest to discovering delicious destinations – to be these cultural heroes only in our own eyes. On the other hand, web sites like Trip Advisor and posts shared on Instagram, Facebook and Google give us the impression that someone has already discovered these places for us, and that the best places are ready and waiting for us to go to. But did any of you see the Trip Advisor list for Tel Aviv lately? Any connection between the places on that list and truly good and tasty restaurants is purely coincidental. We are in a trap – on the one hand the world is open to us, but on the other it is also open to everyone else! This is probably the reason for the flourishing of culinary tours nowadays, which seek to provide an in-depth tourist experience that includes a glimpse into the cultural traits of a given city or country – and all this through the local culinary scenes.

 

 Not exactly what you would imagine for a dish from a Polish cooking workshop; photo by Shiri Klein and Annette Boraks, FOODsteps.

 

This is exactly what FOODsteps is about – a culinary tour created by two friends, Shiri Klein and Annette Boraks, who were brought by fate to live in Warsaw. "When I got here I was very depressed," says Klein. "I felt quite lonely at the beginning, and it was hard to be in such a cold place as an Israeli. I was also worried about the food - given what I heard about it over the years". Klein, who has worked for many years in restaurants in Tel Aviv along the best chefs, has a great passion for food. She arrived in Warsaw four years ago with her husband, who received a business opportunity in the city. Not long after that, she met Boraks, a Canadian of Polish origin and a food enthusiast. Together they started to enjoy the city and discovered that Warsaw was not what they thought it was... "In recent years everything here has changed," says Boraks, who owns a successful food blog and promotes all the best places in the city. "Warsaw has become a culinary destination no less attractive than any other city in Europe and in the world," she says, and Klein reasserts by adding: "Forget everything you thought about Polish food”. With time the girls gathered enough knowledge and experience to establish FOODsteps, a 4-day tour from old to new, which manages to shake Warsaw up, fold it nicely, and turn every curious tourist into a qualified Warsaw expert. "The food in Warsaw in some way tells its history, and as soon as we realized that, we decided to build a route that goes from the old traditional classics to the new and trendy places." With four days full of food, Warsaw takes on a clear and logical form, which gives you a good overview of what the city has to offer. Here are just a few reasons why you shouldn’t miss the tour.

 

Starters at Kieliszki na Proznej – a restaurant that derives from a magnificent tradition; photo by Shiri Klein and Annette Boraks, FOODsteps.

 

Because of the old and the new

Poland’s culinary history goes back thousands of years, all the way back to the 10th century AD. Luxurious feasts paved the way for dishes influenced by French and Italian cuisine, and the passion for the East brought all sorts of spices such as saffron and pepper, which back then were at the center of the Polish dish. The fall of the Republic at the end of the 18th century and the division of Poland between Prussia, Austria and Russia also brought waves of change and a wide variety of new foods adopted by the locals. But the two world wars in the 19th century, the Soviet occupation, and the poverty that accompanied them, brought an end to the rich and multicultural Polish cuisine. Only in recent years has Polish cuisine experienced a revival, which honors the glorious traditions of the past and turns them into a postmodern reconstruction that is reflected in each plate. As Poland's land and culture are resurrected, along with a young and ambitious generation of people, the country slowly turns into a fascinating culinary destination. Franciszek Buchanzik, a young and enthusiastic Warsaw historian, will take you on a tour around the old city of Warsaw, which was rebuilt after being completely destroyed by the Nazis. You also get to learn about the communist period with in-debt explanations of the architecture, remains, and stories of the times of Stalin. After a long walk, you get to experience a "communist meal" in one of the well-known Milk Bars. Those are a kind of subsidized cafeteria that dates back to the communist times of Poland, and that are scattered throughout the city, and are now not only a tasty, cheap and traditional solution for those who want a homemade and decent meal, but are also a living testimony of the vanishing history. The new and the modern need no further explanation – every bite you take will speak best for what Warsaw is about nowadays. It is all about interesting and great tastes, as you will read below.

Traditional pierogis at Zapiecek restaurant; photo by Shiri Klein and Annette Boraks, FOODsteps.

 

Because of the pierogi

Pierogi is undoubtedly one of the most recognizable dishes within Polish cuisine. Similar to the dumplings of various countries in the world, the pierogi are also the result of an exchange of commerce and information back in the 12-13th centuries, when Marco Polo marched to the east and Jennings Khan to the west, bringing with them all the great ideas from Central Asia. One of the elements that remain from those days and remind us of the non-European influences is the black pepper, which is still very present nowadays and is often used in a mixture of minced meat and onions. The Zapiecek restaurant is a traditional Polish restaurant, where the waitresses are dressed in folkloric red dresses with a traditional red wooden bead necklace. The typical Polish menu completes the folklore of the place: to the table one after the other comes a żurek soup made from fermented rye with mushrooms and horseradish which enhances umami flavors; a sweet beet soup; an excellent chicken soup with noodles; and flaki, a flavored soup made of beef tripe. This was our first meal in Warsaw and under no circumstances was it "grey" or "tasteless" food. After the soups came three dishes with different types of pierogi: one with meat, seasoned with a lot of black pepper; the other with cabbage and mushrooms; and the third with cheese and potatoes, or as the Poles call them: "Ruskie" - the Russian pierogi. They were served with fried pork fat and sour cream. Traditional Poland at its best.

 

 

Oysters and Polish herring – for the fish lovers; photo by Shiri Klein and Annette Boraks, FOODsteps.

 

Because of the vodka

When thinking of vodka, most people associate it with drunkenness or as a combine beverage with sweetened drinks like tonic and red bull. But for Anna Wozniak and many other Poles, vodka is much more than that. Wozniak is a true vodka sommelier, and she will take you on a tour of the history of Polish vodka, where you will learn how to distinguish between vodka made of rye or that made of potatoes, to describe the wide variety of flavors and aromas offered by different kinds of vodkas that you get to taste, and all this while discovering four bars and restaurants in the city that also offer a small side dish that is paired to each type of vodka. You start off in an old Polish sports bar where we tasted the Wyborowa vodka that was paired with the famous Bigos, a sauerkraut dish made of pork, carrots and wild mushrooms among other ingredients. In the following bar we got to try the Żołądkowa Gorzka vodka that is seasoned with sprinkled with orange peel, cloves, cinnamon, served with some pork leg, and a good deal of sweet horseradish and roasted bread with “smalec”- pork fat fried with meat and onions. In a trendy wine bar we drank Vestal – a premium vodka that is unlike any other vodka. The bottle specifies the year of the harvest of the potatoes, as well as the description of the terroir. This was served with a crispy sausage, pickled onions, mustard and lentils. It is worth noting that the walks between the small streets of Warsaw from bar to bar will help those of you who are not too used to drinking vodka remain fairly sober throughout the tour.

 

Food trucks, colorful markets, and quality products; photo by Shiri Klein and Annette Boraks, FOODsteps.

 

Because of the wine

At Ale Wino restaurant, the dishes are accompanied by Polish wines, which are presented by the young sommelier Jakob Pasternak. "We also have wines from other countries, but tonight I suggest that we stay with Polish wines, and I have the feeling that you will be surprised." So we tried. And indeed we were surprised. In the Middle Ages wine production in Poland was common among the aristocracy, and Polish wines were popular until the 15th century. But the tragic events of the next centuries including freezing-cold winters, the tripartite occupation of Poland, and later the takeover of the country by the disastrous Nazism and communism led to an almost total oblivion of wine culture. With the end of the occupation and the warmer winters, the Poles returned to growing grapes for wine production, and in 2008 Poland entered the EU list as an official wine producer. We started off with a wine from Wzgórza Trzebnicki, an almost salty mineral chardonnay served alongside cold beets with goat cheese with a Porter beer sauce; then came in the trout tartar, sweet potato and leek, and wild grass salad with asparagus and fresh cheese. Every morning, Kasia Blonska goes to the farmers market to buy fresh and seasonal produce. She and her husband Thomas opened the business about 7 years ago, first as an Internet store, and then opened the restaurant, slowly expanding it room-by-room, table-by-table. Today the restaurant has five different spaces, all very vibrant, and is located inside an impressive building erected in the early 19th century, one of the few buildings in Warsaw that survived the war. Our second wine was from Pałac Mierzęcin–a Riesling from the mountains that brings with it a high acidity that blends nicely with the celery ravioli topped with cauliflower, brown butter, and the tabbouleh salad with asparagus, almonds, verbena and a chili sauce. As the main dished arrive to the table, the glasses are refilled with a floral glass of Gerovassilou Viogner – along with a risotto served with summer truffles, a soft and refined free-range chicken. We also tasted the Cabernet Cortis - a grape that is highly adapted to cold climates. This was accompanied by a lamb rump served with kale, a red wine sauce and a very soft fish fillet with potato, been croquettes, and lettuce sauce.

 

 Snails. A gourmet meal in the Breakfast market; photo by Shiri Klein and Annette Boraks, FOODsteps.

 

Because of the fish

The bad news for fish lovers traveling to Warsaw is that there is almost no fresh fish available. The Baltic Sea, which is about a two-hour drive from the city, has less and less fish due to overfishing, and the sellers of fresh fish at food markets are becoming fewer with time. The good news for fish lovers traveling to Warsaw is that the Poles are champions in preserving fish. You will find herring in oil or vinegar that you can have with berries and thin sliced onions, or also some smoked oily fish, filleted, that are served either whole or as a spread – all of these will appear in the menus of both new and traditional restaurants, and their aromas will accompany you through the small streets of the city. The true Eastern European conservation method.

 

A Polish gangster – having a crepe from a food truck on the riverbanks of the river; photo by Shiri Klein and Annette Boraks, FOODsteps.

 

Because of the markets

Warsaw is bursting with great food markets. Here are some of the most popular ones: Nocny market – a very cool young night market that runs every weekend until 1am, offering all kinds of street food stands from all over the world – Vietnamese, Chinese, Middle Eastern and Brazilian, but also a few traditional Polish street dishes. You will even find stalls that offer tattoos and haircuts. All this in a unique setting of an old train station, accompanied by music that makes you want to dance and interesting street art all around the place. Those of you who enjoy fine dining will also find a nice and trendy market called Koszyki– a two-story indoor food market located in a historic building that preserved the original Art Nouveau style. The market offers a range of chef restaurants, coffee shops and food stores offering products mainly from Poland but also from Europe, as well as changing exhibitions and different kinds of events. In the Targ Śniadaniowy market, situated in the center of a beautiful park, you can hop between the various food stalls and buy sandwiches, fried dishes or even local escargots, and sit comfortably on the grass and enjoy the food. The Hala Mirowska market is the oldest, the largest, and the most popular in Warsaw. The stalls at the market, which started operating at the end of the 19th century, have been managed by the same families for generations, and the food and the atmosphere manage to give a glimpse of the good and varied old and new Poland. You'll find pickled vegetables, fresh poultry, a one-of-a-kind egg stand, and a lot of pork fat.

 

 

Night Market – not just food; photo by Shiri Klein and Annette Boraks, FOODsteps.

 

Pierogi

I learned these recipes from chef Magda Kroc at the “Polish your cooking” workshop, which is part of the Tour.

 

Pastry dough

Ingredients:

200 g flour

20 g butter

135 ml water and

pinch of salt

 

Preparation:

1. Heat the water with the butter, until a gentle boil.

2. Mix the flour with the salt.

3. Slowly pour the hot water into the flour and salt, stir with a wooden spoon until the mixture is uniform. Allow the dough to rest for about 15 minutes.

4. Knead the dough until you get a soft texture.

5. Create the pierogi: Divide the dough into three equal parts, and each part is rolled separately to a thickness of 1-2 mm. With a cup, create circles, and add the remaining dough to the other parts for later use.

6. Place the mixture with a spoon onto each circle (recipes below), and close the circle in half and pinch until the dough is sealed. Put the prepared pierogi aside and cover with a towel until all the pierogis are ready. They should not be touching as they might get stuck to each other.

7. Cook the pierogi: Boil a pot with water and a bit of salt, and add the pierogi (about 15 at a time), and mix briefly to make sure they do not stick together in the water. When all the pierogi float onto the surface of the water, it means they are ready.

8. Serving: Place the pierogi on a plate, sprinkle with a little fried bacon, sour cream, and parsley / chopped chives.

 

 Pierogi making at Annette’s and Shiri’s cooking workshop; photo by Shiri Klein and Annette Boraks, FOODsteps.

 

Filling of Russian pierogi: Potatoes and cheese

 

Ingredients:

100 g potatoes

medium onion

1 garlic clove

20 g butter

100 g cottage cheese or white cheese

salt

pepper

 

Preparation method:

1. Peel the potatoes, cook until softened and mash with butter.

2. Chop the onions and garlic.

3. Fry the onion and garlic until you get a transparent color.

Mix all ingredients with salt and pepper.

Fill the pierogi dough as described above.

 

Pierogi; photo by Shiri Klein and Annette Boraks, FOODsteps.

 

Meat filling Ingredients:

1/2 medium onion

1 garlic clove

100 g minced beef

100 g ground pork

2 tablespoons of meat or vegetable stock

salt

pepper

 

Preparation:

1. Chop the garlic and onion.

2. Add the meat and mix with the spice and salt and pepper (the Poles love to add a lot of pepper, but do as you wish).

Fill the pierogi dough as described above.

 

The original Hebrew article was published at Mako, 09/06/2017, and was written after a guided tour by FOODsteps.

 

To contact FOODsteps click here

 

 

 

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