Polish people are proud people who love to eat, drink, and have a good time. Their cuisine can be defined in two words - comfort, and heart. On account of their country’s bitter winters, Poles have a natural affinity for warming stews and hearty bakes, and the national dish “Bigos” is a perfect representation of this.
World-famous cities like Warsaw and Krakow are known for their food scenes, and traditional and contemporary Polish restaurants line their streets. If you want the real Polish deal, however, and as everyone knows, you go to the streets. Polish street food is as delicious as it is filling, and the best part about it? It is pleasant on the back pocket.
European nations like Italy, France, and Germany may have long-reigning legacies in food. Poles, however, are doing their darndest to mix it with the best, and you can get some seriously good food for seriously scorched prices on its streets because of it. Let’s take you there now.
Zapiekanka is Poland’s take on pizza and it is one of the country’s go-to street foods of the modern day. Zapienkanka may have only burst onto the scene in the late 70s, but it did not hang about long, quickly asserting its saucy self as a treasure of the nation.
Polish pizza is done a little differently. Instead of complicating things with dough and pizza ovens, the toppings (and there are a lot of them) get cozy on an open-face baguette or similarly-shaped bread roll. We’re talking sautéed white mushrooms, bacon bits, crumbly feta, grated cheese, and if you’re lucky, spicy Polish sausage.
The two stacked bread halves are then grilled until crispy and served hot with extra ketchup. You could quite easily make this at home to conjure a memory of stumbling down some Krakow backstreet only to go and bump into a Zapiekanka-slinging vendor, (and we suggest you do).
Do you know how we said you could be lucky to stumble upon Zapiekanka that features Polish sausage? Well, Kielbasa is that sausage. Poles absolutely love their sausage and nowhere does it quite the same, and they are very proud of that.
Kielbasa is a very traditional Polish food that can be found on the streets, in supermarkets, at restaurants, and in the national dish of Bigos stew. Yes, it is everywhere. Kielbasa is not confined by type of meat, which is a great thing as you can sample every cut.
It is, however, defined by its coarse texture, and unique U-shape. Kielbasa also has a unique flavor profile brought on at the hands of herbs, spices, and a smoking process. Order it off the street, and you may just get an honest helping of fried onions by its side. Wash it down with a Polish pilsner or a shot of vodka and you will know exactly where you are, you’re in Poland!
Across Europe, Pierogi is undoubtedly one of Poland’s most known foods. Although these delectable dumplings have origins in China, Polish culture and Pierogi go hand in greasy hands. This humble peasant dish of the 17th century has stayed with Poland through thick, and thin. Doing its part to feed the people when times have been tough.
The cool thing about Pierogi is that it can and will be filled with any local ingredient that is good. The only prerequisite is that it must be made with unleavened dough and cooked in boiling water. Often, they are also pan-fried just before serving to offer a delightful little crunch. Potato, onion, and cottage cheese is a classic savory number, while seasonal berry Pierogi is a go-to sweet treat.
Knysza is another street-food favorite of the late-night crowd. Why? Because it goes big and ticks all the boxes. Think of Knysza along the same flavor-filled lines as a doner kebab and you will be in the right ballpark.
It is a simple and effective fast food that serves a purpose while doing every vodka-soaked partygoer a serious justice. A semicircular bread roll gets loaded with a diverse lineup of ingredients, doused in garlic sauce, mayonnaise, and hot sauce, topped with roasted onions and served en masse. You can find meat, vegetarian, and cheese versions of Knysza, which has helped make it everyone’s favorite fast food when a hole needs filling.
As its name suggests, Obwarzanek Krakowski is a food of Krakow. In Poland, it is often referred to, simply as “Obwarzanek”. This boiled baked pastry is best compared to a bagel, except it is not no ordinary bagel. When you order one off a street in Krakow, you can’t help but notice that the size of a regular bagel pales in comparison to what is in your hand.
On closer inspection, you will see that its dough will be woven in two strands, unlike a bagel’s one. Before being baked, the top side of an Obwarzanek is loaded with tastemakers like spice, cheese, herb, salt, and onion, with a sprinkling of poppy seeds for good measure. This is another reason why Obwarzanek stands out from the regular bagel crowd and makes it a formidable meal all on its lonesome.
RurkiRounding out our list of Poland’s best street foods is a real sweet and creamy treat. Rurki is a popular Polish dessert consisting of a thin and crunchy pastry that is filled with a naughty amount of whipper or pastry cream.
It is a perfect dessert to eat while cruising the streets because it holds well and can be munched down in your right hand while pointing out something peculiar with your left. Rurki has evident ties to Turkey and Bulgaria where a similar dessert is sold almost everywhere. However, ask any Pole and they will tell you that Rurki is Polish and that is the short of it.
Conclusion So there you have it. Six of Poland’s most important street foods destined to make you hungry now and full later. Whether you are looking to put on a Polish-inspired spread at home or you’re flying out to Europe tomorrow, we hope this article has opened your eyes to the legitimacy of Polish food. Designed to feel and taste like home, there is nothing pretentious about it and the people are exactly the same.
Author: Debra Harris
As founder of Life’s Journey Travel, I’m deeply passionate about creating custom travel experiences that allow my clients to truly savor the journey.