4 Polish Culinary Habits I’d Like to Bring Over

One of the amazing things about any culture is not only what they eat, but also the manner in which they eat it. After all, many attribute the fact that the French can stay so amazingly thin with their diet to anything but the food–from what happens around the meal to the way they lead their lives.

This kind of observation and absorption is exactly what I had the chance to experience in my two weeks in Poland, in a way I had not experienced in a long time. That’s because this was the longest time spent there in almost 10 years, and my maturity and interest in culinary things on the last trip of that duration was almost non-existent.

In thinking about the various ways and customs, I made a short list when we returned of a few that I’d like to implement, and we’ve started doing so already. I’d like to share them with you today for your benefit and to offer a small window into the daily culinary culture of Poland.

Meal Time & Frequency. Poles, or at least the ones I know, eat four meals a day regularly. Breakfast is eaten first thing in the morning, lunch shortly before or around noon, dinner between 3 and 4 in the afternoon and “kolacja” or what I simply translate as “4th meal” or “teatime” before bed (depends on your age–as an adult, I would eat this around 8 at night). The meals are somewhat smaller as a result of their frequency, and the long lag most people in the U.S. experience between lunch and dinner (6-8 hours) is cut off.

Kolacja. So what exactly is 4th meal? Like any of the other Polish meals, there are no “traditional” recipes, but rather a sense of the amount and “lightness” or “heaviness” of the fare to be served. My favorite kolacja, for example, is some rye bread with butter and scallion and one or two soft-boiled eggs. Simplicity of preparation and something not too heavy before bedtime are the keys.

Tea, Kompot, and Sparkling Water. The range of Polish drinks served with meals does not include still water, juice, or sodas. Instead, the typical choices include tea (almost always served hot, sometimes flavored with homemade fruit juices), kompot (a hot or warm mix of water and fruit juice), and sparkling water. The latter is not usually served with meals, but rather as a liquid filler between them.

Sandwiches. I had forgotten the art of the simple “kanapka” or sandwich. A slice of rye bread, butter, fresh ham and tomatoes, and a sprinkle of scallion can send me into heaven during any lunch hour. Sandwiches in Poland can be served for any meal, including breakfast (often with kielbasa or other cold cuts).

Jarring. Summer creates an abundance and incredible variety of fruits and vegetables for Poles. Instead of eating pounds of plums every day for weeks, many families are adept at and equipped for the processing of this volume of food. Fruits are processed into everything from jam to juice, while vegetables are pickled or processed into preserved salads.

Other factors. Weekends are used for projects and relaxation, and for procuring food for the week ahead. Walking is an everyday part of life. The food is “fattening” by any other standards, but nothing contains corn syrup or soy, and amazingly, you can stuff your face silly and not gain weight.

Culinary habits are based on centuries of traditions and wisdom, and through many of them may seem silly to our modern, “educated” minds, ignoring them is done at your own risk. I think each and every one of them has a grain of truth and good-for-youness. And I hope to translate many of them into our American lives soon.

Thanks for letting me share my family traditions with you today!

Photo by tristankenney