When I asked Czechs about their favourite food, most of them instantly came up with the answer `Czech food`, only later detailing which exact dishes they liked. The British came up with supermarket combinations while the Italians were all able to list the exact ingredients of their favourite meals. If I had asked the Poles 10 years ago, I am sure that they would have come up with lists of Polish dishes, but times are changing. What are today`s favourite of young Polish people?
Traditional Polish cuisine is organised around different types of soup, plenty of potatoes, lots of cabbage. Pork, chicken and various sausages make up the almost inevitable meat component of the meal. Polish people living abroad will invariably claim that they miss their national dishes, although they seem to change their mind when they return home to Poland. The gradual change in Polish eating habits can largely be explained by the preferences of returning emigrants.
`Polish cuisine still greatly varies along with the seasons`
Robert (21, photo) is a big fan of Greek food: `I spent some time working in a restaurant in Greece last year. I loved the calamari, the Greek salads and Greek moussaka. I would love to prepare the same stuff here, but it`s quite difficult and expensive to get the right ingredients. Summer is better than winter. Fortunately, Polish people are used to varying eating patterns throughout the year. We like to eat fresh fruit and vegetables in summer. In winter, it`s the cabbage, the potato and the meat that takes over. It`s more difficult to obtain fresh ingredients in winter, as we can only buy packed and imported stuff from supermarkets during that time of year. The seasonal price differences between winter and summer are not as big as they used to be, but they for sure still exist.`
Robert thinks that Polish cuisine is neither very healthy nor particularly unhealthy: `We eat a lot of proteins and carbohydrates but in a rather balanced way. I don`t think we eat unhealthily, we just like to eat much. Diets are popular, almost to the same extent as fast food seems to be enjoying an ever increasing popularity. Obesity has so far not been as much of a problem as it is in Northern America, but we know it`s on the way.`
Jakob (19) spent one year working in Ireland. He claims that Polish girls are much nicer than Irish ones, and he wishes that situation to stay the same. `Irish girls have fat legs. Polish girls are much slimmer, while they usually have the perfect size of breasts.` Justyna (24) is not always very happy about her figure, which means that she denies herself access to her much-loved ice-cream and chocolate. Instead, she tries to eat fruit and vegetables instead of cakes and cookies, which she said is lots easier in summer than it is in winter.
Eva (26) thinks that the Polish weight problems are imported from overseas. She enjoys cooking and also cheers at the ever-increasing number of ingredients that become available on the Polish market. `I like eating but, like many other Polish women, I would like to pay more attention to my weight than I actually do`, she says. `Polish people are getting fatter. Many people buy quick-style food, either from restaurants or as ready made microwave meals from supermarkets. I personally won`t eat such inferior food, but I do know some people who are quite attached to it. I am a big fan of Italian pasta and random Chinese ingredients. I like to experiment with new spices and sauces.` Eva is very clear about her preferences when it comes to local food. `My favourite Polish soup is Zupa żurek: sour soup. Apart from being typically Polish, it`s at the same time a dish that comes from this very region: Silesia.`
Piotr (24) explains me that spending time on lunch is considered a waste of time by many company managers. `They consider lunchtime something like their personnel`s personal investment in their carreers. As a result, I often skip lunch and only eat snacks between my early-morning breakfast and 4 o`clock in the afternoon. I have dinner when I get back home from work, which is usually sometime around 9 or 10 in the evening. I only have big lunches on Sunday, together with my family.` Piotr does specify that the lunch normally takes no more than one hour, which makes it quite different from the Southern European family lunches on Sundays.
Lukasz (25) and Ola (29) tell me some Polish kitchen secrets. `It`s still often the woman who is in charge of whatever happens in the kitchen`, says Ola. She then specifies that a regular Polish dish consists of soup, a concrete main dish that may be divided in two subsequent courses, followed by a desert on Sundays or at special occasions.
Lukasz lists the dishes that Poland is famous for: `Pierogi ruskie stands for Russian filled noodles, but at least one of the variants of that dish is Polish. The filling can consist of meat, cabbage, cheese or mushrooms. I also like schobowe which is a flat piece of meat similar to Wiener Schnitzel but not necessarily with the same type of meat on the inside. That with potatoes and salad makes a perfect meal for me.`
`Then, there`s the Polish fastfood`, Lukasz continues. `Very popular is Zapiekanka some kind of pizza baguette. Other quick meals include McDonalds to a small extent, while Kebab shops are performing well. Pizza and sausage-based snacks are also much sought for, especially after nights out.`
Joanna (18)`s favourite food is spaghetti, followed by Hluski meat-filled tomatoes, Rolada rolled meat, and kapusta cabbage. The latter stands at the basis of many Polish dishes, of which bigos is probably the most famous. It is a long-brewed stew of semi-sour cabbage that is best prepared by a family`s mother or grandmother. As is common in Polish meals, it oftentimes contains chunks of meat that go hidden behind the Sauerkraut mass. Barzcz is a popular kind of soup that is made out of beetroots. Actually, it seems like the Polish can use just about anything that has ever been alive to cook a decently tasting soup from.
As I learn during today`s interviews, some events are systematically linked with certain types of food. Plenty of eggs are prepared for consumption during Easter. Birthday cakes, as the name suggests, are to be presented to congratulators during a birthday party. Christmas is reserved for drinking juice made of fruits that have been conserved in sugary water since the end-of-summer harvest. The menu further prescribes that people eat domestic carp. As it turns out, this tradition goes a long way back and was put in place by the communist regime. They were looking for something that was widely available during Christmas time and would somehow constitute something out of the ordinary. The communist regime lasted until 1989, but the tradition of eating carp for Christmas remained. That`s how the human mind works. It easily gets used to something without adjusting when the original circumstances turn repetitive habits into superfluous reflexes. Fortunately, eating carp for Christmas is probably one of the most innocent examples of such unconscious behaviour.
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