Poland, Polin and Pierogi

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Polin synagogue

My wristwatch is very confused. It went through a big time and date adjustment last week when I took a 7pm red-eye flight to Poland, then we went through daylight savings there last Saturday night. When I came back home this Friday, I set the clock back to United States PST, of course, and then the next day it was daylight savings time all over again. At least in both cases, daylight savings time softened the day-for-night flip a little bit for me. Fortunately, I’ve been getting decent sleep since my return, but I’m still feeling somewhat cloth-headed at times.

It’s Monday and my stomach is still a little confused, as it was when jet-lagged on the front end of the trip. Even on traveling days when I skipped dinner, I didn’t wake up hungry - which was a shame because breakfasts at the hotel were pretty elaborate:

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What they delivered to my room when I had an early call to catch our tour bus. This was a definitely more of a spread than your typical continental breakfast selection, or than you’d ever see at the Comfort Inn stateside.

Happy was I, though, on the mornings when I was ready to make a dent in the morning buffet options. I tended to protein-load, eating fish and cold cuts and cheese. I knew I was going to enjoy finding delicious pierogi while I was in Poland, because these potato and cheese filled dumplings were already a staple in the dinner repertoire at home. I didn’t expect how much I would love the herring, an item at which I generally turn up my nose. The herring I encountered was neither fishy or too salty. I suppose it was just exceptionally fresh.  It also turned up a few times as a principal ingredient diced into an appetizer salad. Fortunately, there are Polish and Russian delicatessens in the Richmond neighborhood of San Francisco and I can investigate whether it’s possible to get herring that will taste as good.

herringbristol

A herring bar snack.

So what brought me to Poland, you might ask? I went with a delegation of Board members and lay leaders from my NPO who were participating in a learning tour of Jewish historical sites and the Holocaust that took us to Krakow, Lodz, Warsaw and Gniewoszow. The timing of the trip was designed also to coincide with the grand opening of the core exhibition of the exciting new museum Polin: the Museum of the History of Polish Jews. Here is an excellent background piece on the Museum by Tony Barber that appeared in the Financial Times prior to the museum’s opening. It was an honor to be there and be one of the first to go through the wonderfully creative and effectively designed exhibits.

synagogue ceiling

The view of the magnificent ceiling/interior reproduction of a small town Polish 17th century synagogue as part of the core exhibition of the Polin Museum.

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A sign at the Warsaw airport, advertising the opening of the Polin Museum.

I wanted to make sure I posted some of these food pictures soon, before I got too embroiled in writing a lot about the trip itself. The food was really good everywhere, from the dives to the fancy places and I was intrigued by the apparent devotion to the mushroom as a staple ingredient. The zapiekanka, a pizza-stye street food item that is very satisfying on a cold day when our sightseeing keeps us mostly outdoors, uses a pureed mushroom base layer rather than a tomato sauce layer under the melted cheese:

This zapiekanka is topped with green olives and crispy onion bits, while the base below the cheese is a mushroom sauce.

This zapiekanka is topped with green olives and crispy onion bits, while the base below the cheese is a mushroom sauce.

(This portion was as daunting as it looks and I wound up scooping up the filling and soft part of the bread, leaving most of the trencher behind.)

In the stuffed chicken breast below, it is stuffed with sliced mushrooms. Their famous soup also is a rye and mushroom broth which is very savory and delicious, and often was served in a rye bread bowl. I however went for the chicken soup with hand cut noodles and the golden broth of these chicken soups was really something to write home about. They know their soup in Poland.

lunchinGnieweschov

stuffed chicken breast with mashed potatoes, and a light cabbage and carrot slaw (Gniewoszów, Poland)

dinnerdillpotatoes

Breaded pork cutlet with (perfect) dilled potatoes and a braised, marinated cabbage. Think sauerkraut but not so vinegary. (Warsaw, Poland)

Opera Cake at the Bristol Hotel.

Opera Cake from the Bristol Hotel. (Warsaw, Poland) Technically I skipped dinner the night I ordered this but as you can see it was a pretty good meal in itself.

Let me give pierogi the last word. (The term pierogi being plural already, fyi, with a single unit being a pierog.) At first, I avoided getting the Russki variety – potato and cheese filled – because I thought I ought to branch out and not choose the Russian style pierogi when I’m in Poland. While I very much liked the meat stuffed pierogi I ordered my first night in Krakow, I really preferred the potato/cheese ones and found variety in the different versions I got. My favorite one was distinguished by the extra pepper in the filling and the slight chewiness of the dough. This was at a lovely restaurant in Old Town Warsaw, near the art museum. In the U.S. I used to rely on Trader Joe’s, which was a nice version, but they don’t carry them any more and I buy Grandma’s brand at any of the Russian deli’s that line Geary Blvd. in the outer-Richmond neighborhood near my daughter’s school. While I know some people make these from scratch and roll out the dough, I believe it is a pretty big day in the kitchen and a big commitment. If anyone has a reliable recipe for pierogi or any tips on making them that they’d like to share, please do let me know.

I really enjoyed my trip. I learned a lot about the history of Poland and Polish-Jewish relations (which are complex, but rich in History) and also found a lot to admire in the new tastes I picked up along the way. If you’re interested in more info about my trip to Poland, follow me – @janderoo92 – on Twitter to see more pics and related articles.

Fried 'Russki' style pierogi with sliced garlic.

Fried ‘Russki’ style pierogi with sliced garlic. (Gniewoszów, Poland)

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