There's more to a business trip in Poland than eating pierogi

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By: Michael Tomko
miketomko@outlook.com
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Michael Tomko/Taste These Broken Wings

It’s been a couple weeks since I’ve submitted a post. Things have been busy lately.

With business trips in and out of the country paired with studying for an exam that I’m taking for a California license while trying to keep up with a 2- and 4-year-old, I’ve not have time to sit down and put the experiences all in words. I’ve got material for three articles, so I’ve set aside some extra time to get them out in the next two weeks.

One of the business trips was to Poland again. For this article, I’ll follow up on the pierogi tasting, as well as feature a couple different dishes I’ve eaten out there. My main meals out in Poland between the flights went like this – pierogi, golabki, pierogi, pierogi, cheeseburger (the cheeseburger was at the airport hotel where there wasn’t much selection). 

ZUCCHINI ROLLS

The first night at the hotel, I ordered an appetizer of zucchini rolls filled with mozzarella and walnuts. This was an odd combination. The walnuts were ground up and combined with the cheese. The cheese mixture was rolled in flat zucchini slices and then grilled.

The ground nuts gave the mozzarella a weird, bumpy texture. I found it a bit bland as I am used to eating nuts and cheese that are a bit more salty. The zucchini made a great roll-up to eat with it and overall, it wasn’t too bad. Quite different than anything I’ve eaten over here as I cannot think of anytime I have combined nuts with cheese and on top of that covered it with a vegetable.

GOLABKI

Ahhh…stuffed cabbage. My father’s family makes this all the time, but since they are Slovak, it was called “Holubki.” I ate this all the time growing up, so I was excited to try the Polish version.

I had this for lunch at the plant. We ordered take-out and at first, I was asked if I wanted a chicken wrap or a burger. I grabbed the menu and started searching for the pierogi, but then asked if they have stuffed cabbage there. The lady responded “Golabki?” and gave me an “OK” as she was surprised that I wanted authentic Polish food.

Golabki is a meat and rice mixture rolled up in cabbage leaves, boiled and served in a tomato sauce. It was very tasty. Different than what I had growing up, as I believe they used a pork meat instead of the ground beef. The spices in both the meat/rice mixture and the sauce were a little different, too, but the texture and overall experience of the taste were pretty much the same.

You cut through a tender layer of cabbage (with a fork) and scoop up the filling. The tomato sauce gives it a bit of a kick with every bite. I was very pleased with that lunch.

BARSZCZ CZYSTY CZERWONY (CLEAR RED BORSCHT) 

Our Polish resident colleague, Marlena, took us to a local restaurant one night for dinner. It looked like a cross between a German restaurant and a backwoods cabin.

I went for the pierogi at this meal. I had chosen a side of fried potatoes and the waitress shook her head and said something in Polish that I can only assume was “No, you stupid American, you don’t get fried potatoes with pierogi!” I then asked what I should get and Marlena told me she said to get some soup. The waitress then flipped my menu and pointed to the beet soup selection and said the Polish equivalent of “This!” I am all game to try something new and was happy she helped me out with something different.

Out came out a small bowl of what looked like dark red Kool-Aid. I started looking for a spoon and then was lectured again by the waitress to her pantomime of “pick it up and sip.” I found out if there is no food in the soup and it is just broth, you can just do that. 

It was the strangest concoction of liquid, spices and juices I have ever encountered. I can’t even describe to you the taste. It was savory and a bit harsh. I can’t say I didn’t like it, but more that I wasn’t used to it. I did drink half of it, so it was edible. I would have to eat this soup more often to develop a taste for it, but I’m certain if I did get this on a regular basis, I would probably start to like it.

DRINK 

They’ve got beer there. The local brew in Chojnice is Piwo Zywe. Tyskie is the main beer. They are both a smooth lager — very similar to Heineken.

The clerk at the airport duty-free shop last May told me to get a bottle of Zubrowka, which is bison grass vodka. He said to mix that with apple juice and it tastes just like apple pie. I did, and it does.

They have Coke out there. I didn’t notice any difference, except the names on the can from the “Share a Coke” promotion were all in Polish. The one I had at the plant translated to “leader” or “manager,” but it was in the feminine form, so it was a woman “leader” or “manager.”

I don’t know how the Europeans do it, but they managed to screw up the taste of bottled water. The bottle I had at the Gdansk hotel airport was mineral water and it tasted horrible. It reminded me of when you watch those survival shows of people out in the jungle and they come upon some skunky looking pond. After decontaminating the water by boiling or something, they get that look on their face like they just tasted a liquid rotten egg. That is what that bottle of mineral water tasted like.

PIEROGI

Three meals of Pierogi this time. The first was at the hotel the first night and was a mushroom and cabbage stuffed with a bacon sauce. The third was at lunch the last day and was simple, beef-filled dumplings.

The ones I had at the German lodge type restaurant that Marlena took us to where the waitress ordered me the borscht were probably the best pieces of food I have ever had. I’d put them ahead of chicken wings — no joke. These ham and cheese filled dumplings were boiled and pan fried in butter. A lot of butter! They were so crispy on the outside yet so soft on the inside. The butter was still dripping off every bite. Just look at the picture. They were as good as they looked.

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