Od karpika do śledzika. A short culinary guide to Polish Christmas.

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Perhaps for many of you it's going to be the first Christmas spent in Poland. Both the Christmas Eve dinner (24th December) and the upcoming two Christmas Days (25th and 26th December) will not only be the opportunity to familiarize yourself with Polish traditions (and there are plenty of them! :) ) or to test your Polish language skills during exchanging whishes or chatting with the family members, but also quite an adventure for your palate...

Christmas is a separate chapter in Polish culinary culture - many of the dishes served during this special time are cooked specifically for Christmas and only this once a year. To help you prepare for Polish Christmas, and Christmas Eve in particular, we made a short culinary guide. You will find here all the most popular and traditional Christmas delicacies, full of characteristic flavors, such as: forest mushroom, sauerkraut, poppy seeds, nuts, spices... It's also worth mentioning that according to tradition the Christmas Eve is a time of fasting* – although it doesn't mean the abstinence from food at all. On the contrary! The traditional Christmas Eve dinner consists of 12 different dishes and one has to try them all. And this is just the beginning... Apart from the Christmas Eve, there are still two Christmas days waiting for you, which in Poland practically equate to two days of meetings with your friends and family and looong feasting. :)

*Period of time during which meat is not allowed. (Meat is understood not to include fish or cold-blooded animals)

Christmas wafer Opłatek
Regardless of region, city or family, Polish Christmas Eve always begins with the Christmas wafer (opłatek) - a very thin flake of bread, made of wheat flour and water. Although the Christmas wafer is technically food, it's not recognised as one. Before partaking of the Christmas Eve dinner, all the family members gather around the table and break opłatek, while exchanging wishes for good health and prosperity. It is considered the most ancient and beloved of Polish traditions.

Red borscht (beetroot soup) with Polish ravioli (uszka) Barszcz czerwony z uszkami
A Christmas classic. Red borscht is a traditional beetroot Polish soup and usually the first dish served during the Christmas Eve dinner. It comes with tiny dumplings stuffed with a mix of soaked dried forest mushroom and fried onion, called uszka (which has nothing to do with little ears :)). 

Forest mushroom soup with łazanki noodles Zupa grzybowa z łazankami
Another traditional Christmas Eve soup and an alternative for those who are not fans of borscht. This delicious, flavorful soup usually comes with square pasta called łazanki


Carp Karp
The king of the Christmas Eve menu! :) Most often served in two ways: fried, or in jelly. The most interesting fact about the carp is that it's eaten practically just this once a year. :) 

Herring Śledź
In oil with onions, with cream, under a fur coat (under layers of vegetables and mayonnaise), in vinegar, as a component of a herring salad… Herring is definitely the most "versatile" fish, which can be served in a thousand different ways. As an honarable representative of Polish cuisine, herring was even granted his own embassy... If you ever happen to miss the Christmas flavours, visit Ambasada Śledzia (Herring's Embassy) on Stolarska 8/1 Street in Krakow, where the herring rules all year long. :)  


Dumplings with sauerkraut and forest mushroom Pierogi z kapustą i grzybami
Another classic dish, which can't be missed on the Christmas Eve. Pierogi with sauerkraut and forest mushroom are available in Poland throughout the year, but on this particular day they have a unique taste. :)

Braised sauerkraut with peas Kapusta z grochem
One can definitely see the strong presence of sauerkraut on the Christmas Eve table. :) In some regions of Poland this Old-Polish delicacy comes with white beans or forest mushroom instead of peas. Braised Sauerkraut is certainly not a light dish, but a very healthy one though. At least that's what tradition says. :) 


Something sweet for a change. This traditional delight from Eastern Poland is made mainly from cooked, unprocessed wheat grains, poppy seeds, honey and various dried or candied fruits and nuts. Kutia is usually served at the end of the Christmas Eve dinner (but still before the dessert!) :)  

Dried fruit compote Kompot z suszu
A Christmas delicacy, which has its both die-hard fans and opponents. The distinctive taste, with a characteristic aroma of smoked and dried fruits (apples, pears, figs...) and the hint of cinnamon and cloves, makes compote the perfect complement to a long-lasting Christmas Eve dinner. 


Gingerbread and poppy seed cake Piernik i makowiec
Are you already full? Well, it's not the end yet... There are sweets waiting for you! :) Polish people make most of the baked goods for Christmas by themselves, often already a month in advance… One of the examples is piernik (gingerbread) - a dark and heavy cake, with a distinctive aroma of honey and gingerbread spices, which remains fresh for a long time after baking. The second most popular cake is makowiec (poppy seed cake), which is a roulade made from yeast dough, filled with poppy seeds mixed with dried fruits, nuts and honey.



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