Forget the old-fashioned, heavy food from a land of shortages. A quarter-century after communism, Poland is wealthy and its nouveau cuisine much lighter
NOV 14 14 – 10:20 AM — Eastern Europe is not normally my favourite cuisine, as too often the menu gravitates toward heavy perogies and cabbage-enrobed filler more reminiscent, in my mind, of an economy of shortages rather than plenty. But thankfully the times are changing, especially in Poland following the end of communism in 1989, which I was only too delighted to discover recently at a small private lunch in the Gatineau hills created by the very charming Katarzyna Bosacka, wife of the Polish ambassador to Canada, Marcin Bosacki.
Mother of four, Bosacka is a passionate self-styled cook and host of a popular Polish network television show I Know What I Eat (Wiem Co Jem) that requires frequent back-and-forth travel between Ottawa and her homeland. Lunch was at the custom-built home of Polish photographer Ela Kinowska for a handful of friends organized by Halina Player of Player Expositions.
“You know,” Bosacka begins, “food is heritage, it is everything. It is love, it is passion.
“I’ve never been trained, I never went to culinary school, but with four children I found I was cooking all the time because they don’t want to eat from a cafeteria. So the food I create is all mine; I don’t like to mix too many ingredients because when a see a plate with too much going on then it’s confusing.”
Elegance in simplicity? You’ve got my attention.
The fact is Polish cuisine is improving as quickly as the country after communism. As recently as a quarter-century ago its dinner tables were filled mostly with pot stickers, potatoes and cabbage, while store shelves were constantly empty leaving Poles to stand hours in excruciatingly long queues in the hope they might be able to actually purchase something.
And that is no exaggeration, according to the embassy in Ottawa.
Today the country has new-found wealth, its economy being the sixth-largest in the European Union and ranking 20th worldwide in gross domestic product. Shops are brimming with food both domestic and imported — everything from sourdough to exquisite cured meats, fresh fruit and vegetables.
“Today Poland is one of the largest food producers and exporters in Europe, ranking number one in chicken, eggs, geese, apples, portobello mushrooms, black currant, raspberries, blueberries and tomatoes,” says an info sheet from the embassy. It is also the second-largest European producer of turkey, pork and strawberries.
“Polish cuisine is not boring any more … We have great restaurants in Warsaw and Krakow recognized by Michelin. And here in Ottawa you can find Polish food at many stores including Continental Delicatessen in the ByWard Market, Warsaw Deli on Richmond Road, Adam’s Sausages on Michael Street, Baltic Delicatessen on Carling Avenue, and Polka Deli on Walkley Road.”
Sikorski Sausages of London, Ont., also has a line of Polish meats in Loblaws.
“Polish cuisine as well as the country are constantly developing,” Bosacka says.
“Times are gone when the sausage, vodka and pork chops were the most popular in Poland. Poland is now a modern and pretty rich economy.
“So my purpose with this luncheon is to show you a quite different, modern side to Polish cuisine, opening with dill herring in frozen lemon boats served on ice, then creamy beet soup with sherry and juice.”
She also invited guests to try their hand at crafting perogies (I declined, but French-trained chef Robert Bourassa of former Café Henry Burger did admirably) which mercifully dispensed with potato, stuffed instead with duck and goat cheese.
In all an exquisite luncheon — and not one cabbage roll in sight.