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food / travel

Gùsto! How · What · Where Locals Eat (And Drink) In Warsaw

Poland's capital — known for its rich history, impressive skyline, and vibrant arts scene — is often overlooked when it comes to cuisine. Here's what to eat when visiting Warsaw.

Drinks at Panorama, in front of the famous Palace of Culture and Science in Warsaw.

Panorama, on the 40th floor of Warsaw’s Marriott Hotel

panorama_sky_bar via Instagram

For destinations like Rome or Paris, eating the local cuisine is a big part of the draw. Warsaw instead is an evolving food and drink experience, offering an eclectic mix of culinary options: traditional fare and trendy alternatives.

Fusion restaurants and gastro pubs have become popular as the Polish capital reinvents itself. Chefs are continuing to reinvigorate and experiment with Polish cuisine, and Japanese and Korean restaurants are enjoying newfound popularity.

Visitors looking to explore Poland’s flavors are sure to find them here.

Start your day at an artisanal bakery: Baken

This breakfast spot – featured inVogue Polskapromises locally-sourced, quality ingredients and, most importantly, fresh-baked bread. About 60% of Poland is dedicated to agriculture, and much of the country’s culinary tradition stems from this agrarian background. But at Baken, even those in the largest Polish city can enjoy the flavors that the countryside has to offer.

Their breakfast menu includes leniwe – unfilled Polish dumplings served with a side of cream and rhubarb jam – made with twarog cheese sourced from Strzałkowa, a village in lower Silesia.

Or, opt instead for a ham toast, made with meat from a farm in Szlędaki, about an hour from the capital. The bakery promises that its meat, herbs, tomatoes, eggs and even mozzarella cheese are all sourced from local Polish farms.

If you wake up late, Baken also offers a curated dinner menu with wine options.

  Explore a new take on a classic at Pierogi z Pieca

Pierogi, Polish dumplings – perhaps the country’s most famous culinary export – are most often served boiled or fried in butter. But the casual stand Pierogi z Pieca, or “Pierogi from the oven,” offers baked dumplings that can serve as an afternoon snack or a full meal.

The dumplings here are made from yeasted dough, rather than the traditional mix of flour, water and oil, which gives them a unique crunch when they are baked in the oven. They offer flavors including potato and onion, cabbage, spinach and feta. While homestyle pierogi are typically served with a pat of butter and chopped, fried bacon and onion, Pierogi z Pieca offers three dipping sauces: garlic, tomato and horseradish.

Looking for a sweeter alternative? They also offer options with strawberries, sweet cheese and apples with cinnamon.

Pierogi, Polish dumplings \u2013  are perhaps the country\u2019s most famous culinary export.

While traditional options served boiled or fried at home, casual stand Pierogi z Pieca, or “Pierogi from the oven,” offers baked dumplings that can serve as an afternoon snack or a full meal.

poznannawidelcu via Instagram

Time travel at a traditional canteen

Some of Poland’s most budget-friendly options are bary mleczne, literally, “milk bars” — self-serve canteens offering soups, dumplings and kiełbasa — Polish sausage.

Part of the reason for the low prices at these bars is government subsidies, allocated from the state budget since 2015, so long as they do not mark up their prices over 56%, according to Dziennik Gazeta Prawna.

Visiting patrons can also enjoy a glass of kompot, a traditional sweet drink made by boiling fruits and sugar in hot water. In the winter, the drink is often made from dried fruits and warming spices. Summer travelers can enjoy a version from fresh seasonal fruits and berries.

Though such restaurants can be found throughout the entire country, the top-rated milk bar in Warsaw is Mokotowski Bar Mleczny, which offers dishes ranging from 5-8 złoty each (less than €2). It opened about a decade ago, but milk bars have long been a staple of traditional Polish cuisine, with the first one opening in Warsaw in 1896.

Go veggie at Lokal Vegan Bistro

A growing number of Polish millenials and younger generations have embraced a healthy, flexitarian diet — something which stands in stark contrast to the rich, meat-heavy traditional cuisine. Warsaw has been named one of the best cities in the world for vegans, and has a variety of experimental and traditional options for vegan and vegetarian travelers.

While chain restaurants such as Krowazywa, which offer meat-free burgers and wraps, have expanded from their Warsaw flagship all across the country, other restaurateurs offer vegetarian and vegan takes on traditional food that most Poles could find at home.

Enter LokalVegan Bistro, which offers options from vegan schabowy — polish schnitzel — to plant based tatar — Poland’s version of steak tartare. Here, even those who are entirely meat-free can enjoy some of Poland’s most traditional dishes.

Traditional Polish food with a vegan twist at Lokal Vegan Bistro.

Lokal Vegan Bistro offers options from vegan schabowy — polish schnitzel — to plant based tatar — Poland’s version of steak tartare.

Lokal Vegan Bistro via Instagram

Have a taste of Polish history at Epoka

When creating this restaurant, head chef Marcin Przybysz drew inspiration from Polish history, which is reflected in the tasting menu as well as the historic restaurant building itself. Some of his recipes are based on historical cookbooks, including one from 1503 titled Praktyczny Kucharz Warszawski (“The Practical Warsaw Cook”), and updated for a modern palette. The restaurant has been featured inRzeczpospolita, as well as Gazeta Wyborcza''s Warsaw edition.

“My passion for historical Poland began with the moment I stepped into the European Hotel building which houses the Epoka restaurant. It was the history that inspired me to discover the unknown Polish cuisine,” Przybysz writes. Also open to the meat-free, Epoka’s tasting menus can be made vegetarian or pescatarian as well.

Sturgeon roulade stuffed with mushrooms, marjoram, white mushroom borscht sauce, mushroom tulle, morels, mushroom duxelle, and marjoram oil at Epoka.

When creating this restaurant, head chef Marcin Przybysz drew inspiration from Polish history, which is reflected in the tasting menu as well as the historic restaurant building itself.

Epoka Restaurant via Instagram

Spotlight: Chef Marcin Przybysz 

Marcin Przybysz is the head chef at Epoka, one of Warsaw’s newest experiments in Polish fine dining. He began his culinary career as a dishwasher over his summer vacations, then went to culinary school and worked as a chef in Poland, London and Copenhagen.

Originally from Wola, a village of just 219 people, Przybysz went on to win the third season of the Polish edition of Top Chef in 2014, and the Prix au Chef de l’Avenir two years later.

Przybysz planned to continue his career internationally, but instead decided to come back to Poland and focus on the cuisine of his home country. “Sadly, many Poles have left to work abroad,” he told Polish YouTube channel Droga do Kariery. “If all of the specialists leave, where does that leave the country?” he asked. “It is us Poles who need to show the world why it's worth coming here.”

Try the best tatar in Warsaw at Stary Dom

Those looking for a more affordable alternative with greater menu flexibility can instead opt for Stary Dom, owned by Piotr Adamczyk, one of Poland’s most popular actors, and profiled in O2.

This restaurant's chefs prepare the tatar in front of you, mixing steak with pickles, sunflower oil, onion, mushrooms and mustard. By far its most popular dish, Stary Dom serves about 150 per day.

Other menu items include braised venison, roast duck and szarlotka — Polish apple pie.

Stary Dom also promises a family-friendly environment for patrons with young children, and offers kids a free dessert after their meal.

See Warsaw from above at Panorama Sky Bar

Warsaw boasts an impressive skyline, featuring the Stalinist-era Palace of Culture and Science, as well as Varso Tower, the EU’s tallest skyscraper.

Located on the 40th floor of Warsaw’s Marriott Hotel, Panorama promises stellar above-ground views, allowing visitors to take in the city from a bird’s eye view.

Their cocktail menu is a mix of classics and signature cocktails, including an homage to the European Bison — Bison in the Grass — which also inspired Polish vodka brand Żubrówka. For the alcohol-free looking to enjoy the views, the bar also offers several mocktails, including tropical, ginger and espresso-based drinks.

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