Posted by: oysterculture | May 9, 2009

Princess Bona Maria Sforza

Princess Bona Maria Sforza (from

Princess Bona Maria Sforza (from

Once upon a time, a long time ago, there lived a princess who did her part in adding a bit of culture to the Polish court.  Princess Bona Maria Sforza was born in Vigevano near Milan in 1494 to her proud parents; Gian Galeazzo Sforza of Milan and Isabella of Naples – and if she needed to further cement her rank in society, her aunt was Bianca Maria Sforza who in 1493 married the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I, and her namesake grandmother was Bona of Savoy.  In 1518 she was married off to Sigmund, King of Poland and Grand Prince of Lithuania.

Polish historians credit her with introducing the art of cooking to Poland and, for that time, many new and exotic produce that her gardeners cultivated: asparagus, broccoli, and tomatoes. 

As niece of the empress, Bona was a patron of Renaissance culture, which thanks to her, thrived in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.  She also influenced the Polish and Lithuanian cuisines by introducing many new dishes to the Commonwealth.  These influences included a profusion of strange new condiments and spices, and increased focus on food ornamentation gold and artificial colorings.  New flavorings included the addition of marzipan and almonds, all for the purpose of strategically showcasing the wealth of the high nobility, rather than any real flavor enhancer.  In farmer’s markets to this day, bundles of salad greens that are called wloszczyna or “italian things” are available for purchase.  

Unfortunately when she was distracted by court intrigue and the like, things did not go so well.  When her died, she sided with many the Catholic in Poland opposing her son King Sigmund II Augustus’ marriage to the Lithuanian Calvinist, Barbara Radziwill, and was suspected of poisoning the new queen, who died shortly after her coronation.  In 1556, upon her return to Italy, her private secretary, Gian Lorenzo Pappacoda, poisoned her.  Pappacoda apparently acted on behalf of Philip II of Spain, who wished to avoid repaying his sizable debts to the Polish queen.


Poland is located in Central Europe and is bordered by Germany, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Ukraine, Belarus, Lithuania, and the Baltic Sea. Poland is the 9th largest country in Europe and the 69th in the world.  Poland’s population stands at around 38 million.  

The Poles speak a Slavic language, but maintain a fondness for English (the most popular foreign language in Poland).  More than 60% of the population lives in cities, with several cities with populations in excess of 500,000 (Warsaw, the capital, is the largest at 1.7 million inhabitants, Krakow (Cracow), Wroclaw, Poznan, Gdansk to name a few) 

Poland’s national culture emerged as combination of Latin and Byzantine influences and further absorbed flavors from the numerous European occupations, throughout its history. Customs, traditions and mores display a diverse mix of the East and the West. 


 Paper cut outs from Poland is renowned throughout the world for their artistic ingenuity. Folk cut outs is one of the indigenous art style and found mainly in non-urban centers. The cut outs are used primarily for Christmas and Easter home decoration. An interesting take of this art form is the wafer cut outs; flour and water are the basic materials out of which Polish women, devoid of any training, shape designs of astonishing beauty.  Wood work, leather work and ceramics are also common, as is amber jewelry.  The craftsmanship is awe inspiring and very different than you can find elsewhere.


Poles are gregarious and love to show affection during interaction. The word “czesc” is Polish for “hi”.  The first few minutes of any meeting is spent in greeting each other and shaking hands. Familiarity is expressed with embraces and pecks on the cheek. 

The prefix Pan (Mr) or Pani (Ms) is the safest way to address someone who is Polish. This should be accompanied by the first name, of course.  Using the surname is seen as a slight even when a Pan/Pani is placed before. 

Ty” is polish for “you”. If one is allowed to call the other “Ty”, it signals that the relationship is close and informal.  

Unlike many other cultures, it is not the birthday that is important, but  the name day (the patron saint’s day as opposed to birthdays), and is celebrated with the same fanfare as a traditional western birthday.  To avoid awkward situations, check the calendar for the date. If you miss the actual day, you can “make up” for the omission within the “octave” (i.e. the next few days).

Eating and Drinking

Bruderszaft is a fraternal toast, a sign of camaraderie, and declining it can be viewed as an insult. Relationships become more cordial after this ceremony and people graduate to using first names.  Bruderszaft is two people raising toasts simultaneously with arms interlocked and downing their drinks together. The last part is an exchange of kisses and a “Call me Jack,” – “Call me Oyster”. 

Polish cuisine and dining table etiquette reflects the warmth in the Polish character. Having a meal with one’s family is not just about the food – it is celebration.  Guests are always welcome.  Breakfasts are generally heavy with vegetables and cold cuts of meat.  Dinners only more so.  Cold cuts and sausage, frequently grilled, are also a mainstay. 


photo from

photo from

Polish cuisine has both influenced and been influenced by the cuisines of surrounding countries.  Polish kitchen are a mixing bowl of influences from primarily France and Italy, but also: Turkish, Armenian, Lithuanian, Cossack, Hungarian and Jewish.  Poland is a carnivore’s paradise, especially if you like pork.  

Polish cuisine starts with the soups, and here’s a sampling to whet the appetite:

  • flaczki or flaki – pork or beef tripe stew with marjoram
  • czernina – duck blood soup
  • rosól – clear chicken soup
  • chlodnik – cold soup of soured milk, young beet leaves, cucumbers, beets, and chopped fresh dill
  • barszcz – popular Slavic beet soup 
  • zupa grzybowa – mushroom soup
  • zur – soured rye flour soup with white sausage and/or hard-boiled egg


Some main courses include:

  • bigos – it is a stew of sauerkraut and meat, that improves with reheating
  • pierogi – these small boiled pastries are filled with sauerkraut or mushrooms, meat, potato.  A bit of vanilla might be added. In the US, these little bites of flavor might also be pan friend, and I’ve even seen where people grill them.   
  • zapiekanka – fast food sandwich  


Desserts to expect

  •  pączki – a rich jelly doughnut
  • gingerbread  

As the Polish would say, “Jedzcie, pijcie i popuszczajcie pasa”… “Eat, drink and loosen your belt



  1. polish cuisine sounds a lot like german cuisine! that pics of the different polish food has me drooling….I esp love pierogies!

  2. I had a classmate who’s parents were from Poland. i would love to visit the country one day.

  3. I’ve realized I know very little about Poland or Polish food. I’ve of course had pierogies, but would love to try some of the other things you mentioned. The duck blood soup may take a bit of mental preparation. It does seem quite similar to Hungarian and Austrian food.

    Gingerbread…this I always wonder about. Gingerbread or speculos flavors seem to be quite popular in Germany and north and east of – this must come from the Spice trade era. The spices used aren’t indigenous to these geographic eras…

  4. Gastroanthroplogist – Gingerbread shows up in so many places I think you’re right its a direct result of the spice trades – I have a book that’s next on my list to read that focuses on the spice routes – so I’ll definitely have more definitive proof.

    Bread+Butter – The country and the food are fantastic. Kinda funny its not more popular, but I think its because most people assume its so “heavy” relative to other cuisines – there is one Polish restaurant here in SF, and it consistently gets rave reviews.

    Burpexcuzme – I think there are a lot of similarities to the cuisines, given all the influence that Poland encountered. Either way you know you are getting some good eats.

  5. Interesting info. I’m most familiar with pierogi. Are kolaches Polish?

  6. “Eat, drink and loosen your belt” – I love that – it just speaks of utter food pleasure!

    And I certainly learned a lot here. Even though we’ve had a lot of Polish people who’ve moved to Ireland in the past few years, I really know very little about them or their culture. I feel better informed now.

  7. We don’t know much about Polish food, but pierogies are high on the list of good eats. Love them boiled, baked or fried!

  8. Great information on Poland and it’s cuisine! I love Polish specialties like pierogi and some parts of Polish cooking have overlaps with Russian dishes also.

  9. I love Eastern European food. Dishes from this part of the world are similar with only minor variations among the different cultures. The tripe stew with marjoram is my favorite. I have tried many times to replicate what I had in Europe, but failed every single time. (If anyone has a good recipe for authentic Polish or Czech tripe soup, please send it my way.)

  10. Here’s a recipe I found.
    from: “Treasure Polish Recipes for Americans”

    5 lbs. Tripe
    1 soup bone
    1 onion, chopped
    1 stalk celery
    1 sprig parsley
    1 sliced carrot
    1 T. flour
    1 T. butter
    1/2 tsp. marjoram
    1 tsp. ground ginger
    salt & pepper

    If you cannot buy already cooked tripe then be sure to buy tripe that is clean and white. Cover the scraped and cleaned tripe with cold water and bring to boiling point. Pour off this water and cover the tripe with fresh water. Cook until tender, 3 to 4 hours. Let stand in this water until the next day. Pour off water. If you buy the cooked tripe, you will be saved all this work.

    cook the soup bone in about 2 qts. water with the onion, celery, parsley and carrot for 1 hour. Cut the cooked tripe into strips about 3 inches long, 1/2 inch wide. Add to the soup bone and vegetables. Cook together for about 4 hrs. or until tripe is tender. Brown flour in butter in frying pan, add a little soup stock to make a thin paste, add to tripe. Add spices and cook for five more minutes. Serve with Marrow Dumplings.

    Tripe is served as a soup or meat course.

  11. Since I am a ginger fanatic, I must ask: Is Polish gingerbread like the usual kind made with molasses, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, and other spices? Or is it different in some way?

  12. Interesting stuff…I’m very familiar with perogis which I love. Have you been to the polish restaurant in SF?

  13. Dandy Sugar – Yes, but its been and while, and it was very yummy. I always enjoyed West Portal, and love to wander around.

    Foodgal, good question, I was wondering the same thing myself, and as I am reading a book on the spice trade, thought it might be a good segue on the topic – so stay tuned!

  14. Wow, crazy timing indeed! It was a great place. I love the West Portal area too. Ah, so many great neighborhoods in such a lovely little city!

  15. Thank you for this valuable info on polish cuisine and Princess Bona Maria. I also love that ceremony for calling people with first names. I hope I can visit Poland one day, I’m so curious about their culture.

  16. I must really thank you for teaching me so much in this post. I do have some Polish ancestry, and I’ve long wanted to travel to Poland to explore that part of my roots (I’m a regular mutt when it comes to ancestry). The depth with which you cover Polish history, customs, and cuisine is a real inspiration to me. When I lived in NYC I was surrounded by a number of Polish restaurants, and while I did manage to learn something about Polish food through those places, I have, unfortunately, forgotten most of it! Your post is much more than a refresher for me. As I said, I really did learn a lot. Awesome post!

  17. Many of my neighbors are Polish, so I get to try somethings that are very interesting and delicious, and they feel their stuffed cabbage is superior to other here in the states… I just made pierogi and they were great…different as all my creations are with some left over Asian sauce for a different kick!

  18. mmmmm…beef tripe! Is tripe weird enough for WFW? Love Polish kielbasa and pierogi too.

  19. Phyllis – Not sure if beef tripe is weird enough given that it is so accepted, but it would be neat to get people’s responses.

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