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Category Archives: Poland

What’s for Lunch in Warsaw?

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In the words of my friend and former Warsaw-dweller “PK,” ‘Polish food is usually fried and made with pork or cream.’ You might be thinking, ‘Yum! What’s the big deal?’ But I have to agree with PK on this one. Polish cuisine leaves a lot to be desired from a health perspective. But it is cold. Colder than a well-digger’s ass, in fact, so I understand their obsession with insulating ingredients.
After getting my fix of pierogis yesterday, however, I was looking for something lighter today. I’m currently sitting at A. Blikle for lunch, a cafe that dates back to 1869. It’s a Warsaw institution, and the only cafe on Nowy Swiat to survive the Warsaw Uprising of 1944 when the street was reduced to rubble. You’d think that would be an accomplishment in and of itself, but the cafe was actually forced to close when communism reared its ugly head. Lucky for us, when communism became a thing of the past in 1989, A. Blikle reopened to its former glory.

Allow me to set the scene: the background jazz music is at a perfect acoustic level, and the dark wood molding that creeps midway up the wall meets a panel of jade green that’s decorated with black and white photos of days gone by. The granite and brass tables are regal, and every one is inhabited by pairs of chatting people. The waiters, dressed in vests and bow ties, bounce from room to room bringing liquid and gustatory treats to those waiting with baited breath. It is no accident this place survived the times.

I ducked in for the Żurek staropolski (old Polish sour soup) and the Tort “Generalski,” reportedly named after General Charles de Gaulle, a former patron of A. Blikle. The soup was light, but incredibly flavorful with slivers of kielbasa and hard-boiled eggs. The cake, on the other hand, was anything but light. A thin pastry crust laid the foundation for layers of chocolate pastry cream and cherry-soaked chocolate cake. The pale pastry dough blushed each time I pierced it with my fork from the oozing cherry juice. It was sinful, and I’m of the opinion that it was this cake that got them into trouble all those years back with the communists. It’s against the law for something to taste that good. The jury’s still out on whether or not my lunch fit into the “light” category, but that aside, I love finding places that combine classic cuisine with nostalgia and do it well. A. Blikle definitely satisfies both.

Over cups of tea and coffee, patrons licked their lips from the savory and sweet delicacies they ordered, and I looked on thinking about what this place must have been like in its true hayday. In my imagination, men were dressed in coats with tails and smoked tobacco pipes under their tophats. And the women wore furs, and had wind-swept hairstyles with red lipstick. You could sense that element of yesteryear glam. You definitely don’t need to be dressed for the opera to enjoy A. Blikle, so if you find yourself in Warsaw, and invariably on Nowy Swiat, head to #33 for an unrivaled slice of cake. You’ll be in for a little slice of history too.

A. Blikle

Next Stop: Dublin

Practicing Polish

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When a Pole flicks his/her neck, it means they want to have a drink of vodka with you. When a Pole hands you a map of Krakow and directs you to their favorite “milk bar” for pierogis, you go. I like Poland. It’s forceful from an F & B perspective, and I can get behind that.

I showed up at Pod Filarkiem on the advice of Agnieszka and Lukesz, my unbelievable hosts. This place doesn’t look like much from the outside (or inside for that matter), but with the throngs of patrons lined up, it becomes immediately obvious that’s not the point. It’s 100%, bonafide Polish, and that’s all they speak here. Some of you are likely thinking, “Kyle, you don’t speak Polish.” But for those of you who know my obsession with foreign languages, you’re probably thinking to yourself, “Who cares, self. I’m sure Kyle waltzed right up and knew what to say.” If you thought the latter, well, then you’ve already earned your first demerit badge of the post.

Lucky for me, I was sent with a cheat sheet, and Agnieszka, Lukesz and I had a rather comical phonetic discussion over breakfast so I’d know how to pronounce things. I had my notes, but I was nervous. Thinking to myself, ‘This woman will never see me again,’ I took a deep breath, glanced at my pronunciations, and gave it the old college try. She seemed to know what I was saying, but as these things go, my Polish was far from perfect. I ended up with an order each of pierogi ruskie and pierogi z mięsem, and there are probably 20 in each order. Alas, my call for a “po porczi” (half order) of each fell on deaf ears, and I’m currently sitting across the table from a woman (it’s all common seating) who is staring at me like I’m Kobayashi.

The good news is, I think I finally found a place where they don’t immediately know I’m foreign, with the exception of the people at the counter. Numerous people have (presumably) asked to share my table in Polish, and I just nod with an “I don’t have a clue what the $@!# you’re talking about” look, smile, and nod, and they sit down with me to stare at my gluttonous feast.

So, pierogis…what are they? I guess the best way to describe them are like tortellonis or gyoza. It’s a fairly delicate layer of dough wrapped around fillings, in my case cheese and meat. Both orders came topped with a small pile of grilled onions, and they seem to be relaxing in a butter bath. But not too much. They’re fantastic, fresh, and affordable little dough purses that will help me shove on in Krakow until I head to the train station tonight…with my second container of pierogis. Luckily, I also misunderstood the “for here or to-go” question, and mine showed up in takeaway boxes.

I’m quickly (and thankfully) learning that native foods are the reigning champs when traveling, especially if you can get directed to a locals-only joint. If pierogis are as easy as they look to make, don’t be surprised if you find a Polish plate in front of you at my house. I’ll spare you the leftover Communist stoicism that the counter servers here have perfected, and if you’re lucky, I won’t even make you order in Polish. Na zdrowie!

Next Stop: Warsaw

So Long, Farewell

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I’m sitting on my flight right now typing this from a window seat. My carry-on was ever-so-slightly too tall to fit in the overhead bin despite two men trying to help me, and it was because of a pair of socks or something equally squishy and ironic. 

Neither of these things are characteristic of my travel style, so a mini panic attack ensued that consisted mainly of my face turning red when she asked whose bag it was. When carrying it to the front of the plane to have it checked, however, the flight attendants on AA 484 let me put it in the crew baggage/closet area onboard. I didn’t say much. Just a brief lament about how on this very same route a few years back, my bag didn’t make it, and then I giggled at the irony. I think they could sense my distaste for checked luggage because they asked me for my bag and told me it was our secret.

When we took off backwards from SNA, a tear rolled down my cheek, which is also not characteristic of the titanium exterior I like to uphold. But I could see all of Orange County from said window seat, and realized, “Holy hell, I’m not going to see this place for awhile.” Cue Pussycat Dolls ‘I Hate This Part Right Here.’ Leaving this morning was no better. I had to say bye to my parents, my animals (I never did find Tommy to say bye to him), and Brady…the human version. After having his car backed into by a lime green VW Bug when he pulled up, I couldn’t help but thinking it was symbolic. Was this his way of telling me he was smashed I was leaving? These are the types of things I think about when I’m trying to distract myself from getting all worked up. It didn’t work.

It’s hard to believe I’m on an airplane right now bound for a place 12,000+ miles away. For the longest time, this day seemed like it would never get here, until this week, when I could see it on the horizon and wished it was off in the distance somewhere (kind of like the ground from this airplane right now). I feel anxious, excited, sad, eager, manic, confident, and like I could cry at any minute. Does anyone have a Xanax handy? Seat 11E is open next to me, and there are a variety of people I wish were sitting in it. The reality is, I’m flying solo. And I’ve got a lot of days, hours, and minutes to fill before I’m sitting next to someone on my return flight home from Istanbul.

The beverage cart is approaching, and I’m going to grab some water and hydrate. It’s going to be a long flight to CDG from DFW, and I’m hoping the two aisle seats flanking my middle one (yet another move I never make) are open so I can sprawl out for the flight. After a trip to the Admirals Club for my requisite red wine and Tylenol PM cocktail, I’m going to put January 28th behind me. I always say I don’t like even numbers, and I’ll be honest– I’m not a huge fan of this day. Perhaps, that’s why I’m returning on lucky number 13 (of May). Finally, something that makes sense!

Up, up, and away…Project Culinary Hopscotch is underway.