We spent 4 days in Bydgoszcz, Poland as special guests at the CamerImage Film Festival because Doug was speaking there.
We arrived in Bydgoszcz after a 10-hour flight from Los Angeles to Frankfurt, a 1 ½ hour flight from Frankfurt to Warsaw, and a 4-hour taxi drive from Warsaw. In retrospect, we should have booked our flight to land in Gdańsk because it was a couple of hours closer, but it was booked through the film festival. My butt and back were aching, especially since the seats on our main flight was cramped for anyone over 12 years old. I was stuck in a middle seat, something I try to avoid. Sitting for long periods of time on a plane is difficult for anyone, but especially those of us over 50. The danger of developing an embolism is possible if you don’t make sure to move around every once in a while. I’m sure the guy in the seat in front of me hated my guts because I wiggled so much. I barely slept the entire journey because I’ve never been good at napping in a plane.
Once we arrived at our hotel, the Hotel Sloneczny Mlyn, we were whisked away by our designated handler, Basia (Barbara), to the festival and then to a sumptuous party. When we finally hit the sack, I slept like a log all night. Even Doug’s loud and erratic snoring didn’t faze me. The next day, I felt normal with no jet lag.
The hotel was lovely and located in the center of town near the Opera House.
In the morning, we went down to the dining room to enjoy a beautiful Polish style breakfast buffet. It was so much more interesting than an American buffet and included Polish specialties like Bigos, (hunter’s stew) pierogi (dumplings with various fillings) fish, cheeses, button mushrooms, cucumbers, tomatoes, pastries and delicious coffee. My kind of breakfast!
We took off with Barbara to visit the old section of Bydgoszcz. (Pronounced Bid – Ghost with a ch on the end) It took me a while to spit that out correctly. In the old section of town, there’s a rustic old restaurant called Karczma Młyńska that’s housed in a 300-year-old building.
The first item they served was a small pot of pork fat to spread on freshly baked bread. At first, the thought of pure pork fat sounded horrible, not to mention, it couldn’t be very healthy, but it was tasty. (Click on smaller images to view full size)
I also had a bowl of Zurek soup made with soured rye flour and meat (usually boiled pork sausage or pieces of smoked sausage, bacon or ham). and a shot of cranberry vodka. It was a perfect warm-up, especially for a southern California girl who’d just left 90-degree heat.
My companions dined on stuffed pierogi with ham and Barszcz. (beetroot soup)
Polish cuisine, like most other Eastern European countries, is meat heavy. Unknowingly, I chomped down some pickled pigs feet. My Polish sister in law, from my late husband’s side, loves pickled pigs feet but it makes me want to gag. I don’t have a problem eating pork, but when it’s wrapped in greasy gel it’s not my thing. I’ve also never been a big fan of pickled herring, another Eastern European favorite that my mother loved, even though I adore eating fish.
One of my favorite Polish dishes is Bigos. It’s a hunter’s stew made with chunks of meat and kielbasa sausage, simmered with sauerkraut, cabbage, onions, potatoes, herbs, and spices. In the 80’s I had an eccentric acting teacher who was Polish. He always spent days cooking bigos for his birthday I looked forward to it every year.
Most of the restaurants in Poland feature Kielbasa or other types of sausages. In small Polish butcher shops, you’ll find fresh hand -made sausages that are free from all the fillers and junk that are in American made sausage. Goose, duck, pheasant and rabbit are also popular menu items in Poland.
One dish that I will personally be avoiding while I’m here is duck’s blood soup. Sorry, even though I’m a raving foodie, I just can’t go there.
On one of the days the guys were off doing their presentations, Barbara took me sightseeing along the river Brda and we ate lunch at a local brewery.
Many of the older people in Poland don’t speak English. Younger people under 30 are required to learn English at school. Our young handler Barbara was able to help us pick out what we wanted to eat on “Polish only” menus, take trams and decipher train schedules. I wish we could take her with us when we go back to Warsaw and then on to Krakow.
I asked Barbara if heart disease was a big problem in Poland because of their meat-heavy diet. She didn’t think that was necessarily true, at the young age of 26, but heart, respiratory disease, and cirrhosis of the liver, due to drinking lots of vodka, are common problems for the Poles. Their diet may not be the healthiest in the world, but their food is still wonderful to eat. Cabbage, wild mushrooms, and beets are cancer fighters after all. I love stuffed cabbage, cabbage soup, Barszcz and anything with sauerkraut! The Poles love to eat berries and other fruits when they’re available.
Barbara said there are vegetarian and vegan restaurants popping up in Poland for those who are more health conscious, but because the weather is harsh, and it gets dark as early as 4 pm in the winter, that probably explains why they love eating so much meat. It keeps them warm on long winter nights!
A side note: When we were driving through Warsaw on our way to Bydgoszcz, we passed a big empty field. In the middle of it all, you could see were the Golden Arches standing tall on the horizon. Even Poland isn’t free from McDonalds.
What’s your favorite Polish dish? Please leave a comment and let us know.