What do people eat for Christmas in Poland?
Wigilia is the Polish word for the Christmas Eve meal. At wigilia, there are traditionally 12 dishes served. It is believed that each of these dishes is meant to bring you luck for the following 12 months. Some Catholics believe that the 12 dishes symbolize Jesus' 12 disciples. These traditional 12 dishes vary depending on the region of Poland as well as each individual family. Poles typically do not eat meat or hard liquor on Christmas Eve, but fish and wine are an exception.
Since each family in Poland celebrates Wigilia a little different, we are going to share with you what Damian's family, who is from Wałbrzych in Lower Silesia, normally eats for Wigilia. We've also included a few more than 12 dishes as there are usually a few extra on our table! You will find attached links to each recipe from experienced food bloggers, cookbook authors, and chefs.
1. Beetroot Soup (Barszcz Czerwony)
Barszcz is a bright red sour soup that is traditionally served on Christmas Eve in Poland. Often this soup is served with mushroom dumplings, which you will find in the next recipe.
2. Mushroom Dumplings (Uszka z Grzybami)
These small dumplings are stuffed full of flavorful wild mushrooms and added to the barszcz soup on Christmas Eve. In Polish uszka means small ears. They kind of look like them right??
3. Pierogi with Cabbage and Mushrooms (Pierogi z Kapustą i Grzybami)
Pierogi is one of the best known Polish foods around the world. They are often filled with a number of different ingredients such as farmers cheese and potatoes, strawberries and beef and onion. Since Poles do not typically eat meat on Christmas Eve, these traditional Wigilia pierogi are filled with cabbage and mushrooms.
4. Fried Carp (Smażony Karp)
Eating carp as the main dish on Wigilia is very traditional. A few days before Christmas, Poles will go to the store and wait in a line beside what I can only describe as a small swimming pool. The salesman will pull a live carp fish from the tub and place it into a plastic bag. Traditionally, the fish is brought home and placed in a bathtub full of water until it's time to be killed for the Christmas Eve meal. Though some Poles still practice this, it is becoming much more common to just purchase a carp fillet.
5. Cabbage with Peas (Kapusta z Grochem)
Cabbage with peas is a traditional side dish served at Wigilia but is also eaten throughout the year in Poland. This dish is hearty and each bite offers a nice gentle crunch.
6. Greek Fish (Ryba po Grecku)
This Greek-style fish is often enjoyed during Wigilia in Poland. It's not known why this Polish dish is called "Greek" but there is a possibility that it is based on the Greek dish Psari Plaki. Ryba po Grecku is normally white fish fillets, such as cod, served in a vegetable sauce including carrots, parsley, onion and tomato.
7. Herring (Śledź)
Herring is a popular side dish in Poland that often makes an appearance at weddings, celebrations and other holidays. This recipe is served cold with apples and onion but each family usually uses their own traditional recipe and ingredients.
8. Potato Salad (Sałatka Ziemniaczana)
Potato salad is one of my favorite side dishes in Poland. In Damian's family it is often served after the main meal on a special occasion. I'm not a big fan of potato salad in the United States, but there is something about the Polish version that is extra tasty! Enjoy this as a side dish at your Wigilia meal!
Kutia is a sweet grain pudding. This dish is more commonly found in countries such as Russia, Ukraine and other parts of Eastern Europe where Orthodox Christians enjoy it at Christmas. Today, kutia has started to make its way onto Wigilia tables in Poland.
10. Gingerbread (Piernik)
The word for gingerbread in Polish is piernik, which comes from the old Polish word for spices pierna. The town of Toruń in Poland is known for its gingerbread, which has been made in the town since the 12th century.
11. Fruit Compote (Kompot)
Kompot is a sweet fruit beverage that can be served both hot and cool. Damian's family makes kompot regularly throughout the year with a variety of fruits. We all love taking a fork to the glass and enjoying the fruit pieces after we've finished the drink.
12. Poppy Seed Roll (Makowiec)
Makowiec is a long rolled pastry that is filled with poppy seeds. The yeasty dough is filled with a rich, bittersweet poppy seed and sometimes also chopped nuts such as walnuts or chestnuts. This is one of my favorite Polish treats any time of the year!
13. Cheesecake (Sernik)
Sernik is a classic Polish dessert that you will find in cafes and restaurants as well as in people's homes for holidays and other celebrations. One of the main differences between a Polish sernik and an American cheesecake is the amount of sugar and other dairy. Sernik uses much less sugar and the flavor is really focused on the cheese filling.
14. Gingerbread Cookies (Pierniczki)
In addition to gingerbread (piernik), gingerbread cookies (pierniczki) are also very popular in Poland during the holidays. This recipe is extra special as it is vegan and can also be made gluten free.
Happy Holidays and Wesołych Świąt!!
We hope this list of recipes will be useful in your Wigilia meal planning as well as for those of you who are just looking to add a little Polish flare to your Christmas meal. Please contact us if you have any questions.
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