You might not be familiar with Polish cuisine; golonka, zrazy or chlodnik anyone? But we do know you're nothing if not a sucker for a tasty adventure! Here are some of Melbourne's best restaurants, bakeries, bars and delis in which to begin your Polish food exploration (and for our Polish listers, we hope you'll find a place with food just like your babcia used to make).
The adage "good things come in small packages" is proven by the fact that every culture seems to have its own version of dumplings. Japan has gyoza. Italy has ravioli. China has pretty much all of them. And Poland has Pierogi! The Pierogi Pierogi kitchen pops up at markets and special events around town offering their little morsels of comfort food three ways. Their dumplings are variously stuffed with sauerkraut, creamy potato and love. Sour cream is not optional in our opinion.
Borsch, Vodka and Tears
This Windsor institution is partly a shrine to the city of Krakaw but mostly to vodka/wodka! Their vodka offering tops triple figures with tipples made from borsch herbs, spelt and even grass. If you need something to build your resolve in the face of such a line-up Borsch Vodka and Tears serves vodka-friendly snacks like Zapiekanka (basically Polish pizza subs), Polish breakfast sandwiches and Bloody Marys to fortify. Yes there is definitely borsch on the menu too (but not many tears spotted here thankfully).
After the Tears
As sister venue to Borsch, Vodka and Tears this restaurant and bar is also heavily into the vodka love. The cosy interiors at After the Tears are done in an offbeat bohemian style; like a place you might stumble upon while back-packing through Eastern Europe back in the 90s. It's a fitting surrounding in which to dig into hearty fare like slow-cooked goulash, cheesy potato pierogi and their version of bangers and mash.
When the word "authentic" starts getting bandied about so does the name "Kluska". The food at here has that home-made quality which is what you want at a place featuring Nanna-esque tablecloths and mismatched crockery. Go here for the schnitzel and the pyzy z miesem (doughy dumplings with beef); our Polish friends think Kluska's are to die for.
Polish Rye Crust Bakery
Just down the road from Kluska, is Polish Rye Crust Bakery. It looks much like any other suburban bakery but the locals know the goodies are far from standard here. It's a bagels, babka and bigos (meat and sauerkraut stew do add the optional kransky) kind of affair. Stop in to pick up traditional golden-crusted loaves and some continental meats for a take-away picnic or settle into the coveted banquette to get your fill of "Polish lunch" ie. dumpling soup.
Surely this place is French with name like that? Not so, this unassuming cafe has a secret Polish underbelly. Slip past the tempting, towering cakes in the front window and you'll find some atypical items between the standard smashed avo, croissants and burgers on the menu. Perhaps a warming bowl of borsch or flaczki soup (be forewarned, that's tripe) is in order? If not, go for the tender Polish cheesecake or if you're lucky score a traditional plum jam doughnut before they sell out.
South Melbourne Market
South Melbourne Market goers will be familiar with the sight of the raspberry-haired ladies behind the counter at Alka (one of them is the titular owner). The teeny deli packs a punch with a plethora of Eurocentric sausages, hams, pickles and packets of creamy 'Krowka' milk fudge. Alka's cheap-as-chips lunch packs are a cult item among frugal foodies and we bet you can't walk away without one of their glossily glazed Polish doughnuts either.
Image Credit: Kluska