Friday, 24 December 2010


There comes a certain time of year in every Polish boy's (and girl's) life where one gorges on food until s/he explodes a la Monty Python. This time of year falls on Christmas Eve, or what us Poles call 'Wigilia'. It translates as 'Vigil', attaining to the purpose of sitting around the table with family all night drinking vodka and eating a 13-course meal well into the small hours in order to see in the birth of Christ. Here are some of its traditional elements...

'Opłatek' - This is a wafer as thin as paper, made from nothing but wheat flour and water. It acts only as a reminder of the body of Christ, due to the lacking in sanctification by a priest. Opłatek is usually embossed with images of the Virgin Mary. Each person at the table breaks off a piece of the wafer, and then proceeds to share that piece with all the other people around the table, each taking it in turns to wish each other good health, luck and happiness in the new year.

'Śledzie' - I suppose you could call this the Polish version of sushi. Śledzie is raw herring marinated in oil, although you can also get it in sour cream or pickled form. Eat with a bit of Polish bread. Trust me, it's a lot nicer than it sounds.

'Barszcz z Uszkami' - Now, some fuckwits might have you believe that the best barszcz (beetroot soup) is Russian. This is a myth. Just like their vodka. The best barszcz is Polish. Served with uszka (small dumplings filled either with meat or sauerkraut & mushrooms), it makes for one tasty soup. Directly translated, 'Uszka' actually means "little ears", pertaining to the small, cute nature of the dumplings themselves. This year my Mother thought it a good idea to pack my soup with around 20 of the little buggers, just as a starter. Twas a meal unto itself.
'Paszteciki (Krokiet)' - These pasties, either filled with meat or the sauerkraut/mushroom mix (ours were meat), are usually served with clear soups, so it was only natural that we had some with the barszcz. It is essentially a baked pancake with stuffing and they are incredibly filling. As you can imagine, between these and the 20-odd uszka in my soup, by the time it came round to the main course I was already ready to burst.

The main course on Wigilia is always fish. In our family we usually have halibut, which is personally my favourite of all the fishes. It is served with mashed potato and cabbage (kapusta) with chick peas. This year my Mum added a bit of pancetta to give it a bit of extra kick. Everything in Poland is also invariably garnished with dill, so quite naturally there were liberal helpings of the 'erb. Of course, by this stage one is usually stuffed from everything before, so it is not unusual that half the contents of your plate are still there by the end of the meal. Those poor bastards in Africa...

And of course, who could forget the staple of the entire evening, Vodka. None of that Russian shit though, which is probably used as tractor fuel anyway. This bottle would usually set you back £60 in the UK. Fortunately, given our trip to Poland, we got it incredibly cheap by comparison. Watch out Brits, we're bumping you!