Olga Badowska

Warsaw food journalist and editor Olga Badowska has helped shape the Polish food scene for more than a decade. Weaving together art and food, Badowska’s contributions take in everything from writing and editing to running supper clubs, coordinating culinary art group projects and directing culinary indie short films about Polish chefs. One of her major achievements was bringing the international Terroir symposium to Warsaw in 2018. At present, Badowska divides her time between indie food and culture magazine USTA where she is the vice editor-in-chief, and developing hospitality concepts for restaurant group, Baron the Family.

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An Introduction to Warsaw Food

Warsaw food is not what you would expect or typically imagine. It’s exciting and very eclectic. From a tourist’s perspective, there’s a lot of stereotypes around Polish and Warsaw food. The first time you come here, you’ll probably seek traditional food but dig deep and you will find the unexpected. Warsaw has some grassroots and – although I dislike the word – authentic places where you’ll be interested in the story of that place or dish. Look closely, and you’ll see the people are as exciting as the food they create because they have something to express. If you find these, you’re home.

The Queen of Bread

Out of many interesting stories I found, there’s Monika Walecka, a self-taught baker. Different jobs and travels took her to San Francisco where she trained at Tartine Bakery. After returning to Warsaw, she rented a small place to bake and quickly became known as the local queen of bread. With the help of the local community, she later opened Cała w Mące, a small, artisanal bakery in the quite Warsaw district, Stary Żoliborz. There’s always a line of people to buy the bread she bakes with an amazing all-woman team. I love her round sourdough bread with Polish bursztyn cheese that isn’t fully melted, so there’s chunkiness to it. Try her bagels too. Recently she started the bakery’s sweet offshoot Tonka so she could boost creativity and let go, but only during the weekends. I’m a sucker for her Bostock cake made from leftover brioche, topped with white poppyseed cream and fruits, and baked again.

Doughnuts in the Morning, French-Asian For Lunch and Dinner

Another story is that of Trisno Hamid from Singapore. He runs two restaurants together with his girlfriend Kama and their friend Patrycja in Warsaw. One of them is the most stimulating kitchen at a casual level in the downtown area. Years ago, when the girls returned from New York, they first opened MOD donuts with legit Brooklyn-style doughnuts: I remember having similar in Bed-Stuy [a neighbourhood in New York City]. Their doughnuts come with unusual toppings, like hibiscus icing or lemon curd and meringue. But the place was not small enough to only sell doughnuts  so, Trisno joined as a partner. Thus began MOD, a morning doughnut shop that turns into a lunch and dinner place: it’s the strangest mixture but it’s worked for years. Trained under Michel Roux Sr, Tris mixes Asian cooking with French influences, but gets easily bored, so he changes the menu often. He does what he does so well you want to return every month to see what he has created. You can have ramen for lunch or in the evening, but you can also have the most exquisite, funky fusion of Western and Eastern cuisines, like one of their hits: little beef bourguignon-filled dumplings topped with wasabi mousse.

Little Italy Meets Chinatown and Lush Cocktails

Regina is like entering a secret place, even though it’s not. Suddenly everything becomes super joyful. The food and drinks make you feel better. It’s from the same owners as MOD and also mixes two cultures. Regina’s intriguing, convoluted story starts when Patrycja Jaskólska and Kama Mroczkowska were working for Jewish families in New York and heard the stories of Jewish people eating at Chinese restaurants during Christian holidays when nothing else was open. Fascinated by the melting pot of the city’s Chinatown and Little Italy, they named Regina in memory of a sweet old lady, a job fixer who helped them in New York, and combined Italian and Chinese food. Here you can have Asian-American dishes like General Tso’s chicken, but also a messy, thin dough pizza with a gooey crust and toppings as strange as calamari, mozzarella, pickled daikon, and plum sauce. Ewa, the bartender, creates characteristic, themed cocktail menus that everyone goes crazy for. The Sex in The City theme was their biggest hit.

Best Market Experiences in Warsaw

If you stay in Warsaw for the whole week and don’t want to eat at restaurants all the time, stock up at two local markets. Forteca Kręgliccy is a market in a 19th Century fortress, run by Kręgliccy, a famous family of Warsaw restaurateurs. The spectacular venue is mainly rented out for events but, for half of Wednesday, turns into a farmers’ market that draws a big community. Forteca Targ collects farmers who provide for the best restaurants in the city, so you can meet a lot of chefs shopping here, picking beetroot or mustard greens and chatting with friendly local vegetable and herbs supplier Pan Ziółko. Also, check out the cheese producers, smoked fish stands and typical Polish preserves and pickles. To see where most Warsawians shop groceries, visit the main market, although we don’t call it this. Located in an old building, Hala Mirowska is how the “real” city market looks. Here you need to know where to buy and what to buy. There are no exotic products here: only a very humble way of buying food from vendors. Merely browsing through the stalls is a curious experience. To buy fresh meat, find Mrs. Ania [stand 114 and 121] a lot of chefs buy from her. Also, go hunt for twaróg (fresh white cheese), good sauerkraut (always try it before buying) and search for a fun and cheery stall with plenty of eggs from different birds in all shapes and sizes.

Seasonal Polish Ingredients to Look For

It’s fair to say Polish people are experts at picking wild mushrooms. In late summer and early autumn, look for mushrooms such as saffron milk caps, chanterelles, boletus, and kania (parasol mushroom). Finding the latter isn’t easy, but if you do, buy some and fry in panko like a schnitzel. My friends who visited Poland described Polish flavours as a mixture of intense acidity and sweetness. Polish food is quite heavy and greasy so, the acidity that comes with different sides balances that, which is why fermented produce is important and natural to our cuisine. Look out for all sorts of pickles, including pickled beets, or cooked and shredded with horseradish, called ćwikła. Also, my UK friend is obsessed with one specific Polish tomato variety known as the raspberry tomato. Malinowy is delicate, sweet and melts in your mouth. You will find many restaurants in the city also prepare it in the simplest ways, bringing out its flavours. At Źródło [see below], I ate it paired with bits of preserved orange peel: a heavenly combination.

Unexpected Location, Perfect Bistronomy

Źródło in the Praga district is one of my current favourites that everyone should go to. Its location inside a block of flats facing the Orthodox Church is bizarre. The name means “the beginning”, as in the source of water or great ingredients. The owner and sommelier Adrian Górniak is a great enthusiast and storyteller. The chef Grzegorz Dawidziuk has worked in the top restaurants in the city and Mes in Copenhagen. They opened during the pandemic and survived because they created something beautiful, relaxed, and unpretentious. It’s a perfect representation of bistronomy with a short, changing seasonal menu of small and big plates that are best ordered whole and shared among two or three people. Among their evergreens are kopytka (dumplings) with burnt butter and Polish szafir cheese. Their seasonal dishes disappear quickly. On a warm evening, you can sit outside and enjoy a great natural wine selection.

Polish Wines and Simple Produce-Driven Food

Ale Wino hides on a fancy street in Warsaw in the old Hybrydy, a former iconic club of the PRL [Polish People’s Republic] period and is my all-time favourite. It supposed to be a wine shop but at some point, the owners decided to add food: simple, enjoyable dishes focused on local produce such as Majlert family farm vegetables or locally produced Bianca mozzarella. The seasonal food menu changes nearly as often as the wine selection which includes Polish wines. Nearby is Kukułka, a lovely patisserie from the same people and pastry chef Dominika Krzemińska. Napoleon cake, seasonal sweet bun loaded with bilberries (jagodzianka) and pashka cheesecake are a must.

The Unexpected Face of Sweet Craftsmanship

There are also those old stories of heritage such as the boys from Lukullus confectionery. Jacek Malarski and Albert Judycki run the place and have multiple spots across Warsaw including one near Ale Wino. Albert is the grandson of the shop’s founder, Jan Dynowski, who began the business after the war ended. Nowadays, Albert recreates the family brand in a way that you wouldn’t expect in Eastern Europe. 

Warsaw’s Original Street Food

Representing traditional Warsaw folklore is my secret place, Pyzy, Flaki Gorące. It’s a great, low-key spot in the old Praga district where you can try Warsaw’s original – and perhaps only – street food, pyzy flaki. Pyzy are round, potato dumplings that are either filled or covered with toppings such as traditional pork crackling or more creative ones like white poppy seed and saffron milk cap pesto. Flaki is a soup of thick tripes with a meatball inside topped with Parmesan cheese. At least one shot of vodka for digestion is recommended. The store’s names goes back to Bazar Różyckiego, a nearby market that used to be lively and crowded but unfortunately is now slowly dying. Women from the neighbourhood would bring pyzy, flaki and other homemade foods that they they sold hot in jars. They’d shout, “pyzy, flaki gorące!” to let people know they could buy pyzy and flaki hot – the Polish word gorące.  This joint keeps the tradition alive using jars today.

An Old-School Russian Experience in Praga

Not far from the pyzy place in Praga district is a restaurant that serves traditional Russian food. Russian Standard vodka triumphs in Skamiejka as does its super-energetic, lovely owner, Lady Tamara. She is this place like this place is her. The one thing I go for is pielmeni: round, little heart-warming dumplings filled with meat served with sour cream and fiery mustard. Don’t forget a shot of Russkiy Standart. The vibe recalls entering someone’s dining room. Tamara is always around, and at times there’s live music. It’s the old school you are never tired of. And the fact it is right next to a modern, residential and commercial complex and still survives means something.

A Mind-Blowing Journey Through Polish Regional Food

Talented and humble Polish chef Robert Trzópek called his restaurant Bez Gwiazdek – “no stars” – and you can clearly see his intentions. This isn’t fine dining, but it’s a beautiful journey through traditional Polish food. The set menu concept zooms in on a different Polish region each month and Robert thoroughly researches its history, food, traditions and customs. He interprets traditional dishes, techniques and specific regional ingredients which means you have reason to visit monthly and try something different. Most of it will blow your mind. This summer I remember having white asparagus paired with a beautiful, thin red wine sauce. I’m not a fan of asparagus but I can still recall its startling flavours. Robert does things like that.

Warsaw’s Best Bars

Most restaurants I mentioned have a good selection of craft vodka or okowita (akvavit) made in Poland. The stigma around Polish vodka indicates it is not enjoyable strong alcohol. Nowadays, depending on the crop or the distillation, it gains an incredible flavour. If you prefer cocktails, downtown there is tiny El Koktel which is packed with foreigners after the bar’s recent appearance in 50Best Discovery. The talented bartenders make a lot of components themselves. I love their approach. Another is a neighbourhood cocktail bar Wieczorny. Run for years on the ground floor of an apartment house in a residential area, I don’t know how Tomek and Monika pulled it off without driving the neighbours crazy. It is nice to sit in their garden on a warm evening sipping on a cocktail or something from their good selection of Polish vodka. If you’re lucky, you’ll be invited to the backyard.

Sophisticated Hangover Food

There is a specific category of foods for me: hangover food that’s not vulgar, but sophisticated. Krem is a place I adore everything about, from the design to the French feel brought by the owner Luc Magnon who serves sandwiches from a classic ham and cheese croque Monsieur to one with goat’s cheese and confit tomatoes. All are A-plus and will make you feel human again after a long night. It’s a tiny place, so beware of the queue, especially on the weekends. But it is worth the wait. The second moral saviour hides in a residential district area that nobody visits, so take an Uber. I think only I treat Sato Gotuje as hangover food. Here, Satoru Yaegashi approaches [his native] Japanese flavours in a customary subtle manner. Everything is worth trying, particularly a beautiful starter dish of fried mackerel with soy sauce and turnip. But my go-to for sucking up all the remaining alcohol is Hire Katsu: a bowl of panko-fried pork with rice, onions, and other goodies. Satoru often changes his opening hours, so check ahead.

The Night Market

Nocny Market is a fun, guilty pleasure. Situated between the train tracks, this weekend seasonal night market is quite a phenomenon. It takes some luck to go there in the dark, but follow the neon lights, smells and loud music, and you’ll eventually reach this colourful open-air street food fair. The eclectic crowd brings together party people and families with kids and grandparents. Restaurateurs often test their ideas here ahead of opening new places. The stalls change the entire season, so every weekend there’s something new to try. It’s a perfect pre-game place to listen to music, grab a bite from several stalls, have some beer or wine, then head out to the city. Many of my visiting friends from abroad say the atmosphere here is like New York years ago.

Space Age Drinks and Bistro

When you see a mac ’n’ cheese sandwich on top of a cocktail, you know you’re in for some fun. That’s what happens at Pacyfik, a cocktail bar with good food. The bar’s owners recently opened another venue called Paloma Inn that has a Jetsons-style retro-futuristic interior. The cocktail menu is full of classics from Sidecar to Hanky-Panky and few signature creations. The food may sound like a joke but it’s Instagrammable and lip-smacking. Think Hawaiian pineapple toast with bechamel sauce, vegan bacon, and a maraschino cherry on top, or a brioche layered with herring, cream, and vegan caviar. A perfectly realised concept, especially now that people need an extra push to go out.

Profile Photography: Courtesy of Ala Wesołowska 

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