One of the best ways to jump into a new culture is through the local food. The sheer act of sharing food experiences also gives you instant conversation starter material with locals. At the same time, you’ll be looking for an array of gastronomic pleasures during your time abroad and Warsaw will not disappoint! Below are a few recommendations from students and staff who have previously been involved with SRAS programing in Warsaw.
General Recommendations for Food in Warsaw
Polish food is generally rich and fatty, with lots of meat and potatoes. However, many vegetarian options can also be found, especially in modern Warsaw! Familiarize yourself with the cuisine by checking out our sister site Folkways.
Traditional Polish food can be found at the chain Zapiecek which has various locations, but the one on Nowy Świat 64, one of the city’s main drags, is recommendable. Czerwony Wieprz is a sort of kitschy, retro restaurant in a Polish-Communist setting. Zapiexy is one of the most popular joints for Zapiekanki. Zapiexy, the name of the joint, is Warsaw slang for Zapiekanka, which are basically mini Polish pizzas on oval shaped bread and typically topped with cheese and mushrooms, although you can get nearly any toppings you want. “Milk bars” are Polish cafeterias known for being cheap sources of traditional Polish food. For more on these culturally rich establishments, click here.
Food Trucks are big in Warsaw. Foodies should check out Yelp Listings for Warsaw’s various trucks.
Coffee is also big in Warsaw. Kawiarnia Kafka is a hip student café near the campus of the University of Warsaw. You’ll find yourself surrounded by bookshelves lined with books (many in English) and students. F30, artfully named for its address (Francuska 30), is a popular café in Praga (east of the river) where you can drink coffee outside under a their famous canopy of umbrellas in the warmer months. Other major coffee chains scattered about Warsaw are Green Café Nero and Costa Coffee.
Sweet Tooth affectionados should check out E. Wedel, Poland’s most famous chocolate manufacturer. They have coffee shops with delicious European-style hot chocolate (basically melted chocolate in a cup) – the original store (opened in 1851 by E. Wedel himself) is in Warsaw at 8 Szpitalna. Grycan, a famed local brand of ice cream, has shops that offer ice cream and good coffee.
For the Homesick, the Pink Flamingo is a 50s-style diner tucked away in a park and a longtime staple for Warsaw’s expats.
Music can be found at Warszawa Powisle, a café/bar located in the old ticket office of the Warsaw Powisle train station. There is almost always live music playing there and is definitely recommended. Café Kulturalna is located inside the Palace of Culture and Science and certainly worth a trip. There is always good music playing there, often live.
Vegetarian food can be found around around Warsaw and even in traditional Polish cooking (look for cabbage or potato-based foods. Make sure to check out Krowarzywa has a couple of (delicious) vegan burger locations. There is always a line but it’s worth it. W gruncie rzeczy (ul. Hoża 62) have cheap and very tasty soups and vegan cakes.
ul. Marszałkowska 10/16
The Union of Lublin Square is a great place to hang out and study after a day of classes downtown at Collegium Civitas (CC). A short tram ride away from the Palace of Culture and Science, the square is where I have to transfer to get to the University (CC) dorm.
A number of nice cafes dot the square – not to mention the shopping mall, which is also a great place to study if you are looking for plenty of clean, quiet, open space. While the mall is home to mostly high-end, expensive shops, there are average-priced coffee shops that remain relatively empty aside from the occasional businessman.
The main reason, however, that I like to study at Plac Unii Lubelskiej is the nearby milk bar Bar Prasowy, located just a few blocks north at Marszałkowska 10/16. Milk bars are a type of establishment unique to Poland and are a remnant of the Communist era. They are essentially extremely cheap, government-subsidized cafeterias that serve traditional Polish food. You can’t get a cheaper or tastier meal – but you have to be prepared and know what you want. Lines can be quite long (especially around lunch time) and everything is only in Polish, so you have to know what the different types of food are and how to order in Polish.
Bar Prasowy is my favorite milk bar (thus far) in Warsaw. It has been “modernized,” meaning that unlike most milk bars that have extremely basic and functional seating, Bar Prasowy has sleek, comfortable furniture and lighting, as well as a young, casual atmosphere.
I usually order a soup (such as żurek – sometimes called barszcz biały – a sour rye soup with sausage, potatoes, and boiled egg inside) for 3 PLN (about 80 cents), a main dish (such as pierogi or bigos, a cabbage stew with various cuts of meat, sausage, and mushrooms) for 6 or 7 PLN, kompot (homemade Polish fruit juice, costs 1.5 PLN), and maybe naleśniki (a Polish take on crepes, cost about 6 PLN) for dessert. Thus for a delicious three course meal with a drink in a comfortable atmosphere, you wouldn’t pay more than about 18 PLN (currently $4.70) at Bar Prasowy. It doesn’t get better than that!
After eating my fill at Bar Prasowy and spending a few hours studying in a coffee shop in the Plac Unii Lubelskiej Shopping mall, I enjoy walking by the social realist architecture along Marszałkowska Street. Many of the buildings feature murals as well. Originally built in 1952 to bring the worker into the heart of the city, the Marszałkowska Dzielnica Mieszkaniowa (MDM) or Marszałkowska neighborhood housing stretches from Plac Unii Lubelskiej in the south, past Plac Konstytucji, to Wilcza street in the north and remains in good condition today. To truly enjoy the view, you need to know the history. To find out more about milk bars in general and the language you’ll need to navigate them, click here.
Zapiecek Polskie Pierogarnie
Zapiecek serves traditional Polish food from several locations in Warsaw and Krakow.
Its name is derived from the name people gave the place behind the stove, or a corner by the fireplace, where people often slept during the winter. The restaurant locations are built to resemble a country cottage, complete with pots and pans adorning the walls.
The menus, which hang on the wall, describe the dishes in Polish and English, but the text is quite small. Pierogies are the house specialty and come with a wide range of fillings — from meat, cheese, cabbage and mushroom, lentil, buckwheat, and spinach, to sweet apple-raisin, plum, and makowo nut. They also offer soups (including traditional zurek soup), salads, and main courses.
Most Zapiecek locations are rather small, so during peak meal times it may be difficult to find an empty table as the simple, affordable, traditional local foods are popular with tourists and locals alike.
Podwale 25 Kompania Piwna
Kompania Piwna was the final destination on my tour of pierogi in Warsaw. My good friend recommended this place above all others; she said it was traditional Polish cuisine, had a great atmosphere, and was above all cheap! She was right on all accounts. We decided to go on a Monday night to avoid the large crowds and long wait that comes with the weekend evenings. We were greeted by a friendly hostess dressed in the restaurant’s signature Bavarian-style uniforms. We were seated at a candle-lit table in a large hall-style room. I ordered my regular: Pierogi and hot beer (trust me on the hot beer, it’s amazing) and we waited. A trio of musical performers came into the hall we were seated in and played traditional Polish and Russian style music. They got most of the customers clapping along and a few of us even sang. Our meals arrived and the conversation we were having halted as we dug into the delicious food. The pierogi here was quite good; for what it lacked in presentation it made up for in taste. The price was good too, at only 15 PLN ($3.75) for six pierogi; my only regret was not ordering more. I will say the service could have been better, our waiter seemed to disappear for long stretches of time which lead us to spending almost three hours there. Overall though, I highly recommend visiting this place. Just for the experience and atmosphere make it a great place to take friends and family who are visiting Warsaw.
Gościniec Polskie Pierogi
Gościniec Polskie Pierogi is located on the decorative street of Nowy Świat, which is home to many nice restaurants and shops. It is a ten-minute walk due east from the city center and very easy to find due to its large, bright neon sign. My friends and I met up for a late Saturday night dinner and walked to the restaurant. We all underestimated how cold it was out and were quite happy to enter the small pierogarnia, which was warm, cozy, and packed with people. We were seated shoulder to shoulder with other customers and I ordered nine pierogi; three mięsem, three ruskie, and three deser (with apple and cinnamon). I also ordered a hot beer; mulled and spiced, this is the best way to warm up on a cold night in Warsaw. The pierogi came after ten-minutes and I was blown away by the presentation. Served in the pan they were fried in, the pierogi were browned to golden perfection. Simply put, they were delicious. By far this was the best pierogi I have had to date in Warsaw and a must visit when town. The price was a little steep (comparatively) at 30 PLN ($7.5) for the assortment of pierogi I ordered. However, it was well worth the price for the best pierogi in Warsaw in my opinion. In this the ranking above, Gościniec Polskie Pierogi and Podwale 25 Kompania Piwna are a pretty close tie, but I give the number one spot to Gościniec because their pierogi were better.
A major part of every culture is the cuisine. When you come to Warsaw, or anywhere in Poland, you must give traditional pierogi a try. As they say here in Poland, smacznego! (Enjoy your meal)
Grycan & Zielona Budka Ice Creams
Grycan is family-owned sorbet and coffee franchise with more than 60 flavors, both seasonal and static, and over 130 locations throughout Poland.
In 1946, after settling in Wrocław, Grzegorz Grycan opened the first ice cream parlor in postwar Poland with the humble sign: Lody MIŚ – Weronika Grycan (“Ice Cream BEAR – Veronica Grycan” – named after his daughter). Residents of the city queued up with their own cups, buckets and jars to buy their fill of the original flavors of chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, and lemon.
The brand gained massive popularity when Grycan’s grandson, Zbigniew, purchased the rights to the Warsaw’s famous Zielona Budka ice-cream parlor in 1980. The brand, which then became known as Zielona Budka, remained family-owned through the Soviet times, and gradually expanded until large enough to open a factory near Warsaw in 1993.
In 2000, Zbigniew decided to sell the company to Enterprise Investors, one of the largest private equity funds in Poland and the CEE. Zbigniew remained chairman of the board and served until 2003. In 2004, after a statute of limitations on the prohibition of competition ended, Zbigniew reopened his own brand, this time under the name Grycan – Ice Cream for Generations. Today, the company boasts more than 100 sales outlets and over 1,000 employees.
Zielona Budka also continues to manufacture ice cream. It was eventually sold to a major German manufacturer and then merged with a major UK manufacturer and is today a subsidiary of the international conglomerate R&R Ice Cream.
– Katherine Weaver
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This resource is part of the much larger SRAS Guide to Living in Warsaw.
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