Christmas is a special time. Also for Polish cuisine. Christmas Eve is most significant in this regard. On that day a traditional dinner is served in almost every Polish home. The dinner begins in the evening. In the past it used to include as many as twelve dishes. These days not many people still prepare that amount of meal. Nevertheless Polish Christmas Eve dinner is still a remarkable event.
Tradition requires that Christmas Eve dishes are meatless. And this custom is generally observed in Poland. Christmas Eve dishes are actually quite healthy, because they include mainly fish, vegetables and cereals. So what does a typical modern dinner on that special day in Poland look like?
Traditional Polish Christmas Eve meal.
Details vary, depending on geographic location and personal preferences. However we can specify the most popular dishes. The dinner usually starts with red borsch and noodles stuffed with mushrooms (“uszka” – literally “litttle ears”). Some people though serve herring as a starter, before the soup. Then come dumplings (pierogi), stuffed with sauerkraut and mushrooms. An indispensible and actually the central dish of the dinner is fish. The classsic Christmas Eve fish in Poland is carp. But sometimes people replace it with some other kind, say trout or salmon. The fish is served fried. Frequently jellied carp is also prepared for Christmas. A sweet dessert follows. The most typical is poppy seed cake or kutia. The latter is frequently encountered in the eastern part of the country. It consists mainly of cereals, poppy seed and honey. Cheesecake and other kinds of cakes are possible too.
It is worth mentioning that Christmas Eve dinner is preceeded with sharing wishes with every one present, along with sharing a piece of a Christmas wafer (opłatek) with them. The wafer cannot be considered a dish of course. It’s more of a symbolic element which stresses the solemnity of the moment. Another tradition is to left an empty plate for an unexpected guest who might appear. But this custom is no longer universally observed.
Polish Oplatki (Christmas Wafers)
During “propper” Christmas (after Christmas Eve) there are no strict traditions. Dishes are prepared freely to suit taste. Certainly poultry deserves mentioning. Duck is very popular (especially roasted with apples). Goose and chicken are also common. Generally, Poles indulge in food during Christmas. Heavier dishes and sweets abound. As a result the beneficiary effects of the healthy Christmas Eve dinner are all in all lost. But it is fully excusable to enjoy the tasty Polish cuisine to a slight excess once in a while