Our editor-in-chief, Anna-Cara Keim, declares her love for Polish food and discovers some of London’s more unusual eating places.
Food plays an extremely important aspect in diaspora life. For most people food remains one of the most important connections they retain with their country of origin, or with the place they call home.
And so it happened, that I had left Poland less than 48 hours ago, and I was in the midst of completing another writing assignment when I was suddenly craving pierogi. Yes, nothing else but these delicious dumplings, and perhaps some baked cheesecake. So I cycled nearly one hour to the Polish Social and Cultural Association in Hammersmith. They run a small, not for profit café that serves excellent homemade Polish kitchen staples. It was a Sunday, so the place was packed with Polish families and many older members of the Polish diaspora. With my barely existing Polish language skills I was miraculously able to place my order in Polish – it is generally assumed that everyone who enters the café on a Sunday must be Polish. The warm wooden interior of the café lets you immediately forget that you are in London – and not somewhere in Central Europe. An old lady starts talking to me and she explains that she and her husband come here every Sunday. A plate of food from home is the most important connection that many maintain with their, now almost imaginary, homeland.
Poles are the biggest Baltic Sea Region diaspora group in London, according to the latest census. However, there are also sizeable amounts of Estonians, Latvians, Lithuanians, Swedes, Finns, Danes and Germans. Not to forget the Russians, these days they no longer have volunteer kitchen for their diaspora but instead you can find lavish and expensive Russian restaurants in South Kensington. However, some enthusiastic young Ukrainians have set up a volunteer kitchen at the Ukrainian Club in Holland Park. Every Sunday it caters for the need of the Ukrainian diaspora, and some curious outsiders.
Pierogi, pelmeni, Karelian pies, herring or borscht are never far.
Scandinavians can stock up on their beloved produce from Denmark, Sweden, Finland and Norway in the Scandinavian kitchen, which is not only a food store but also café and runs cookery classes. Finnish baked goods are available in the Nordic Bakery. Annual Christmas markets at the Norwegian Seaman’s Church in Rotherhithe or at the Swedish Church in Marylebone gather big crowds craving for Norwegian waffles, Glögg and a taste of home. Although the Baltic States may not yet have restaurants serving their national cuisine, you are still able to obtain Lithuanian dairy products or Latvian cider in small stores that specialise on foods from the region.
Mamuśka, the Polish “milk bar” in South London, which has been reviewed for this blog by my friend Kris, has succeeded to make Polish food popular with those who have little knowledge of Polish culture otherwise. Thanks to its unusual location it has drawn in crowds from a nearby art school as well as members of the local Afro-Caribbean diaspora – they can now be spotted feasting on bigos, a stew made from sausages and sauerkraut, or cabbage rolls.
Food remains important. No matter how many years ago you have left outside of your home country – its food, and memories connected with it, will always have a special place for most of us. And no, I am not Polish. I was born in Northern Europe and grew up in Central Europe – so for many year Schnitzel and Topfenpalatschinken, pancakes filled with a kind of sweetened cottage cheese, were my ultimate culinary delight. Yet, as I discovered later on, Polish food is in many ways quite similar. However, I am still to learn how to make proper pierogi. My former professor, the renowned author and journalist Anne Applebaum has written a cookbook that features a whole chapter exclusively devoted to pierogi. Examples include pierogi with duck and red cabbage filling, sautéed in orange butter. Mouth-watering! And perhaps a very good excuse to finally start cooking some of my favourite dishes myself…
POSK – Polish Social and Cultural Association Ltd.
238-246 King Street, Hammersmith
London, W6 0RF
61 Great Titchfield Street
London, W1W 7PP
London Ukrainian Club Volunteer Kitchen
154 Holland Park Avenue
London, W11 4UH
Baltic Food Ltd
88-92 Lee High Road, Lewisham
London, SE13 5PT
From a Polish Country House Kitchen
More than 90 recipes for the ultimate comfort food by Anne Applebaum and Danielle Crittenden
Chronicle Books, 2012