Polish cuisine of the inter-war period

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During the two decades before WWI and WWII, the Polish people had some time to get busy with their own pleasure and enjoy life. Although there was never enough money, the housewives did their best to put dishes on their tables that were not only cheap but also tasty and healthy. What did the average Polish people eat during the famous inter-war period?
The term of inter-war period refers to the period between world war one and world war two. Our country struggled with plenty of problems at the time, including economic ones. It isn’t hard to guess that return to a relatively normal life after the war was an incredibly difficult task, especially that before the situation returned back to normal, the people of Poland were hit with another blow – another war. It was a huge problem to unify the former partitioned lands, which on top of that significantly differed from one another in term of economic development.
When talking about the cuisine of the inter-war period, one should remember that back then our country was stricken by famine. There were very huge social gaps in terms of economy. The situation of aristocracy was convenient – they could afford extravagance on their tables. It was completely different for the poor communities in rural areas, who were completely unable to handle the new conditions. And although people had a strong motivation after the war to enjoy their lives, they had to be satisfied with extremely low budgets. Housewives would make their best efforts to make the dishes they served not only cheap and easy to prepare, but most of all tasty and diverse. Big cities obviously had restaurants, but for people living in the poorer regions using them seemed truly exotic. In places where people couldn’t afford to sate their hunger or buy the necessary clothing, going to an inn seemed like luxury and extravagance.
What could be surprising to a modern Pole was a small amount of products used to make individual dishes. The meals were expected to be simple and nutritious. There wasn’t much emphasis put on the diversity of condiments, either – it was mostly salt and pepper. The knowledge of healthy, rational eating wasn’t very widespread either. People didn’t care about the amount of fat or animal proteins in the diet – it was supposed to be tasty and nourishing. Butter and lard were used for frying, heavy and caloric food was dominating, such as flour based dishes or mushrooms.
Among the wealthier part of our society it was also popular to have meat and fish based dishes: wild meat, fowl, herrings, eels, tenches, carps, pickerels, catfishes, salmons or pikes, as well as crayfishes. A soup made of the last ones was one of the most enjoyed as well as fancy and elegant dishes. Such controversial products as tripes or brain were also enjoyed. At the same time, the inter-war period was the time when elegant ladies started paying attention to what they ate, as it was popular among the upper class to have a slim and athletic body. Because of that, some people turned to vegetarian dishes, considered to be healthier and easier to digest. What is interesting, the inter-war cooking also had place for products that could even seem a little exotic and fancy today, like truffles, Marsal wines or capers.
Just like today, back then the restaurant were also divided into the simple, unrefined ones for a less wealthy client, as well as more elegant and exclusive ones, intended for guests with a thicker wallet. The first group could mostly be found in the country, and their level was mostly a result of a though economic situation. Sadly, it was hard to talk about maintaining any standards at such places. There were places that were filthy, with cockroaches running around and serving old food, or even carrion(!). Of course, that wasn’t the norm, but if someone couldn’t afford visiting better places, they have to accept such risk. If such deviation from the norm was found out by officials, the restaurant’s owner had to pay a hefty sum for their misdeed. But how often it was actually enforced – hard to tell.
At the best restaurants, on the other hand, one could expect outstanding service. The best chefs weren’t laborer, they were actually much closer to artists who put a lot of love and passion into their work. The position of a waiter also enjoyed a huge respect. Those were people who passed their knowledge and skills down from generation to generation.
As we can see, the Polish cuisine of the inter-war period was characterized by its vast diversity. Although Polish people were not afraid trying more exotic ingredients, they were mostly into the native cooking and the flavors they knew. That last one actually may have remained in us to this day. Even if we’re willing to experiment, we’re most likely to return to the homely, favorite „mom’s cooking” type of dishes.