The Holiday Season
In recent years our Christmas have been exotic and colorful, different cities, different cultures. Once we celebrated it in Kota Kinabalu in Borneo, having dinner at a hawker stall by the sea, with fish roasted in banana leafs, fried squid, sautéed shrimp, followed by cold beers in a bar run by a Dutch woman. The year after, we decided to stay in Beijing, when only a few days before our family of two became a family of three. We decorated a fresh, fragrant and leafy tree with transparent and silver glass bulbs and bright white lights. We ordered sushi, sashimi and rolls from one of the best Japanese restaurants in the city, but the squished rice and bits of fish didn’t look appetizing at all, especially given my post-partum hormonal imbalance. The following Christmas Eve found us in Taipei, looking for a pharmacy when our daughter's first tooth decided to see the light of day that very same night causing her great pain, fever and irritation. We ordered some seafood and fish dishes at a local restaurant but food was the last thing on our minds. Last year we celebrated in the city of Quanzhou, Fujian, over a fulminantly spicy fish hot pot with tofu, vegetables and soybeans sprouts, and a couple of very cold beers. This year, we decided to go traditional and spend a family Christmas in Poland.
Christmas Eve in Poland is a day of fasting. The soirée begins with a symbolic gesture of sharing hosts previously blessed in the Church (opłatek) and offering good wishes to each other. Then, dinner is served. All dishes – according to tradition, there should be twelve - are meatless.
We started with a steaming porcini mushroom soup (zupa borowikowa), followed by trays with fermented cabbage and mushroom dumplings (pierogi z kapustą kiszoną i grzybami), fried carps, zanders with chanterelle sauce (sandacz z kurkami), herring in jelly (śledź w galarecie), herring in mustard sauce (śledź w sosie musztardowym), pickled herring with onions (śledź w zalewie), “greek” style cod (dorsz po grecku) and smoked salmon. For dessert gingerbread (piernik), apple pie (szarlotka), cottage cheese cake (sernik), poppy seed roll (makowiec) and meringue cake (tort bezowy). We ate, we sang carols and awaited impatiently the guest of honor. Santa seemed a little tired and thin this year (nothing a good Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand couldn’t cure), but full of charisma and desire to reward those little ones who have been good and obedient - at least during that one day.
The days that followed we moved down south to Zakopane - “The Winter Capital of Poland”, as some like to call it, where we switched to slightly heartier meals ubiquitous at the local “szałas”: roasted pig knuckle (golonka) with sour cabbage, potato and fresh cheese dumplings (ruskie pierogi), veal chops with porcini (borowiki), blood sausage (kaszanka), chicken livers with onion and apples, steak tartare (befsztyk tatarski), potato pancakes with goulash (placek po zbójnicku), the typical sheep cheese (oscypek) with lingonberry (borówka) jam, only to name a few. Good mountain food needs to be topped with several pints of Polish beer or, even better, local schnaps. As the New Year slowly made its entrance, the excesses of the previous year were left behind and mountain trouts (pstrąg) and sturgeons (jesiotr) seemed like the reasonable option. I myself prefer zander, and to my big surprise one of the Italian Pizzerias in town, besides offering very decent pizza, also presented me with a mouth-watering roasted zander with breadcrumbs, black lentils and a topinambur puree also known as Jerusalem artichoke or sunchoke –the taste of which I finally discovered. Who would have thought it would be in Zakopane.