My favourite thing about living in Toronto is the multiculturalism. By welcoming individuals from a wide-variety of backgrounds, our city becomes a more vibrant, interesting and delicious place to live. In my Global Food in Toronto Series I’m travelling the globe by eating one local meal from every country in the world without leaving Toronto. This time I’m tasting Polish food in Toronto.
Polish Food in Toronto
Restaurant: Cafe Polonez
Companion: My friend, Incia.
Menu: Pirogies. Golabki. Pulpety. Polish Vegetable Bouquet.
The lively neighbourhood of Roncesvalles Village was once the heart of the Polish community in Toronto. Today, many of the Polish bakeries, delis and restaurants have closed their doors and have been replaced by everything from BBQ joints to sushi to vegan. Almost gone is the post-war immigrant population who once thrived in this community. Instead you will see young, hip couples biking to their favourite trendy bar, cupcake cafe or even knitting studio. But if you happen to find yourself outside of Cafe Polonez on a warm spring evening you may still hear a few words of Polish floating on the breeze.
A few months back, when I first mentioned my desire to sample cuisine from around the world, my friend Incia immediately suggested we try Polish food. I have to admit until that moment Poland hadn’t really crossed my mind as a culinary destination. I wasn’t even sure if there was a Little Poland in Toronto. So after glancing through the menu, we decided to kick off our introduction to Polish food with the obvious: pirogies! As is often the case with food, as in travel and life, the most anticipated items can be the most disappointing. The boiled, cottage cheese pierogies that we received were not the most appealing nor the most flavourful, but our entrees made up for the slow start.
We decided to order two mains, pulpety and golabki, to share. The pulpety, a dish of minced chicken balls in dill sauce, was exceptional. The dill sauce was bursting with fresh flavour and was a highlight of the meal. The golabki, better know as cabbage rolls, came in two varieties – the traditional version stuffed with pork and topped with tomato sauce and an innovative version stuffed with mushrooms and dressed with a cream sauce. Since Incia does not eat pork, we opted for the vegetarian version but as luck would have it they accidentally brought us the meat version so I got to try both! We both declared that even though it was a non-traditional recipe, we loved the mushroom version.
My favourite part of the meal was the accompanying vegetables. The Polish bouquet salad turned out to be chopped cabbage and carrots served in a tangy vinegar-mustard dressing. The potatoes, while deceptively plain, were cooked to perfection and topped with fresh dill for a wonderful vibrant result. The shredded, pickled beets sweet and zesty and earthy. Never have I wished that I’d skipped an appetizer just so I could have had more room for the veggies!
My experience tasting Polish food convinced me that simple flavours, when made with care and fresh ingredients, can be simply delicious. I noted that many of the staples – beets, carrots, cabbage, pork, chicken, dill – could be grown in Canada and easily stored throughout the winter. I can imagine that the Polish immigrants who arrived to a bewildering new country would have found some comfort in these recognizable ingredients. Food provides a strong connection to our culture and eating familiar foods can quickly make us feel more at home in a foreign place.
After our meal, Incia and I took a stroll over to High Park where the cherry trees were in bloom. The park was filled with a huge diversity of Torontonians. This diversity served to highlight that while the traditional immigrant neighbourhoods are slowly fading away, our city is still a welcoming place for people arriving from all over the globe. And that makes it a pretty wonderful place to live.
Have you ever had a Polish meal? What was your favourite dish?
Now It’s Your Turn! This weekend when you’re deciding what to eat for dinner, consider trying a type of cuisine you’ve never had. You could visit a restaurant, make a recipe or (if you are really lucky) have someone cook you a meal. If you aren’t ready to attempt a whole meal, just try one dish. Polish food is a wonderfully hearty, wholesome place to start. Subscribe here to receive more stories in the Taste the World in Toronto series.