Something that doesn't get enough credit internationally is Polish cuisine.
True, it's not particularly spicy, and cabbage is never far away from your plate. However, Poland's native food is diverse, flavoursome and filling, and very affordable for the average traveller. Here are a few dishes I particularly enjoyed on my recent visit.
1. Cafeteria comfort food. During the communist era, the low-budget culinary needs of the worker were filled by the bar mleczny, or milk bar. Some of these inexpensive cafeterias have survived into the 21st century, and are a great place to discover classic dishes at a low price.
I had lunch one day at Prasowy, a surviving milk bar in Warsaw. Having narrowly escaped closure a few years ago, Prasowy has now become a retro favourite with a new generation:
I ordered the vegetarian set lunch. The combination of tomato soup, vege lasagne, salad and house-made juice only cost a few dollars, and it was great:
You can find Prasowy at ul Marszałkowska 10/16, Warsaw.
2. Pancakes to order. Up the other end of the poshness index is Restaurant Gdańska in the port city of Gdańsk.
The highlight of the meal was my order of pancakes (naleśniki) for dessert. A simple dish, I thought, so was somewhat surprised when my waiter wheeled forth a trolley with all the fixings and prepared it in front of me:
The following evening I dined nearby, at Pod Łososiem (Under the Salmon). I'd always wanted to eat here, as it's the place which invented goldwasser, a liqueur flecked with gold, back in 1598. That's what I finished the meal with:
Restaurant Gdańska is found at ul Świętego Ducha 16, Gdańsk, see www.gdanska.pl. Pod Łososiem is situated at ul Szeroka 52/54, Gdańsk; see www.podlososiem.com.pl.
3. Gothic degustation. When I visited Malbork Castle, the world's largest brick castle, I expected to eat something simple in the onsite tavern.
However, lunch was at the Gothic Cafe & Restaurant, the base of chef Bogdan Gałązka. As a chef with international experience, he's adapted local ingredients and Polish standards to produce an eclectic array of excellent dishes. I don't know quite what you'd call it - Modern Polish? - but the results are outstanding.
Again, dessert was the show stopper - here's the chef presenting it:
Within the birdcage was a glass containing white chocolate, sesame seeds, halva, blackcurrant sauce, and fruit. It was superb, all the flavours fresh and working together harmoniously. I don't have much of a sweet tooth, but I loved this.
The Gothic Cafe & Restaurant is within Malbork Castle, ul Starościńska 1, Malbork; www.gothic.com.pl.
4. Tatar tastes. Later in the week I visited Kruszyniany, a tiny eastern village near the border with Belarus. It's notable for its fine old 18th century mosque, a legacy of the Muslim Tatars who were given land here by the Polish king in 1679:
The mosque still serves a community which celebrates its Tatar roots. There's also Tatar food on offer, at the nearby Tatarska Jurta restaurant.
I had lunch there, starting with this chłodnik, a Lithuanian cold beetroot soup blended with sour cream (hence the pink); and a juice made in-house from local fruits:
The Tartar portion of the meal was this plate of kartoflaniki, dumplings filled with potato, egg, onion and parsley. You drill a little hole into each one, then pour some of the accompanying butter sauce in. Delicious and filling.
Tatarska Jurta is located at Kruszyniany 58, Krynki; see www.kruszyniany.pl.
5. Breakfast plenty. Finally, I should include at least one example of a Polish hotel's breakfast spread. Hotels in Poland - especially the three-star variety - tend to include breakfast with the room rate, and it's generally very good value for money.
You'll find an array of meats, egg dishes, cheeses and breads, along with a few wildcard choices including herring and pasta. There'll also be cereals and sweet items such as cheesecake. It's diverse and delicious.
To give you an idea of what it looks like, here's part of the breakfast buffet at the Hotel Amax in Masuria, shot from either side:
The Hotel Amax is at Al Spacerowa 7, Mikołajki; see www.hotel-amax.pl.
If you head to Poland, try sampling its cuisine at all price levels - it's tasty stuff. Bon appetit; or as the Poles say, smacznego.