Food, History and Culture, Europe
Polish soups are amazing. I lived in Poland for a couple of years and I had to adjust to sweet lunches from time to time and eating the main meal much earlier in the day. But these meals came first with a hearty soup and then a tasty main, which was enough to make up for my shift in schedule.
This article is about some of the best Polish soups: how they taste and what exactly to look for on the menu.
Żurek: Polish sour rye soup
Żurek, is one of Poland’s national dishes. You can find this hearty Polish soup in most restaurants. Often, it comes in a huge bowl of bread, which then becomes a meal in itself.
The soup itself is made of sour ryemeal and rye flour, with sausage and egg alongside carrots, parsnips, celery, leaks and other traditional Polish vegetables.
Like many Polish dishes the soup has a sour taste with an extra saltiness to it. If you only have a day in Poland, make sure you order this for an authentic taste of Polish cuisine.
Note: the ‘ż’ of żurek is pronounced as you would pronounce ‘sh’, except with voice. Pronounce it like you would pronounce the ‘s’ in vision and you’ll get pretty close.
Barszcz: Polish beetroot/red beet soup
Another incredibly characteristic Polish soup is the much lighter barszcz, pronounced barshch. This is often served on Christmas Eve (the day that Poles celebrate Christmas), before they feast on roasted, fried or boiled carp. It’s made from the juice of beetroot, with the pulp removed. Traditionally, uszka or tiny mushroom dumplings are added to give this extra flavour.
If you try barszcz, I recommended getting it homemade. You can make it from just-add-water packets, but the result is no way near as good as the real thing. When done well, barszcz has a rich sweetness to it, with a slight peppery aftertaste.
Krupnik: A barley based soup with smoked bone
Pronounced ‘kroop-nik’, this is my favourite Polish soup, particularly when it’s cooked with smoked bone of pork. The meat isn’t always in there, but the vegetables and barley are.
Krupnik doesn’t have the sourness of żurek, but instead a soft barley flavour, with smokiness if you add the meat. It’s one of my favourite dishes in Poland, but also unfortunately one of the harder ones to find.
Zupa Grzybowa: Polish mushroom soup
Ola doesn’t really like mushrooms, but her mother loves them. Often when we go to visit her mother, she’ll have picked a bunch of wild chanterelle mushrooms which she adds to this creamy Polish soup.
Zupa grzybowa brings out the earthy taste of the forest, with a little beef or vegetable stock added in. It can also be cooked with white mushrooms from the supermarket, which is still good, but not that good.
Recommended, but only if you like mushrooms.
You pronounce this one: ‘zoopa g-zh-bo-va’. It’s difficult one, I know. The Polish ‘w’ is pronounced like the English ‘v’. As with żurek the ‘zh’ is pronounced the same as the ‘s’ in vision.
Chłodnik: Polish-Lithuanian cold beetroot/red beet soup with buttermilk
Chłodnik is Poland’s answer to Gazpacho. This cold version of barszcz mixes young beetroot/red beet juice and buttermilk into a creamy, richly textured soup. Sour cucumbers and young beetroot leaves are also added, and often dill.
The soup has a slightly sweet and cooling flavour. It’s a great dish for when sitting outside in a restaurant on a scorching summer’s day.
Chłodnik is pronounced ‘hw-od-nik’.
Zupa Ogorkowa: Polish sour cucumber soup
Zupa Ogorkowa is another traditional Polish soup. It’s a rather simple dish, made from sour cucumbers, and boiled potatoes cooked in meat stock.
The sourness tends to be diluted a little and so it’s not as strong as, say, in żurek. This gives it a much lighter taste than those mentioned so far and it works as a great compliment to some of the heavier Polish main courses.
You pronounce this one: zoo-pa o-gor-ko-va. Pretty straightforward.
Zupa Szczawiowa: Polish sorrel soup
I’ve had this once or twice and I have to say I was most impressed. Sorrel is a leafy vegetable that grows wild in Poland. It looks like spinach but tastes more like slightly sour apples. Generally, this soup is cooked with meat stock and after that can stand on its own. Potatoes and meat (sometimes smoked) might also be added.
The soup has a wonderful creamy texture and a unique flavour. You can sometimes find it in coffee shops as well as restaurants and it often comes with a hardboiled egg. When served without meat, it also makes a great vegetarian option.
To say zupa szczawiowa, you have to deal with the Polish ‘szcz’, which many non-natives find difficult. The whole thing is pronounced something like ‘zoopa sh-ch-a-vee-o-va’.
Zupa Rybna: Polish fish soup
This is a great option when you visit the northern of coast of Poland, particularly in winter. Everywhere, you’ll find restaurants serving this lightly textured soup with different types fish from the Baltic. You have to be careful of bones, of course and might sometimes have to fish them out from the diced carrots, potatoes and parsnips.
Traditionally, this is usually cooked with the whole fish, including the head. No one has ever served me a bowl with a head in it, however. It tastes like, guess what? Fish.
It’s easy to pronounce as well. Simply say: ‘zoopa ribna’.
Czarna Polewka: Duck blood soup
Not for the squeamish, this soup is made from congealed duck (or sometimes chicken or rabbit) blood. To some, this might sound disgusting but, to many Polish folks, it’s a national favourite.
If you can get over what you’re eating, it actually tastes rather good. With vinegar and sugar added, it gains a sweet-sour taste. It can be served with noodles, boiled potatoes or dumplings and quite often a selection of dried fruits.
It’s pronounced ‘char-na po-lev-ka’, rather easy.
Zupa Owocowa: Fruit Soup
This is an odd one, as back home we’d probably classify this more as a dessert. But this Polish soup is still eaten before the meal. Like chłodnik, zupa owocowa is usually served cold. It usually consists of a combination of berries, cherries and pasta with cream, milk or buttermilk.
It tastes good, with a deliciously sweet flavour. But for me I’ve always found it a little strange to eat something sweet just before a meal.
Again, it’s another easy one to pronounce, simply: ‘zoopa o-vo-tso-va’.
Thanks for reading my article about amazing Polish soups at Being a Nomad. Which of these soups would you like to try or, if you’ve tried them, which is your favourite?
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11 thoughts on “10 Tantalizing Polish Soups”
Some of these look so nice! I particularly love the idea of soup in a bowl made of bread- genius!
It really is fantastic stuff that zurek. Something I’m always on the lookout for in a restaurant. Thanks for reading ?
With an exception of czarna polewka I tasted them all. And loved them all. In fact, I dare say, the best-tasting soups in the world must be the Polish ones. Thank you for a lovely nostalgia trip. Happy travels. Eva
These all look like such hearty meals! I love the bright pink in the beetroot one. Would be cool to try some of these.
I love anything with beets and the two beet soups here look delicious. Don’t think I would be up for the duck blood soup. I tried making a cold fruit soup once and mine didn’t turn out very well, so I would like to try it with someone else making it.
I love a blog post that is totally dedicated to Soup! These all look delicious, except well, i’d be one of those squeamish people about the duck blood soup. I’d love to try the mushroom soup.
Forget about Polynesia: This is really exotic stuff – coming from the heart of Europe! Some of the soups made me just drool, some rather shiver; but I would try them all!
Food+Travel=Happiness. I love trying foods from different countries and noticing what is similar and what is different. I didn’t know that Polish soups are typically sour. The Krupnik looks especially good and hearty; and the mushroom soup (especially with the wild chanterelles) would be impossible to resist. Thanks for sharing the food from this part of the world.
So many interesting and delicious soups. I like the look of the beetroot and blueberry fruit soups. The blueberry soup seems really unusual.
I love the food in Poland and especially the soups, they are so hearty, filling and warm in the winter!
I remember having really good tomato soup in Poland (Tomatka?) Really good. That mushroom one sounds amazing, too!