Let me introduce you to a little something called bigos. It’s apparently the Polish national dish … and it’s completely delicious.
At it’s core, bigos is a stew of sauerkraut and meat. From there, it’s improvised. Well, maybe improvised is the wrong word – what I mean is that everyone does it a little differently. The first place I tried it, it was made with sauerkraut, wine, some kinda meat I couldn’t identify, mushrooms and various seasonings, including allspice berries. (Actually, I didn’t realize what those were at first – I’ve only ever seen ground allspice I guess.) It was garnished with a slice of tomato and served with a side of bread, which is typical. It was warm, tangy, salty and brine-y. I think I could have eaten a few bowls of it. So much of Polish cuisine is like comfort food and this could easily become my new comfort food craving.
The second and third times I had it, it was made with sausage and pork as well and I don’t think there was wine in either of these. The two dishes were from different restaurants but were pretty similar. I think I preferred the very first bowl I had, the one with wine in it. The third bowl I had though was also very tasty and more tomato-based than the previous dishes.
Bigos is also called hunter’s stew, because it’s a hearty dish perfect for a winter’s day — and to fill hungry hunters’ bellies. It’s typically served as part of Christmas dinner too. It’s very filling — and like many of the dishes I tried in Poland, an incredibly good bargain. A decent size bowl of bigos with a basket of bread (which, for obvious reasons, I did not eat,) was around $3 -4. That would fill me up for hours, providing me with plenty of energy for strolling down cobblestone streets, checking out castles and visiting communist prototype towns. (No, really! Think the Stalinist version of Levittown, only weirder and more industrial seeming.)
This is a dish I will probably try to make at home soon. As it is, I can’t get enough sauerkraut. Sometimes I even eat it straight out of the jar. I’ve always used it as more of a condiment or side dish though and have never even thought about cooking with it. Oh the possibilities!