I’ve always wanted to take part in a traditional food cooking class during my travels, but there’s always been some sort of impediment- either I convinced myself that maybe it’s not worth it, or maybe it’s not fun enough, or that the day would be better spent visiting something else. You see, it’s not only worth it, but it’s super fun and it’s a must to make time for this! Moreover, you’ll be exercising your cooking skills making something useful and creative AND you’ll be meeting new people from all over the world.
So one month before travelling to Poland I sat down and researched on TripAdvisor and Facebook everything I could about cooking classes in Warsaw. I really took the time and went through each and every review that was posted, making a note of which cooking class was deemed as the most spectacular. Because I wanted to pick the best, I also made sure to check their websites and get as much information as possible beforehand.
Found it, liked it, booked it.
The big day
How should I put this, I was extremely excited for this cooking class. I already knew the menu by heart. I also made sure not to eat too much the day before so I could really enjoy what we were going to cook. Happy to say, that was a smart decision!
The class takes place in one of the upper levels of a multistory communist-looking building. The building doesn’t look like much and it might seem a bit weird to navigate it, but just follow the arrows from the hallways and you’ll end up right at the elevator which will take you to the Polish Your Cooking location.
Once there, we were very warmly welcomed by Magda, sat down for some tea and waited for the rest of the class participants. We would later find out that a group of tourists from Brasil, Israel and Cyprus would be joining us. Seemed like they were on a food tour of Poland. One of them complained that wherever he went in Warsaw to get something to eat, he left hungry. Well, the joke was on him, because at the end of the class there was so much food he could not eat all of it. This is just so you know what kind of “hunger level” you should expect to satiate at one of Magda’s workshops.
During the class
The classroom is very well organised and equipped. We grouped two by two under Magda’s careful supervision along the big platform with the 8 working stations and started cooking in an atmosphere of cheerfulness, liveliness and glee as our chef was telling us the history of how she became the great cook that she is today.
What did we cook? Well, let me tell you!
As an appetizer, we had a herring tartar neatly tucked between apple slices. This is a traditional Christmas/New Year family dinner food in Poland. More than the final product, each of the participants’ reactions was priceless. We ended up with toppled lop-sided, bottomless apples but they were eatable and that is what matters!
Bonus: on the house, we got a cheese, cured meats, homemade bread and pickles tasting. All of them sourced locally.
Fun fact: we discovered, on this occasion – if it was even necessary – how much we Eastern Europeans are alike from a culinary point of view. We prepare meats and pickles pretty much the same way as they do – I had some sausages and pickled cucumbers and I felt just like home.
So, next, we started working on the main course: the world famous pierogi. The highlight. Pierogi are a somewhat similar to Chinese dumplings, allegedly brought to Europe through Italy by Marco Polo’s expeditions in China. In Poland, it’s possible that they arrived through the Russian connection, as Magda was telling us. Only after I got home and researched them more thoroughly I realised that we also have them in the Romanian cuisine – another shared piece of food between our nations.
Making pierogi is an easy job, especially when you are guided by someone who’s been cooking them since she was 16. My biggest “fear” – which I finally overcome – was to prepare the dough. I’ve never been a big fan of it. Feels dirty. So, for those like me – and I am happy I wasn’t the only one – there is a solution: surgical gloves! From that point onwards I was in my element, like fish in the water. So much in my element, that our pierogi were unanimously deemed as the best looking and the tastiest and our plate went around the table so everyone could have a bite. I had my Oscar moment right there.
The second part of the main course was the Polish Rump steak with a side of Polish Gnocchi. You take some minced meat, shape it like you would for a hamburger and put it in the frying pan. Then, from the mix of potatoes with eggs and flour, you shape the gnocchi somewhat smaller than a ping pong ball and you make a small indent in them using your little finger. Set them to boil and when they rise up they’re done, just add the melted butter and they’re good to go. Fan-tas-tic. Obviously, I like to believe that mine were the best looking ones, I and my small finger seem to be making a good team.
Bonus: before, during and after every side we cooked, we got to taste a shot of Polish Żubrówka or Soplica vodka. You know, so it gets the juices flowing.
Why should you take part in a cooking class?
Really, why would you? Wouldn’t it be easier to just hand that money over in a restaurant and enjoy the meal? Well, no.
Let me tell you why I picked Polish Your Cooking for this.
6You can really enjoy a vast array of traditional foods
If you go to a restaurant, you’re gonna be trying two, maybe three types of traditional foods. All crammed together in an hour before your stomach gives up and says “yep, I’m full”. But discovering a country through its food is more than that- there’s the charm of learning how to make those dishes; the joy of making that dish through every step of the preparation; going beyond your comfort zone, as I did with the dough. Sure, it may be easier to have them all laid out, ready cooked, in front of you but I think it’s a lot more fun to understand how to make them yourself.
5You can get to ask questions only a local can answer
When I first read about Pierogi, they seemed bland and unimpressive. But a local can reveal to you various techniques and variations to make a dish and make you fall in love with that dish even only through their personal perspective – what it means for them, what’s the story about how they came to cook this dish, what does the taste or the smell reminded them of. Magda’s stories, which I invite you to discover yourselves through the Polish Your Cooking classes, really piqued my curiosity, gave me courage and made me feel like I can conquer the world. And I did!
4You can meet other travelling foodies – just like you!
I’m not gonna hide the fact that I really enjoy meeting new people, new cultures. And I try to learn the story of each and every one of them. It was really enjoyable to meet the class participants, they were an amazing group. I was happy to learn that all of them had visited Romania before and had a good opinion about our country; that the Brasilian couple lives most of the time in Switzerland; that the two girls from Israel were returning tourists to Poland and they were back in order to learn more about their traditional dishes; that one of them was a journalist at a famous magazine from Tel Aviv and was specialised in culinary articles. Can you learn all of this by going to a restaurant, having a meal over the course of an hour?
3You can cook a lot of food and for sure you will satiate your hunger
Usually, you will cook more than one kind of food. I stress, go there as hungry as possible – for food, for new experiences, for curiosities, for meeting new people! You’re not going to be able to eat everything anyway, there’ll be plenty to bring back to your not-so-cool friends who chose not to participate in such a cooking class.
2You’ll make a lot of pleasant memories
Next to the recipes I brought back with me and which I intend to cook really soon, we also received a branded wooden spoon and a diploma from Polish Your Cooking attesting the fact that we are better cooks than our own grandmas because we now know how to cook Polish traditional food as well. They will always remind us of Warsaw, of Polish Your Cooking, of the beautiful and interesting people we met and with whom we exchanged so many life stories. Without mentioning that after such a class, you can have a themed evening with your friends, sharing the knowledge! Like we do, and it always works out!
I can’t overstate how much fun it can be to cook something that initially seemed rocket science under the close supervision of a professional passionate about their job. Cooking can and is so simple and easy! Regardless if you pick a cooking class because you really want it or because it’s a rainy day and you need something to do that is not outdoors – it’s worth it, worth it, worth it!
Maybe I can convince you to pick such an activity in one of your future travels. If you ever end up in Warsaw, don’t hesitate to contact them, you’ll see how fun this can be. Oh, by the way, they also organise team buildings and… uh… bachelor parties. How many interesting stories must Magda have from those parties…