It looked like perfectly harmless soup. I could see a bit of carrot and potato, and a sip of the broth revealed a nice, rich flavor. Then I saw it: A bit of bumpy white mystery that was vaguely meat-like. I moved it around a little with my spoon and thought to myself, “Oh, please don’t let this be flaki.” I took a bite. It was rubbery and had a very pungent flavor. I swallowed and it was at that point that my host brother asked, “You know what that is?” Before I could say, “Wait–don’t tell me. I don’t want to know,” he informed me, “Flaki!” He smaked his lips and rubbed his belly. “Ummmm,” he said with a sly smile. “Go ahead,” he prodded, “It’s great!” I tried to eat more, but I simply couldn’t. After all, how much intestine soup could you handle? Yep, flaki is basically soup made from cow guts. While the broth can be tasty, the meat itself isn’t, and the while it cooks it positively stinks.
This was only one of my culinary adventures during the 1996 Christmas holidays. I returned to Radom to spend Christmas with my host family and I was introduced to the wonders of the Christmas feast. On Christmas Eve there is a huge meal with anywhere from nine to fifteen dishes, none of which have meat (unless you count fish, which the Poles don’t). There were a couple of geletin dishes with bits of veggies and fish suspended in a suspect looking gel and sledz (herring).
The highlight of the dinner is the carp. Traditionally it is kept alive in the bathtub until the day of Christmas Eve when the grandfather bludgeons the poor thing to death and then it becomes the central entree of the Christmas Eve banquet. I’d never eaten carp, and if you haven’t, I wouldn’t advise it. Fishermen throw it back for a reason! It is basically a bone with some skin and a little meat trapped in between. Breaded and fried, the carp I had was rather difficult to finish. When I finished the pile of bones was somehow bigger than the actual piece of fish was.
Christmas day is a day of meat. While none of the Christmas Eve dishes had meat, almost every single Christmas day dish had meat. This was when the flaki made its appearance. I was somewhat surprised to find that the desert had no meat in it. I thought, “Why not a mincemeat pie? Perhaps some chicken ice cream? Or even a pork cake?” but I kept it to myself.
As a general rule, though, Polish fare is quite good. It’s a bit on the starchy side, but tasty. Potatoes are served with almost every meal to which I’ve been privy, cabbage appears on the table frequently, and pork is the meat of choice. Beets are rather common (in soup–barszcz–and as a side dish), and every meal is washed down with warm kompot which is an incredibly sweet drink made from various fruit (apple and pear seem to be the most common in Lipnica). Occasionally chicken will show up (though most often in soup) and I’ve even had rabbit on once. While I ate, Elmer Fudd kept singing, “Kill da wabbit, kill da wabbit . . .” and I felt a little guilty, but I have to admit that wabbit is wader wonderful. No wonder Elmer’s so intent on bagging Bugs.