If you find yourself in Poland over the next few days, you may see a common sight across major towns and cities: queues. Although queuing itself has gone down in Polish folklore as a love/hate pastime, there’s a very good reason for it at this time of year, and it’s all connected to Fat Thursday (Tłusty Czwartek) and the craze for the Polish doughnuts that accompany it, Pączki. Here’s a short intro to the Polish tradition and a recommendation on where to get the best Pączki in Warsaw.
‘Fat Thursday’ is very much what Americans and Brits know as ‘Shrove Tuesday’ and/or ‘Pancake Day’, just, well, on a different day, but the concept remains the same – it’s the last opportunity to eat as many treats as possible before Ash Wednesday, marking the beginning of the fasting season of Lent.
To mark the day, Poles will queue outside bakeries (cukiernie) despite the long wait, all with the aim of getting their hands on some of Poland’s many sweet snacks (more savvy buyers place orders days in advance), the most famous being pączki (doughnuts). For those of you that know the difference between a Polish pączek, and a mass-produced yucky doughnut, you may have salivated a little. For those that haven’t had the delight of trying one yet, here’s some history behind the treat.
These traditional round deep-fried doughnuts have been known in PL since the Middle Ages, earning the status of the nation’s number one pastry. Older variations were harder, but by the 18th century, pączki had evolved, and were described by historian Jędrzej Kitowicz (author of Description of Customs during the Reign of August III) as being ‘fluffier and lighter’. Pączki are typically filled with confiture (rose jam or other marmalades), custard, or even chocolate, all glazed with sugar and sometimes topped with a few pieces of candied orange peel. Similar to American jelly doughnuts, the main difference is American doughnuts’ penchant for squirting the eater with disgusting jelly and Poland’s conservative tendencies ensuring there is only a drop of marmalade in the centre somewhere, which an elaborate game could be made around trying to find.
Now armed with your new knowledge of Polish doughnuts, where to go try some? You will find plenty of bakeries selling them, and on the day, just look out for the queues, however, here we have two of our personal recommendations on where to go find the best!
Pracownia Cukiernicza “Zagoździński”
ul. Górczewska 15 (Wola district)
This is one of Warsaw’s most famous family run bakeries, especially when it comes to the delights of pączki. Opened by Władysław Zagoździński in 1925 on ul. Wolska 53, (later on Wolska 66), it remained on this street until 1973, when they moved to the current address where the 4th generation of the family continue doing what they do best. It’s not uncommon to find a long queue here anytime of the year, but on Fat Thursday you can expect it to be even longer. And quite right! If you can muster up the patience to wait (be warned – sometimes hours), you won’t be disappointed!
ul. Chmielna 13 (city centre near Metro Centrum and ul. Nowy Świat)
For those that cannot, or do no wish to make the sweet journey to Wola, you can find another popular place to buy some treats. Cukiernia Pawłowicz is handily located in the city centre, very close to most tourist attractions. Here you will see locals and tourists alike, queuing to stuff their faces with pączki.
Regardless of whether you like to eat sweet treats, or avoid them altogether, we remind you that it can be deemed rude to decline a pączek from a well-meaning person (even if they’re strangers). How true this is, is debatable – I, personally, cannot resist and have never tested the doughnut rage factor!
Happy eating, everyone!