I went to four Polish shops in London and this is what I bought
by Sabina Weston
I grew up in a household which mostly cooked and ate curry instead of pierogis. That is why I always regarded Polish cuisine as a speciality – holiday food, if you will. I would eat it when visiting my Polish grandma and aunts, who all live in southern Poland. When I moved to the UK last year, I never thought that I would miss Polish food. However, I have become increasingly aware that I traded a valuable part of my life for Rice Krispies and Coco Pops (not necessarily a bad thing, as neither are available in Poland).
For Melting Pot, I decided to wander into places that I have never been before – the Polish shops of London. Travelling north, south, east, and west, I rediscovered the many aspects of Polish grocery culture and picked up one snack from each of the four shops I visited.
Mleczko (23-25 Uxbridge Rd, Shepherd's Bush, London W12 8LH)
Mleczko is situated near the entrance to the Shepherd’s Bush Market tube station, which makes it easily accessible even for people who live on the exact opposite side of London (like me). Mleczko is the first Polish store I visited in London and it left me with a lasting impression. As I entered the store, I was taken aback by the considerable size of it and the variety of products. It really felt like I stepped back into Poland and I went from aisle to aisle, marvelling at the products which I had forgotten existed. Opened in 1996, Mleczko offers everything from Polish-style rolls and meats to Polish beauty products (shout out to Joanna, the classic Polish shampoo brand which my grandma uses).
What I bought: Budyń, which is basically the Polish equivalent of custard, but better. Try the most popular flavour in chocolate. Mix it with some milk over the stove and voila, you’ve just made every Polish three-year-old’s favourite dessert.
Maciuś (255 Caledonian Road, London N1 1ED)
A complete opposite of Mleczko, Macius resembles more of a corner shop than a supermarket. Its narrow aisles make you anxious that you might accidentally knock off a glass bottle of Kubuś juice (the Polish equivalent of Innocent smoothies). It is, as any Polish corner shop, equipped with a selection of tabloids, crosswords, and TV guide magazines, which is quite puzzling, since one would think that they would only be useful back in Poland.
What I bought: a packet of Winiary barszcz soup (69p) which my Polish mother calls chemia, translating, more or less, to “artificial”. She always makes the famous Polish beetroot soup from scratch, but I am way too lazy for that. I prefer to mix four spoonfuls of Winiary barszcz powder with hot water and add a hard-boiled egg. Consider it a perfect quick dinner for a Polish student on a budget.
Gąska Polski Sklep London
(8 Broadway, Stratford, London E15 4QS)
This one is quite conveniently located on my way home (if I feel like taking away five years of my life by taking the Central Line at 6pm). It’s near Stratford tube station, on the other side of the Stratford Shopping Centre (not Westfield, the other one). Gąska means “small goose” in Polish, which I automatically found quite charming, but is actually anything but. The fridges are plastered with hand-written signs (in Polish) warning people of the consequences of stealing and announcing: “Cannot buy less than four beers!” “Please do not fuss!!!” “The girls are innocent!” “It’s the licence from Newham and we cannot do anything about it :)”.
Gąska is a quintessential small-town shop. They have a massive selection of Polish juices, gherkins, cold cuts, and even freshly-baked Polish pies and cakes which look exactly like the ones made by my aunt from Tarnów, Lesser Poland. Bear in mind that not only you cannot buy less than four beers (not sure how that’s legal?), but Gąska also does not accept card transactions under £5.00.
What I bought: Prince Polo (45p), a chocolate layered wafer bar which was created in the early years of the Polish People’s Republic, in 1955. It is still regarded as an absolute classic, and its gold-metallic packaging makes it one of the most recognisable Polish sweets.
Malinka (58 Brixton Rd, Camberwell, London SW9 6BS)
Malinka, which means “little raspberry” in Polish, is a cute little deli on the south bank of the Thames. A walking distance from the Oval tube station, it is not only popular for its pierogis, but also for its fresh ciabattas and coffee. Before anyone argues that the latter are not native to Poland, I should probably make clear that Malinka describes itself as a “Continental Delicatessen”. Despite this, shoppers will find a variety of Polish groceries and ready-made meals.
What I bought: A ciabatta. Just kidding, I got Paluszki - ‘little fingers’, which are thin salted pretzel sticks. Despite the huge popularity of American-style salty snacks, such as crisps and popcorn, Paluszki remain ever-present at Polish house parties and your nephew’s 3rd birthday – and they go great with vodka!