Party food

Party food

By
Zuza Zak
Contains
15 recipes
Published by
Quadrille Publishing
ISBN
9781849497268
Photographer
Laura Edwards

Zakąski (‘za-kon-ski’) is the Polish word for party food – or snacks to be eaten while drinking vodka. Except that snacks is a deceptive word, considering the time and care we use to prepare these hors d’oeuvres. In Tsarist Russia, they were called zakuski and would be eaten standing up in a less formal setting, such as a library. The words zakąska suggests a little morsel of food, a small bite of something, however, it is usually more substantial than that. In Poland, it is unheard of to be a guest in someone’s home and to leave feeling hungry. You should always have a few dishes prepared that you can rustle up in case unexpected guests appear, because when they do, it’s celebration time!

That’s why I call these dishes party food, because this is the spirit that they are always eaten in. Zakąski are essentially the Eastern European equivalent of tapas in Spain or meze in the Middle East, although they were invented for drinking solely with vodka – i.e. recipes which can stand up to a few shots of the strong stuff.

“… You don’t pour it, our mother vodka, into any old glass… and don’t drink it straight off, but first sniff it, rub your hands, look up at the ceiling nonchalantly, then, without hurrying, raise that little glass to your lips and straight away sparks travel from your stomach through your whole body… and the very minute you’ve drunk it you must take a bite”.

{The Siren, Anton Chekhov}

My father believes that proper, authentic zakąska must contain some kind of fat to neutralise the vodka. However, things have changed a little since his day and vodka is no longer obligatory. It all depends on the time of day and the circumstances; beer, wine or cocktails all go well with zakąski, although if it is a big celebration then shots are inevitable. The concept is that food and drink always go hand in hand. It should be a Polish proverb that if you do a shot of vodka you always have to have something to swallow it down with.

The zakąski dishes vary depending on region, the time of year and the time of day. In some parts of Poland there will always be pâté and pickles, while in other areas you will get many varieties of fish. In most parts of Russia and many Slavic States (which at various times in history belonged to either Poland or Russia) you would always have caviar and blinis, even if it is just vegetable caviar. Zakąski will always combine the ingredients that the seasons bring and the earth and waters provide to each region of Poland.

“Although it is a country quite wooded, [it] abounds in… bread and meat, fish and honey… and although it is surrounded by so many Christian and pagan peoples and repeatedly assaulted… [it is] a country where the air is healthy, the earth fertile, the woods flowing with honey and the waters full of fish.”

{Gallus Anonymus, 12th Century}

The main point of zakąski is that it is food designed for sharing. I grew up surrounded by a large extended family, and even though you couldn’t find much food in shops during those grey, Communist days, a huge amount of time and care was spent on preparing, cooking and eating food. Families and neighbours were close, because they needed one another to survive. Everyone would bring something new to the table and together we would prepare incredible feasts from moderate means (all home-grown and reared). Despite the difficult political climate of those times – or perhaps as a result of it – there was always an excuse for a party.

“The main principle of the Polish way of life is hospitality: a Pole does not like eating alone… when someone slaughters a pig, catches some fish or has some early vegetables, he soon invites company… his hospitality is reciprocated with equal politeness”.

{Łukasz Gołembiowski, 18th Century}

As you eat zakąski, I invite you to find something to celebrate and to be grateful for. If you are doing shots, then this is actually obligatory, as with each shot you must make a short toast. If you chose this traditional approach to zakąski – washed down with plenty of vodka, then serve the vodka ice-cold. Remember to make a toast, drink it on the in-breath and follow up with a bite of food immediately after your sip or shot. Breathe out as the food enters your mouth. The toast can be anything from the simple na zdrowie (to health), to a more elaborate exclamation of gratitude.

Featured Recipes in this Chapter

    No results found
    No more results
      No results found
      No more results
        No results found
        No more results
          No results found
          No more results
            No results found
            No more results
              No results found
              No more results
              Please start typing to begin your search
              We're sorry but we had trouble running your search. Please try again