TippingFor the most part, Polish restaurants and bars do not include gratuity in the total of the check, so your server will be pleased if you leave them a tip along with the payment. On average, you should tip 10% of the total bill. If you tip 15% or 20%, you probably should have received excellent service. Also, saying "Dziękuję" "thank you" after paying means you do not expect any change back, so watch out if you're paying for a PLN10 coffee with a PLN100 bill. With all that said, many Poles may not leave a tip, unless service was exceptional. Poles don't usually tip bar staff.
Poles take their meals following the standard continental schedule: a light breakfast in the morning usually some sandwiches with tea/coffee, then dinner at around 4PM or 5PM, then supper at around 7PM or 8 PM.
It is not difficult to avoid meat, with many restaurants offering at least one vegetarian dish. Most major cities have some exclusively vegetarian restaurants, especially near the city centre. Vegan options remain extremely limited, however.
traditionally styled restaurants
All around Poland, but especially in the Lesser Poland and Silesia regions, you can find restaurant, styled in a traditional way. They are usually called chata, gospoda or oberża, which can be translated to a tavern or an inn. Usually they are made of wood and have plenty of colorful ornaments hanging on the walls. Inside you can feel as if you were in a 19th century family house. Restaurant's menu includes traditional dishes and beverages, and the food is often served in decorated tableware.
If you want to eat cheaply, you should visit a milk bar bar mleczny. A milk bar is very basic sort of fast food restaurant that serves cheap Polish fare. Nowadays it has become harder and harder to find one. It was invented by the communist authorities of Poland in mid-1960s as a means to offer cheap meals to people working in companies that had no official canteen. Its name originates from the fact that until late 1980s the meals served there were mostly dairy-made and vegetarian especially during the martial law period of the beginning of the 1980s, when meat was rationed. The milk bars are usually subsidized by the state. Eating there is a unique experience - it is not uncommon that you will encounter people from various social classes - students, businessmen, university professors, elderly people, sometimes even homeless, all eating side-by-side in a 1970s-like environment. Presumably, it is the quality of food at absolutely unbeatable price veggie main courses starting from just a few złotych! that attracts people. However, a cautionary warning needs to be issued - complete nut jobs do dine at milk bars too, so even if you're going to for the food, you'll end up with dinner and a show. Curious as to what the show will entail? Well, each show varies, but most of them will leave you scratching head and require the suspension of reality.
traditional local food
Traditional Polish cuisine tends to be hearty, rich in meats, sauces, and vegetables; sides of pickled vegetables are a favorite accompaniment. Modern Polish cuisine, however, tends towards greater variety, and focuses on healthy choices. In general, the quality of "store-bought" food is very high, especially in dairy products, baked goods, vegetables and meat products.
A dinner commonly includes the first course of soup, followed by the main course. Among soups, barszcz czerwony red beet soup, a.k.a. borscht is perhaps the most recognizable: a spicy and slightly sour soup, served hot. It's commonly poured over dumplings barszcz z uszkami or barszcz z pierogami, or served with a fried pate roll barszcz z pasztecikiem. Other uncommon soups include zupa ogórkowa, a cucumber soup made of a mix of fresh and pickled cucumbers; zupa grzybowa, typically made with wild mushrooms; also, flaki or flaczki - well-seasoned tripe.
Pierogi are, of course, an immediately recognizable Polish dish. They are often served along side another dish for example, with barszcz, rather than as the main course. There are several types of them, stuffed with a mix of cottage cheese and onion, or with meat or even wild forest fruits. Gołąbki are also widely known: they are large cabbage rolls stuffed with a mix of grains and meats, steamed or boiled and served hot with a white sauce or tomato sauce.
Bigos is another unique, if less well-known, Polish dish: a "hunter's stew" that includes various meats and vegetables, on a base of pickled cabbage. Bigos tends to be very thick and hearty. Similar ingredients can also be thinned out and served in the form of a cabbage soup, called kapuśniak. Some Austro-Hungarian imports have also become popular over the years, and adopted by the Polish cuisine. These include gulasz, a local version of goulash that's less spicy than the original, and sznycel po wiedeńsku, which is a traditional shnitzel, often served with potatoes and a selection of vegetables.
When it comes to food-on-the-go, foreign imports tend to dominate such as kebab or pizza stands, and fast-food franchises. An interesting Polish twist is a zapiekanka, which is an open-faced baguette, covered with mushrooms and cheese or other toppings of choice, and toasted until the cheese melts. Zapiekanki can be found at numerous roadside stands and bars.
Poland is also known for two unique cheeses, both made by hand in the [Podhale] mountain region in the south. Oscypek is the more famous: a hard, salty cheese, made of unpasteurized sheep milk, and smoked. It goes very well with alcoholic beverages such as beer. The less common is bryndza, a soft cheese, also made with sheep milk and therefore salty, with a consistency similar to spreadable cheeses. It's usually served on bread, or baked potatoes. Both cheeses are covered by the EU Protected Designation of Origin like the French Roquefort, or the Italian Parmegiano-Reggiano.