Sophie Mackenzie, guardian.co.uk, Modified: April 19, 2013 14:32 IST
With more Polish people now living in England, the choice of delis and restaurants on these shores is expanding. So, fill your basket with pierogi and blinis, and, for a real treat, bake this delicious poppyseed cheesecake at home.
The recent news that Polish is now England's second language may have been greeted with hand-wringing in the rightwing press (what would they prefer? Classical Greek? Norman French?). But I think we should celebrate the news, because, quite apart from any socio-economic arguments, more Polish people means more Polish food. More pierogi. More chocolate-covered prunes. More pepper vodka. Happy, happy days.
Londoners are spoiled for choice when it comes to Polish restaurants and delis. From Shepherd's Bush to Streatham, dozens have sprung up in the past few years. The upscale cocktail bar and restaurant Baltic has a huge range of flavoured vodkas, good cocktails and a few posher and pricier main courses on the menu alongside the obligatory pierogi and blinis. One of the few reasons to visit the Elephant & Castle shopping centre is Mamuska, a canteen-style restaurant that does giant-sized portions at bargain prices, while west London's large Polish community has given the area Malina, Patio, Tatra and more. In north London, Autograf is regarded as one of the best places to get your fix of Polish cuisine.
But, of course, you don't have to live in the capital to eat Polish-style. Much of the fuss at the time the census figures were revealed centred on Boston in Lincolnshire, where about one person in 20 names Polish as their first language. Consequently, lucky locals are spoiled for choice, with most of the town's Polish delis and restaurants concentrated on West Street. Elsewhere in the country, Leek in Staffordshire has Little Poland, York has The Barbakan; Stafford has Pokusevski's; Cardiff has My Place. Birmingham, meanwhile, is blessed with Karczma, recently reviewed in glowing terms by Jay Rayner.
So, once you've stumbled upon a good local Polish restaurant or deli, what to choose? Polish food has a reputation for being stodgy and cabbage-laden, but for my money, that kind of duvet-on-a-plate approach is just what is required when it seems like weeks since we last saw sunlight. Expect hearty helpings of stodge, heavy on the pig, potatoes and pepper, but light on nouvelle flourishes - and all the better for it. If you're buying Polish food to take home, look out for salmon and dill paté, a huge variety of cured herrings, pierogi with sweet and savoury fillings, and pickled and bottled vegetables. And try the Jaffa cake-like biscuits made by Delicje, which come with prune, cherry and strawberry filling as well as the more familiar orange. You can also taste your way through a variety of flavoured vodkas, from pepper to plum - bisongrass vodka makes a great Earl Grey Fizz cocktail, in which quintessentially Polish and English ingredients meet.
My favourite Polish restaurant in London, Café Wanda, is sadly no more. But so fond are my memories of going there with my partner after long runs, replenishing our glycogen stores with groaning pierogi platters, smoked salmon blinis and homemade poppyseed cheesecake that I decided to attempt to recreate the latter in my own kitchen. Poppyseed filling is available at most Polish delis, either plain or flavoured with orange zest and raisins - I used the flavoured kind. The digestive-biscuit base is a shamelessly inauthentic addition - if you prefer, you can simply leave it out.
Poppyseed cheesecakeFor the base:
150g digestive biscuits, processed to crumbs
For the poppyseed layer:
1 egg, separated
20g caster sugar
500g poppyseed fillingFor the cheese layer:
500g ricotta cheese
125g caster sugar
3tbsp vodka (plain or flavoured - vanilla or citrus would work well)
Line a 20cm springform cake tin with non-stick baking parchment.
Preheat the oven to 170C/gas mark 3.
Melt the butter, add the biscuit crumbs and press the mixture into the base of the tin. Refrigerate to set while you make the filling.
To make the poppyseed layer, separate the egg, beat the white until stiff and beat the yolk and sugar together until thick and pale in colour. Add the poppyseed filling to the egg yolk and mix well before folding in the white. Spread the mixture evenly over the biscuit base.
To make the cheese layer, beat the cheese until smooth, then add the remaining ingredients and beat until everything is combined. Pour over the poppyseed layer.
Bake the cake at 170C/gas mark 3 for about an hour, until the centre is set. You may need to cover it with foil for the second half of the cooking time to prevent the top becoming too brown. Allow to cool, then refrigerate until 20 minutes before serving.So which products do you recommend picking up in Polish delis - and do you have any recipes to share using your Polish shopping?Poppyseed cheesecake. Yum. Photograph: Sophie Mackenzie