Friday, June 6, 2008

Tea (and vodka) and Sympathy

I'm not really sure how to begin discussing our last week in Europe, which we spent in Poland. The whole experience was great, but very strange, and at this point, although we've only been back a little over a week, the trip seems like years ago.

So instead of launching into a great detailed review of what we ate and saw and ate, I'm going to stick to a sketch - major themes that emerged in the culinary experience that was our Poland trip. The first major theme - beverages.

They love their beverages in Poland. Not just the alcoholic variety. Tea is also very popular. Krakow is filled with dozens of cozy little cafes that would rival any hipster joint in New York or any Left Bank intellectual haven in Paris. A major recurring decorating motif is "antique tailor chic" with lots of establishments displaying sewing machines, sometimes employing Singers as actual tables...

Singer, a very popular, much imitated cafe in the Jewish quarter

At these cafes, there are plenty of choices for what to drink. We regularly saw the most delicious looking beverages moving past us but were generally unable to determine exactly what they were based on the menus and the varying degrees of English available. So, like many of the Poles around us, we stuck to basics - tea, hot chocolate, vodka, and beer. Some notes on each -

The Poles love tea as much as the Irish, only they take it without milk. You can get it with milk (which is how I prefer it), but you'll pay for it (quick note, you also have to pay for table water when eating at a restaurant). So being the frugal traveler that I am (or try to be), I quickly learned to appreciate tea without milk. And luckily they make this transition pretty easy on you. The basic tea just comes with lemon, but there are many, many other options. One that I learned to love was the basic tea with a fruit juice served on the side that you could mix in to add sweetness. The best was fresh Polish cherry juice (the top picture). Other options included raspberry preserves (too sweet) and cherry infused vodka (too bizarre).

Sipping cherry tea on the day my belly rebelled, forcing me to subsist on tea and bread

After some experimenting, I tended to stick to the cherry juice with a dash of lemon, but feeling brave toward the end of our trip, I went for a "Pina Colada" tea - freshly mixed by the cafe in question. It was an herbal tea flavored with coconut and pineapple and something red, and it was the most fragrant, delicious thing I've ever sipped.

The pina colada

Hot chocolate
Daniel, who had only started to learn to like tea and milk during our stay in Ireland, was not interested in the milkless Polish tea phenomenon, so he stuck to the occasional coffee and some serious hot chocolate.

Some sort of marriage between coffee and hot chocolate

Hot chocolate so thick, he had to eat it with a spoon

Vodka in Poland is generally imbibed straight and with great regularity. And while they are certainly fans of the high proof, unfettered vodka, they have no compunction in adding a little flavor to the mix. As with tea, berry juices are very popular additions to the drinking experience, but instead of adding ice and juice to the stuff, American style, they let the vodka sit in the juice for months, creating some of the strongest alcohol I've ever swallowed.

At the hip bars, they are willing to mix a vodka cocktail for you. This one was plain vodka with Sprite and cucumbers. It was too sweet for me (I don't like sweet liquor drinks), but I might try to alter it slightly at home with club soda instead of Sprite. I love getting my veggies and my booze in one go (hence my loyalty to the Bloody Mary.)

A picture is worth a thousand words. Really what can I add?


Meg said...

chai s veranyum in a glass! Papa's favorite drink--basically jelly with tea, yum.

home interior decorators said...

When I was a little kid my gramma used to make sun tea - just a few teabags in a big jar with water and leave it out in the summer sun all day. Then we'd put it in the fridge overnight and have ice tea the next day. Do you have to heat the likker while its steeping? How do you serve it- cold? over ice? mixed? watered down? Have you tried brown sugar or honey as a sweetner