Sydney doesn’t abound in Eastern European food like it does in Italian or Thai. But if you look hard enough, classic Polish and Lithuanian retstaurants thrive in cosy, unpretentious settings. These restaurants have been discovered as part of Broadsheet’s Local Knowledge series.
The Polish Club in Ashfield offers a truly traditional Polish experience. Its founder Michael Malinowski arrived in Australia in 1949 and opened the club shortly after. He was determined to redress the city’s lack of meeting places for Polish migrants.
The club has since expanded to include a cafe, deli, function room and butcher. The latter is stocked full of imported and locally made meats and goods. The restaurant, Sto Lat, specialises in golonka – an enormous pork knuckle served with sauerkraut and mashed potato.
Copernicus in Liverpool just might make the best Polish-style doughnuts in Sydney. They’re called pączki, fried dough dusted in icing sugar and stuffed with different jams. Owner Marek Strzemkowski came to Sydney 25 years ago, and opened his first deli six years later. His wife Maria is in charge of the wide variety of traditional cakes on offer, from cheesecakes to gingerbread. It also serves Polish breakfasts of homemade sourdough rye with a selection of cold cuts and cheese.
Glebe’s Na Zdrowie is the cosy Polish tavern that Sydney never knew it needed. It opened in 2007, after its two Polish owners got some help from their mums to devise the menu. Specialties include barszcz (a beetroot-based soup served with dumplings) as well as hearty meat dishes such as pierogi (traditional dumplings stuffed with cheeses, mushrooms or meats). There is a three-page list of vodkas, and the restaurant is decked out with wooden columns and Polish art.
Lithuanian food may not be well known in Sydney, but one place in Bankstown serves up the nation’s specialties every Sunday. The club was founded 57 years ago by migrants who fled the Soviet Union. Chef Svetlana Korsakas grew up in Siberia before moving to Lithuania. You can therefore expect dishes that will warm you right up. She cooks lunch every Sunday until the food is sold out, including cepelinai – potato stuffed with minced meat and covered in sour cream and bacon. The club also stocks a range of traditional spirits and beers.
For Hungarian stews, schnitzels and sour-cherry soup, Cafe Gundel is it. “We start with deep fried bread, after [that] you order soup; seafood soup or matzo-ball soup. Then there's main courses and dessert,” says the owner, Ferenc Bodó.
“In middle Europe we pick up lots of other countries’ tastes – Turkish, German, Yugoslavian. There’s lots of things within Hungarian food,” he says.