Monday, 2 August 2021

Poles' tastes become more cosmopolitan

About ten years ago or so, while visiting Polish food producers in the east of the country, it occurred to me that Poland was absolutely ready for a convenience food revolution. Poles were getting more time-poor as they become more money-rich, and had unprecedented experience with foreign travel. Growing and selling wholesale veg is a low-margin business compared to preparing it in interesting ways for easy cooking. For a while, nothing happened in this direction; on my regular visits to Auchan Piaseczno (one of Warsaw's best hypermarkets) I'd note a chilled 'ready meals' section growing at glacial speeds, with easy-cook pierogi being the top seller. Frozen pizza has long been a staple in Poland too.

So imagine my surprise when in Chynów - a small town of just over 1,000 souls, seat of a third-order administrative division, I came across these - the Hortex 'Street Food' range of oriental ready meals. These are to be found in the frozen, rather than chilled food, section.

Wow! Chicken Tikka Masala from India, Sweet and Sour Chicken from China and Coconut Chilli Chicken from Thailand. Bravo Hortex! I just had to try them all... (my usual działka fare are lentil- or chickpea-based stews served with rice or bulgur wheat, so these exotic meals make for a bit of contrast, and can be cooked in the oven rather on the limited gas I have). Now these dishes cost 10.98 złotys from the Top Market in Chynów, or 9.98 złotys from Auchan (including Auchan Direct). So just over £2 at the local price.

Taste-wise, not as good as Co-op's Asian ready meal range, which cost £2.75 or two for £5 - but they are bigger portions (475g vs 350g), which makes a difference, and they're chilled rather than frozen. I'm not entirely filled by 350g. And the UK market, having a significant Asian population, makes sure the taste is more authentic. 

Still, it's a start. No doubt ready Asian meals will catch on in Poland, competition will pop up, sales volumes will rise, the two factors will lead to lower prices and greater choice.

I look forward to the day when Polish consumers can have something like the wide variety of ready meals to choose from - though I'd add that these should be considered as something special, a bit of variety in the diet, rather than a staple.

Was a time when looking for salsa dips at Auchan I'd be hard-pressed to find one labelled 'hot'. Of the 20 or so in stock, nearly all were 'mild' or 'medium'. The same went for other foods that were offered in different taste strengths. Poles, it seemed, did not go for spicily hot food. Spicy in Polish is 'ostre', which means sharp, as in razor, rather than 'hot' as in 'my mouth is on fire'.

So the appearance of Tarczyński's Extreme range of kabanos (thin sausage) impressed me. Sold alongside vegan kabanosy, of all things! Both were indeed spicy, though not excessively so (for my robust taste-buds anyway). The jalapeño ones had a drier flavour - I must say I did like both of them! It will be interesting to see whether these catch on (bought at the Lewiatan supermarket in Nowe Grobice).

I noted back in 2016 the presence of a restaurant called Thai Thai within the building of the Polish national opera, and wondered whether the Thai national opera reciprocated by hosting a restaurant called Polak Polak in its building. Well, five years on - and two years into the pandemic - Thai Thai is still open, and from looking at the reviews, it's as popular as ever with Poland's cultured classes. If the comments are anything to go by, the main criticism of Thai Thai is that it's not authentically Thai enough!

Poland is changing, Polish consumer tastes are changing. A good sign that the country is becoming more open, despite what its wee sovereign is trying to achieve.

This time last year:
Rososz and the toponymy of the Polish countryside

This time two years ago:

This time three years ago:
In praise of Polish mineral waters

This time four years ago:
Going back to my roots - Mogielnica

This time five years ago:
My father's walk around Jeziorki

This time seven years ago:
What's the Polish for 'sustainability'?

This time nine years ago:
Last chance to see Amber Gold's billboards in Warsaw

This time ten years ago:
The Twilight Rambler


Andrzej K said...

Local Orlen for a short time stoked chilled curries. They were horrible!!!!

No doubt withdrawn as manufacturer not owned by Obajtek as is the case with some of the hot dogs.

Michael Dembinski said...

@ Andrzej K:

I'm sure you too remember Vesta Beef Curries and Vesta Chicken Chow Mein - bloody awful!

I was in Ursynów today to get a new router for the działka, when I came across the small hole-in-the-wall eaterie called Mama Indii which I must say was excellent - such huge portions! It's not far from an Indian restaurant where I had a meal with Moni not long ago, so Indian restaurants are becoming a fixture in Ursynów!