The Polish Open-Faced Sandwich Starring Savory Mushrooms

Poland has a lot to offer the culinary world, bestowing the likes of kielbasa, pierogi, and cabbage rolls to comforting menus around the globe. A newer Polish culinary sensation to make its way across the Atlantic is zapiekanka, an open-faced sandwich on a French baguette.

In Poland, zapiekanka is a popular street food sold all day and late into the night as a hearty, baked snack; In fact, zapiekanka comes from the Polish word "zapiekać," meaning "to bake." Americans might liken zapiekanki (the plural of zapiekanka) to French bread pizza, whose origins similarly are said to come from street food. However, zapiekanki have a few key differences. Quartered and vertically sliced French baguette is the foundation for savory sautéed mushrooms, grated melting cheese, and aromatic veggies like garlic and onion. Sliced ham is also a popular traditional ingredient. Once assembled, the zapiekanka needs a quick bake to melt the cheese, crisp the ham, and toast the bread. To finish everything off, the hot, toasty open-faced sandwich gets a substantial drizzle of Polish ketchup.

The traditional zapiekanka is the height of savory goodness. But you'll also find plenty of variations from Polish vendors who've embraced the culinary influences from surrounding countries. In Kraków you can order a Greek-style one with feta cheese and olives, or an Italian-influenced zapiekanka featuring mozzarella and tomatoes instead of traditional melted white cheese and mushrooms.

Make your own Zapiekanka

Pierogi and kielbasa are widespread staples that you can find in the refrigerated or freezer sections of many grocery stores in the U.S. and Canada, but you're less likely to find zapiekanki sold in stores or on the streets. Making your own is easy enough; all it takes is a baking sheet, an oven, or toaster oven to uphold its namesake "baked" texture. Plus, you have free culinary reign to customize each open-faced sandwich with your favorite ingredients.

Considering the popularity of crisp French bread pizzas, you could simply spread marinara, mozzarella, and mushrooms over an open-faced baguette before toasting it in the oven. To make it a true zapiekanka, however, would require that ketchup finish. As an added homage to Poland, you could replace the ham with coins of kielbasa.

You could also use any other thinly sliced deli meat. Turkey or roast beef would taste delicious with sautéed mushrooms and provolone, for example. You could get more creative with garnishes and condiments as well, adding a drizzle of mayo along with the ketchup or a sprinkling of chopped chives or other fresh herbs. Your imagination is the only thing stopping you!