Zapiekanka Is Poland's Historic Open-Faced Sandwich

Polish cuisine is nothing short of eclectic. Traditional Polish food employs classic ingredients like meats, vegetables, herbs, spices, mushrooms, and plenty of butter, but other concepts like à la Polonaise diversify its multicultural aspects. Arguably, one of the best ways to explore the country's cuisine is through its world-famous street food, bearing options such as pierogi, rurki, knysza, and bułka z pieczarkami. Most of these dishes have roots tucked way back into Poland's 40-year communist reign in the 20th century, which demanded a new sense of creativity from Poles as they had to rely on limited goods.

Back in the '70s, by utilizing innovation with simple ingredients like bread, mushrooms, and cheese, Poland created one of its most renowned street foods: zapiekanka. Somewhat of a distant cousin to pizza, zapiekanka is an open-faced sandwich that features a sliced and toasted baguette topped with various vegetables, meats, and cheeses. Originally made with sautéed mushrooms, semi-hard cheese, and a drizzle of ketchup, this street-style sandwich has evolved to include a wide array of toppings and condiments.

A wave of communist nostalgia

Years ago, many regarded zapiekanka as a low-quality dish eaten out of desperation since there weren't many other options. Much like frozen pizzas in the United States, frozen zapiekanka has existed since the food's creation, which is a considerable reason why it gets a bad rap. But perhaps most notably, the fall of communism in Poland inspired many to push harsh memories out of mind, and with them went zapiekanka. Poland was soon flooded with Western chains like McDonald's, so even the microwave renditions of zapiekanka fell through the cracks of popularity.

But just like many things — particularly food — from days of the past, zapiekanka brings many a strong sense of nostalgia. While the ideology of communism is not particularly looked at with warm hearts in Poland, the simplicity of the lifestyle rings a bell for those who lived through it. In recent years, communist-era pop culture has become somewhat "trendy," and many find childhood comforts in the return of foods like zapiekanka.

However, this unique sandwich has returned with a facelift. Instead of cheap findings, bar owners and food stand vendors are opting for high-quality ingredients and vast flavor combinations. Toppings include everything from feta and pineapple, all the way to blue cheese and sweet cranberry jam. The bread is now crusty, freshly baked, and loaded with a thick layer of melted cheese.