Why Steak Tartare Is A Significant Dish In Poland's Culture

While homemade pierogies and cabbage rolls are well-known Polish dishes, a less well-known but also popular dish in Poland is steak tartare, or befsztyk tatarski. You probably associate beef tartare with France, but it has a long history in Poland, dating back to the 13th century according to some sources. Some theorize that steak tartare was originally a snack of warriors, brought to the country via the invasion of Mongolian tyrant Genghis Khan, and named after the Tartar tribes.

Polish cuisine transformed tartare from a raw meat snack to an opulent delicacy, and befsztyk tatarski established a widespread presence in Poland. Meat production and consumption dropped during World War II resulting in mass shortages of beef. Poles had to use their creativity to simulate the appearance and texture of beef tartare using raw pork and beetroot.

While scarcity and rationing continued to plague the Polish diet during the communist regime, meat sales remained high. In fact, red meat and pork production was subsidized by the communist government, making proteins some of the most affordable products for everyday citizens. During the 1980s, every citizen was guaranteed five and a half pounds of meat per month. So, even if they lacked commodities like sugar and flour, Poles still had access to high quality beef that home cooks and restaurants alike could use to make steak tartare. Since the fall of communism, steak tartare remains a beloved appetizer most Polish restaurants serve as a protein-rich start to a traditional meal.

Polish preparation of steak tartare

Polish steak tartare uses the finest and freshest red meat for a silky and rich flavored appetizer. While recipes may vary, the main components of are minced beef, raw egg yolk, diced onions, and a pickled ingredient. Preparation also varies, with some recipes having you mix the raw egg yolk into the minced meat, and others topping minced meat with a golden yolk for a striking presentation.

Seasonings are minimal, with salt and pepper providing a simple enhancement to the umami-rich flavor of raw meat. That said, dijon, Tabasco, Worcestershire sauce and Maggi sauce can be used to provide more depth of flavor. Polish steak tartare is served on a plate surrounded by finely diced onion and pickled veggies like capers, mushrooms, and pickles, which add a crunchy textural contrast and sharp, tangy complimentary flavors. Poles will eat steak tartare and pickled vegetables with toast or thick-sliced crusty bread as a prelude to their main course. Fine dining restaurants in Warsaw feature exotic, modern takes on steak tartare, using minced venison and mangalica pig meat.