Last week, in just 24 hours in Wroclaw, Poland, I managed to slurp three different versions of beet soup. All three were fabulous –-- with shimmering magenta color and beguilingly sweet flavor. But it’s a messy business, this beet soup slurping. A splash here, a splash there, and that white North Face fleece is history. Ties? Forget about it.
Late last Tuesday we arrived in this medieval town that was called Breslau when it was part of Germany. (The city was given to Poland after WWII, German citizens were kicked out, and Poles from eastern Poland, annexed by Russia, were moved in.) Following a New York Times tip, we went to the restaurant “Sarah”for dinner. Tucked away on a dark, narrow street in what was Breslau’s Jewish Quarter, Sarah is said to be the only “Jewish” restaurant in the city. Two enormous menorahs sit in the large storefront windows. The interior, a small room with a tiny, two-stooled bar and about 10 tables, is warm and inviting. Tables are covered with cotton lace tablecloths and centered with assorted vintage silver candlesticks. Silverware is old and mismatched. Mirrors and furniture are old and mismatched. The whole place feels like Grandma’s dining room.
Sarah’s was beet soup #1. Barszcz czysty, which translates as “clear borscht.” I opted to jazz it up with a few cubes of boiled potato and a plop of sour cream, which added a lot more z’s to the name: Barszcz czerwony z ziemniakami zabielany smietana, and 50 cents to the cost which was about $3 for a large bowl.
Sarah’s soup was clear and shiny, the most vivid fuschia color I’ve ever seen on a plate or in a bowl. The taste was startlingly pure – earthy yet sweet. The potatoes were superfluous; the sour cream added a nice creaminess though I hated to lose the brilliant red.
The next day at lunchtime we popped into the small but inviting Soul Café on one of the town's many beautiful squares. It was cold and rainy so I ordered a bowl of beet soup, which arrived steaming, in a small white ceramic tureen. This was my favorite, a fragrant fuschia broth, with powerful beet flavor, and packed with tiny nubbins of celery, onion, carrot and sausage, all delicious and all stained bright red.
That night we dined at Lwowska (below, in a photo from Forbes) on the central market square and I encountered beet soup #3, a clear, shimmering red broth with the intense flavor and captivating sweetness I had, by now, come to expect from Polish beet soup.
Of the various options available, I chose the soup with koldunami, “homemade stuffed dumplings.” But, unlike the delicious goodies swimming in Soul Café’s soup, these starchy dumplings were a distraction, taking away from the intensity of the vegetable broth. (More about Restaurant Lwowska in my next post.)
By the way, beet soup is never going to win any beauty contests. I didn’t take photos because my three soups were very plain and the lighting was marginal. In browsing the Internet I found hundreds of beet soups but not one that looked like the brilliantly clear, magenta soups in Wroclaw.