Being born as a first-generation Australian meant that my childhood was filled with traditions different to my Aussie classmates and my out-of-school activities weren’t your typical sport training and music lessons (although I did learn the piano growing up, with a Polish teacher of course). Instead, I learnt traditional Polish dancing which I would be involved with for another 13 years and I would also go to school on the weekend to learn the language of my people. Sometimes it was difficult to explain what Polish dancing was to my school friends, and yes, being a “Pole dancer” (with a capital ‘P’) was a joke I heard often. However, quite contrary to actual pole dancing, our traditional folk ensemble entailed several layers of clothing for every costume making Australian summer’s the bane of our existence.
Being Polish also meant that rather than enjoying Saturday morning cartoons on the tele, me and my sister would have to be dressed and ready to go to language school by 8:30am. And yes, we complained about it a lot. But even though we weren’t always caught up with the latest episode of Pokemon, learning another language was a pretty decent trade-off looking back. I may not be nearly as skilled as I want to be in Polish, or as fluent as I should be living with two native speakers, but I know I would be capable to make my way through the motherland on a solo trip with my broken, yet understandable, grammar and maybe make a few friends along the way.
Having egg battles during Easter, drenching your family in a water fight during Smigus Dyngus, and opening your Christmas present a night before all your friends were just a few of the perks of being a child of immigrants. But as someone with a love for a good feed, having the chance to eat Polish cuisine on a regular basis is a highlight of my foodie career. Just like most European nations, Poland is known for its hearty meals often featuring a solid portion of meat and enough carbs to help you run a marathon. Pierogi, placki ziemniaczane, kotlet schabowy, gołąbki, bigos, kopytka – just writing this list makes my mouth start to water. And it would be treason if I didn’t mention the many desserts my country has on offer. Makowiec (a rolled, poppy-seed cake) is my personal favourite when it comes to a post-dinner treat, but the honourable Polish doughnut known as a pączek will satisfy any sweet-tooth while Easter is the perfect time to dig into a delicious babka. Last, but not least, I have to mention some of the snacks and sweets that my fellow Australian’s missed out on in their households. Although I did indulge in my fair share of Dunk-a-Roo’s, Roll-Ups, and Tim-Tams, I’ve also made a significant dent in the Polish confectionery industry by eating my way through countless Prince Polo’s, Krówki, and Piernicki Sliwkowe. If all this food talk is getting your mouth watering and your stomach rumbling, then maybe it’s time for a tour around Europe, or at least a quick trip to a Polish deli.
Learning about my cultural roots growing up definitely shaped a large portion of who I am today, and even though I may not agree with all the traditions and beliefs that are widely held by Polish people, I’m glad my parents kept me involved with my ethnic background growing up. Through Polish dancing I made lifelong friends and experienced the thrill of performing in front of an audience countless times, and the only real change in my lifestyle that came from eating all that Polish cuisine was a higher clothes size, but at least it satisfied the taste-buds. And although I still call Australia home, there will always be a little piece of my heart that belongs to my Polish heritage.