Wholesome Cook
5 Ingredients or less

Polish Potato Pancakes

How much do you know about Polish cuisine, customs and vodka? If you are living outside of Poland, the answer is: probably not much.

Benny Roff’s Borsch, Vodka and Tears – Food to Drink With (Hardie Grant, A$36.95) is a truly unique book that tries to answer these questions, and no doubt will take you on an adventurous journey through Polish cuisine, customs and of course the now world-famed drink, vodka. It’s not quite a story book, nor a full cookbook….it’s in between and it starts with the Tears.

There is only a small handful of Polish restaurants here in Australia, and even a smaller number of them are good enough to visit twice. Borsch, Vodka and Tears is one of those few happy places. Established by Andrzej Kaczmarski and his business partners in 2006 on the grounds of the first Polish restaurant in Windsor in Melbourne’s South, this cafe-turn-bar-turn-restaurant has been popular not only with the Polish community but with many non-Polish locals. And rightly so. The food is as authentic as they come, and the bar now imports and stocks over 100 varieties of, mostly Polish, vodka. It is now wonder then that the book devotes almost 100 pages to the drink’s history, distillation process and suggests a range of tasting notes and vodka-based cocktails. You could say that in part it is a vodka appreciation class.

So you see it is not so much a cookbook, although recipes for home-cooked comfort foods take up half of the volume,  as it is a history lesson in everything from customs, culture, food and above all the traditions of making and using vodka in the East. Having said that the latter part of the book is filled with recipes that are true to the Polish traditions. Being Polish, I surely knew my good pierogi from bad, recognised the differences in regional naming of potato pancakes – more about that below, and could name at least 3 brand names of Polish vodka.

Yet, eversince getting my hands on a copy of Borsch, Vodka and Tears (courtesy of Hardie Grant), I have not been able to put the book down. It is a thrilling read, recommended for anyone into food history. It is a unique story of connectedness of migrants through their food and custom, and a story of intermingling passions, fate and of course the most interesting insight into vodka, its etymology, history both in the East and West, completed with a list of the most notable Polish vodkas, 16 pages in total. And while the release may not settle the quarrel between the Poles and the Russians on who first invented the drink, the book paints a very clear picture of what vodka is. In Poland ”vodka goes with food, it is medicine, entertainment and psychotherapy; it will warm you in winter, disinfect, clean, preserve and generally cannot be lived without.” And it’s true.

In both parts, Bonnie Savage‘s photography matches the ambience of the stories told and recipes shared with dark, moody undertones in the beautifully styled shots. Inspiration for these coming just as much from the nation’s history as it surely did from restaurant’s Polish country-folk decor.

If you are passing through Melbourne and get a chance, do visit Borsch – it is a truly unique experience of the Polish culture and food. Otherwise, grab a copy of this fascinating book and immerse your self in a different world while you much on a serve of these Polish Potato Pancakes.

Adapted from Borsch Vodka and Tears (Hardie Grant, A$36.95).

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Polish Potato Pancakes

Known as placki zieminaczane in the South, and placki kartoflane in the North (obviously from German Kartoffeln for potato), or Latke if you're Jewish, these used to be my Dad's signature dish, although I never got his original recipe. But this 5 ingredient version is just as good as I remember. Served with sugar or sour cream they are a declicious treat, and I can imagine them being tasty with eggs, salmon or served with a Goulash stew or even a Bolognese.
Servings: 3 -4


For the potato pancakes:

  • 500 g potatoes with the skin on coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 onion sliced
  • 1 egg
  • 45 g potato flour or corn flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

For frying:

  • olive oil for frying


To make the batter:

  • Place all of the potato pancake ingredients into a food processor and process until the mixture is slightly liquid but still coarse. This will ensure a crispy finish to the pancakes.

To fry:

  • Heat 2 tbsp oil in a large, heavy-based or non-stick fry pan over medium heat (the pan should be able to hold 4 egg-ring sized or slightly larger pancakes).
  • Spoon 1/4 cup of batter into the hot pan at a time, spreading it gently into a round, repeat with 3 more pancakes.
  • Cook for 3-5 minutes, or until the bottom is lightly browned and crisp and the batter on top has begun to set.
  • Flip and cook for 3-5 minutes on the other side.
  • Remove from pan and set aside.

To reheat:

  • Heat another 2 tablespoons of oil in a pan over medium-high heat.
  • Add pancakes and cook for a minute on each side, so that they crisp up and brown a little further.

To serve:

  • Serve the pancakes hot with a dollop of sour cream (or natural yoghurt for less calories) plus a sprinkling of chives; with sour cream and sugar or just with a generous sprinkling of white sugar


No other liquid ingredient is required as the potatoes and onions will run "juice" once processed which will make the mixture batter-like.
Tried this recipe?Mention @wholesomecook or tag #wholesomecook


cyberiagirl (@cyberiagirl) May 25, 2012 at 12:34 pm

Should there be some liquid in the ingredients list for the pancakes?

Martyna @ Wholesome Cook May 25, 2012 at 12:41 pm

Hi Cyberiagirl, no – you will notice that the “juice will start to run from the potatoes and onion once it is processed, which will make the whole mixture runny, batter-like. :-) The egg acts like a binder. Simple.

Anne S May 25, 2012 at 12:39 pm

What a fantastic book, I didn’t even realise it was out. Thanks for sharing. WIll look for it on the weekend. Pancakes look great!

Eha May 25, 2012 at 12:51 pm

What a fun post on a Friday afternoon! And the ‘kartuli pannkoogid’ look beautiful :) ! [potato, pan, cake!]. Would love to get the book, as I have three Polish cousins + their brood in Warszaw! But Martina dearheart, we love Borsch further N and E also and many of the distaff side love opening the bottle even more!!! Tears – meant sentimental or sad? Oh, have never used the food processor: what a great tip.

Martyna @ Wholesome Cook May 25, 2012 at 1:02 pm

Oh yes, many of the recipes in the book (and at the restaurant) come from various areas of Eastern Europe actually, and the whole Vodka Belt from Germany through Scandinavia to Russia is also mentioned. I was perhaps a little selective in mentions because I was excited to have a good, mostly, Polish (cook)book at last.

Eha May 25, 2012 at 1:17 pm

I LOVE your term ‘Vodka Belt’: hope I may quote that :) ! And when I find the volume, it will certainly be one of my few Polish books! And I’ll be happy to have it too! Won’t accept responsibility for wrecking the look of your post page: don’t know how ‘permalink’ etc came to the party!

Nami | Just One Cookbook May 25, 2012 at 1:33 pm

What a great review! I am not familiar with Polish food and even this book was at the book store I may just pass by. However, your review was excellent and I became curious to find out more. It must be a fun read for a Polish or not. It is fun to learn not only about food but what’s behind and how it exists. And your potato pancakes look perfect. I love potatoes and this will become my favorite without a doubt!

Natasha May 25, 2012 at 2:01 pm

Hi Martyna!
I thought this post was really interesting.
I am Polish too and from Melbourne, so I’ve visited Borsch, Vodka and Tears.
I was so disappointed, I’m actually surprised that they’ve got a book as I didn’t think it was authentic at all. Half the menu wasn’t even Polish, with Greek salads and salt and pepper squid on the menu. There’s lots of croatian/slovenian/czech/russian stuff on there, too.
And the Polish food wasn’t great. Their vodka and cocktails, however, were fantastic.
If you’re looking for a really authentic and entirely Polish cookbook, try Rose Petal Jam by Beata Zatorska. It showcases Poland and the food beautifully, and she has a second cookbook coming out in September :-)

Martyna @ Wholesome Cook May 25, 2012 at 2:56 pm

Hi Natasha, thank you for your feedback. I do agree that the menu at the restaurant actually has a whole range of food from different cuisines, but when we dined there a whole back both the atmosphere and the food was fantastic, not to mention the vodka tasting “plates”. And while the book has recipes in it, most of them Polish although as you probably know there are many contentious dishes too – is Polska Salatka and Russian Potato Salad from Poland, or Russia; I think the main focus of the publication was on showcasing the drink, its history and usage. Thanks for the heads up on Beata Zatorska’s new book! I’ll be sure to keep my eyes peeled in Sept.

Maureen (@OrgasmicChef) May 25, 2012 at 2:47 pm

Love your potato pancakes, they look really good. While they’ll never be as good as your father’s, they’d be good enough for me! :)

frugalfeeding May 25, 2012 at 6:06 pm

The potato pancakes look great. I’ve been to Poland but didn’t get the chance to sample too many of the finer point of Polish cuisine – however, the vodka there is really good stuff :D.

Sandra May 26, 2012 at 5:35 pm

Hi Martyna, I just found your website via this delicious looking potato pancake post on food gawker….I’m definitely going to be having a bit of a look around. But in the meantime I wonder if you would mind clarifying the pancake recipe for me? There is an egg listed under the frying ingredients section but I can’t seem to find it in the body of the recipe…I’m wondering if maybe it’s to be mixed in with the other ingredients after they come out of the food processor? I love the idea of doing this in the food processor by the way..sounds so quick and easy!

Martyna @ Wholesome Cook May 26, 2012 at 7:49 pm

Hi Sandra, Good pick up! The egg was meant to go into the batter ingredients and placed in the processor along with all the other ingredients! My goodness! I was writing this with a 40C fever, and I missed that bit! Amending now.

Sandra May 28, 2012 at 9:43 am

Thanks Martyna. I hope you’re feeling much better. I’m going to try these out next weekend…if I can wait that long!

Sissi May 27, 2012 at 3:40 am

Potato pancakes! I haven’t had them for ages… They bring wonderful childhood memories. I love them and prefer only with salt and with some smoked sausage aside :-) Some people I know have it with sugar, but I have always preferred the 100% savoury version. If it wasn’t the new potatoes time (impossible to grate) I would make them even this weekend. Your gorgeous photos made me crave them so much!

rsmacaalay May 27, 2012 at 8:18 pm

That potato pancakes would be a good idea for breakfast alongside with bacon, that would complete my day

Rufus' Food and Spirits Guide May 28, 2012 at 5:46 am

I love latkes, or potato pancakes. These look just wonderful!

Kasia May 28, 2012 at 12:38 pm

I;m Polish as well, so the recipes were definitely familiar I love Borsch, Vodka and Tears in Melbourne, so this cookbook was a must! I’ve made so much from it already, and my parents love it- reminds them of all the cooking they know/ remember- the chicken strog is divine, if not a tad too heavy ;-) the red cabbage salad is also fabulous!

I actually prefer this one to Beata Zatorska’s, whic I think is better suited to older readers- my mother love’s it because she describes Poland, the food and her memories twined alongside recipes.

JeannieRichard May 29, 2012 at 1:36 am

the first time we had borsch from our russian friends, it was love at first taste!
and latkes is always our favesssss!

Jan Blackhurst December 30, 2014 at 4:08 pm

Hi I have been making Potato pancakes since I was a child. My children learnt to make them and now my grandchildren are learning. We used to have them with either butter or whipped cream (no sugar) for lunch or they would be used for dinner in place of mashed or boiled potato.

The way I was taught to make them is to peel and grate the old potatoes. Put the mixture into an old clean tea towel and squeeze the excess moisture and starch out of the potatoes. Replace potato into bowl and add pinch of salt to taste, egg, finely chopped onion if liked and as much flour as needed to make nice batter, varies with the humidity. I use plain flour. A friend whose husband was German used cornflour as that was what her mother-in-law used. Did not turn out nice at all. Never tried potato flour, will have to try it one day. In a heavy based frypan, melt some butter and add some oil. This makes the pancakes nice and crispy. Put spoonfuls of batter into hot pan and cook until desired crispiness then turn over to do the other side. When done remove to warm spot, add extra butter and oil and repeat until all batter has been used. No further liquid is required as there is plenty of liquid in the potatoes. Remember the more you cook, the hotter the pan will become and the quicker the pancakes will cook, so keep an eye on them and turn the heat down as required. Then just enjoy.

Joanna January 9, 2016 at 10:40 pm

I don’t cook much polish food (I’d love to cook more of it though) but potato pancakes are fairly regular – love them sweet, sour or even plain and cold ;)
I only just picked up this book and I really, really like it. I’m Polish, my husband is Australian and we’ve been reading the book together, having great time recalling eating many of the dishes we read about in Poland.
We were trying to introduce some beautiful and unique polish vodkas to Australian audience at our wedding by having a “vodka” bar with a selection of polish vodkas, some of which you can’t get anywhere but in Poland. It turned out to be a big hit. Could vodka ever do to Poland what whisky does to Scotland – promoting the country and culture? I wish it would one day, I certainly feel that both the vodka as well as Poland deserve it :)
The book is also a great little introduction to understanding Polish cuisine and the whole culture behind it – where it all came from, why ingredients are used the way they are used etc.
I was surprised how succinct and simple statements about polish food and culture can give a small but authentic insight into a polish soul.

Iva January 30, 2016 at 10:23 am

Mmmmm I love potato pancakes with sour cream and suger! my favorite! If we have leftovers (without any toppings) we like to cut it in small stripes (1cm wide) and fry so they are crispy. oooh I am hungry! :)


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