Polish Language Blog

Not so Miserable Mizeria Posted by on Aug 23, 2009 in Culture

I was talking about my favorite Polish dishes the other day, and while all I could think of was “yummy” and “I’m so hungry right now”, the comment my friend made was “that name sounds absolutely miserable.”

Of course, she was referring to “mizeria”, which is definitely, hands down my most favorite Polish thing to eat. Yes, I know it’s just a side dish, but if I had my way, I’d eat it as a main course with a bit of potatoes and a slice of protein as side dishes.

Actually, until it was pointed out to me, I’ve never really made the connection between “mizeria” the food and “mizerny” the adjective.

  • mizerny (fem.: mizerna, neuter: mizerne, pl. masculine personal: mizerni, plural all others: mizerne) – poor, ill-looking, etc…

Mizeria can also be a synonym for “bieda” or “ubóstwo” (poverty). But if you hear an average Pole talk about mizeria, I guarantee you they’re talking about their favorite cucumber salad.

Because that’s what common mizeria is: cucumber slices in sour cream. With a bit of sugar, salt, pepper and dill.

Apparently, the name of the dish actually derives from the poverty of peasants back in the olden days. (hmmm… if they were so poor, then where did they get sugar and sour cream from?) But trust me, the dish itself is anything but miserable.

I don’t think there is a recipe for it. You just slice some cucumbers, mix some sour cream (I like my sour cream a bit runny) with a dash of sugar, salt, and pepper, pour over the cucumber slices, add some fresh green dill, chill it for a couple of hours and it’s ready. You can add a bit of vinegar to if you like your mizeria a little more sour.

The essential ingredient is sugar. This dish is all about being both sweet and sour and crunchy. But sadly, this is the part that many Polish-Americans forget about. I was once served mizeria (in NJ) with just plain, unflavored sour cream. Bleh… It was awful and totally miserable. Everybody knew it was awful, but still, they ate it, because to them it was a traditional Polish dish, and we all know how much Poles love their traditions.

Other Polish foods that I can’t live without are: ogórki kiszone (pickles), kapuśniak (cabbage soup), and galaretka (yes, the savory kind).
How about you? What are some of your Polish favorites?

PS> And does anyone know how to make proper ogórki kiszone from scratch?

image: wikipedia (because my mizeria never lasts long enough to take a photo).

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  1. Mchl:

    I prefer mizeria without sugar or vinegar. I like it to have more salty tasty. And I also add some finely chopped onions. 😉

  2. Jasia:

    And what of the surname MIZERA? My grandmother’s family name was MIZERA, which I have traced back to the late 1700s near Wojnicz. It was always spelled MIZERA not MIZERIA. Is that a different spelling but has the same meaning do you think? Or might it mean something entirely different?

  3. Michael:


    I don’t see how anyone can eat this blob of fat with a few token pieces of chicken and vegetables 🙁

  4. Mark:

    I happen to like galaretka occasionally, also flaki. Although, I wouldn’t want to eat either every day. A Polish food I don’t care for: Kisiel!

  5. Kuba:

    I have a recipe for okorki kiszone. I can send you a PDF of the file.

  6. Jeff Armstrong:

    I have to say I agree with your list but I’d have to add barscz czerwone and any kind of pierogi. I am an Aussie living in Scotland and my girl is Polish from Toruń. I am staying in Krakow for work just now and there is a great pierogi place just near the mały rynek. On my blog I just put up a shot of my girls mothers pierogi with cherries from last Piątek. mmm… Thanks for your blog. It’s helps me have fun with this thing called język po Polsku 🙂

  7. Jeff Armstrong:

    I agree. That stuff is great. I would have to ad barścz czerwone and pierogi to the list though. I have a pic on my blog you might like. These were made by the mother of my partner, who is from Toruń. I am an Aussie, living in Scotland. I am working it Krakow at the moment and was introduced to a great Pierogi place just off mały rynek. Thanks for your blog. It puts sparkle on learning this thing called jęnzyk po Polsku.

  8. boydie:

    hey im an aussie living in scotland with a polish girlfriend too. Will be in krakow this sunday too. Im confused. Am I you?!

  9. Al Wierzba:

    The same day that I read your article about mizeria, I ate some at a luncheon that was hosted for the volunteers of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA’s Polishfest. I had to laugh at the coincidence!

  10. Atiqah:

    Zurek soup and bread!!! with potatoes swimming in them!

  11. Kasia:

    Barszcz, uszka, pierogi, golabki, bigos, makowce, rogaliki…. the list goes on and on…mmmmm I wish my mum lived closer to me, my versions are just never as good

  12. f.:

    if you want to make your mizeria taste really delicious, first put the cucumber slices in a dish with salt only, stir and let it cool for an hour or two, then add sour cream and all the other ingredients 🙂

  13. Anna:

    I love mizeria(:

  14. Theresa:

    My father was raised in poland and we make ogórki kiszone every year. We make them in sterile 5 gallon buckets. Layer pickling cucumbers (stand on end), one garlic bulb, and several stems of chopped fresh dill. Cover with grape leaves and repeat with another layer until bucket is full. Mix 1/2 quart vinegar, 4 quarts water, and 1/2 cup canning/pickling salt. Pour over pickles until covered. Use a large plate as a weight to keep the pickles in the brine. Cover and let sit at room temperature for 5 days. Refrigerate and enjoy…they will keep for up to a year, but usually disappear well before this. Use more or less garlic depending on taste…we like a lot of garlic in ours.