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The King's Thursday Dinners - Warsaw's Golden Age


King Stanislaw August Poniatowski of Poland

King Stanislaw August Poniatowski of Poland

© Chicago Sister Cities, used with permission.

The Golden Age of Poland

The 18th century was a time of major development for Poland, and for Warsaw in particular, which became the center of things under Poland's last king, Stanisław II August Poniatowski, who reigned from 1764-95.

Poniatowski became affectionately known as Król Staś (King Stash). He was a patron of the arts and learnng, and it was during his reign that Poland's Age of Enlightenment or Golden Age began (in the 1730s–40s) and reached its peak, only to go into decline with the Third Partition of Poland (in 1795), and ending in 1822 when the Age of Romanticism began.

The King's Thursday Dinners

During the Age of Enlightenment, Warsaw became modernized and was a favorite meeting place for the who's who in the world of art, literature, intellectuals and statesmen. Poniatowski invited important figures of the time to his Obiady Czwartkowe (Thursday Dinners) and founded the School of Chivalry. Indeed, Warsaw had replaced Kraków as the center of Poland.

King Stash's dinners were held first in Warsaw's Royal Castle and later, between 1770 and 1784, in Łazienki Palace known as the Water Palace, located on an artificial island in Warsaw's Royal Baths Park. During the dinners, which typically lasted three hours and resembled French salons, the king dined with his guests and discussed literature, art and politics.

The number of guests varied over the years, but there were about 30 regulars, including Ignacy Krasicki, Franciszek Bohomolec, Adam Naruszewicz, Ignacy Potocki, Hugo Kołłątaj, Jan and Jędrzej Śniadecki, Stanisław Konarski, Tomasz Adam Ostrowski and Chancellor Andrzej Zamoyski.

The king also held less well-known Wednesday Dinners (Obiady Środowe). While the invitees to the Thursday Dinners were mostly painters, poets and other artists, the Wednesday Dinners brought together educators, scientists and political activists.

The Thursday Dinners spawned the first Polish literary magazine, Zabawy Przyjemne i Pożyteczne ("Diversions Pleasurable and Useful"), published from 1770 to 1777.

In the 1990s, Warsaw Mayor Paweł Piskorski picked up on the tradition by holding Tuesday Breakfasts to talk over current issues with leading businessmen and activists.

So What Was for Dinner?

The importance of the dinners was not the food, but the conversation, and not many menus were recorded for posterity. It can be speculated, however that the meals had many courses and were sumptuous. Here is what might have been served at one of King Stash's dinners.
  • Appetizer: Oysters
  • Soup: Barszcz or broth
  • Main course: Roast lamb and roast grouse
  • Dessert: Rose preserves
  • Beverages: Water, old Hungarian Tokay wine, Spanish wine

Belvedere Restaurant

King Poniatowski's orangery on the grounds of the Water Palace in Łazienki Park is now the acclaimed Belvedere Restaurant. The chef of the restaurant recreates the experience of dining with the last king of Poland with a menu that replicates the dishes served by Tremo, Poniatowski's personal chef. Contemporary cuisine also is available at the Belevedere.

The restaurant is beautiful -- a round all-glass building with crystal chandeliers set admidst the gardens with some plants that are more than 150 years old. Peacocks strut around the perfectly manicured yards. Some tables are tucked away into secret gardens, while others have a clear view of the open sky. It's a spot not to be missed on any trip to Warsaw.

The 18th-century menu offerings are fit for a modern-day king -- herring with sour cream and potato, smoked venison with blackberry sauce, beef loin tartare, and duck roasted in marjoram.

What I Think Chef Bogdan Gałązka Might Serve at the Thurday Dinners

Chef Bogdan Gałązka is the author of "The Cuisine of the Teutonic Grand Masters in Malbork Castle" (Multico, 2009) and "The Cuisine of the Kings of Poland in Malbork Castle" (Multico, 2010). He is the chef-owner of Gothic Cafe in Malbork Castle in Malbork, Poland, near Gdańsk. Malbork Castle is the largest castle in the world by surface area, and the largest brick building in Europe. It was built in Prussia by the Teutonic Knights, a German Roman Catholic religious order of crusaders, in the form of an Ordensburg fortress. The Gothic Cafe, which resides in the castle, was named the Best City and District Restaurant for 2012. Gałązka strives to preserve Old World tradition with modern techniques. He even teaches classes on Mexican cooking! Here is what I think he might serve King Stash:

What I Would Serve at the Thursday Dinners

If Król Staś asked me to prepare dinner for his illustrious guests, I would dazzle them with these Polish dishes:
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