How is it that Polish people are seemingly able to drink liters of vodka in a single sitting, and yet it never comes back to bite them in the ass the next morning? In a word: experience.
If you ever have the chance to visit Poland and you get invited for coffee, know that as soon as you finish relishing the last drop of coffee, the first bottle of vodka will be set on the table.
Even if vodka isn't in your blood like the Poles—maybe your forebears preferred nursing bottles of beer instead—you can still survive this little afternoon bender. You just have to follow a few rules.
In Poland, they say: "Vodka doesn't give you a hangover." Everything gets filtered and distilled out of quality vodka except for water and alcohol. That's not the case for other spirits, like whisky or cognac, which contain impurities from aging in barrels. And definitely don't wash it down with beer or wine. Polish people will drink vodka with juice or water, if anything at all.
In order to not get immediately out-drunk by your Polish friends, you also have to pair your vodka with the appropriate foods. The French enjoy a fine cheese, like Camembert or Beaufort with their red wine. The Poles have an equally appropriate culinary partner for their "little water," as they call it. It may be a little less exquisite, but it's more efficient in terms of processing alcohol.
This is the point where Polish people stop thinking about their Weight Watchers points and plunge into a pile of animal protein. In Poland, vodka and meat go together the same way veal sausage and wheat beer do in Bavaria. You'll usually find several kinds of Polish sausage delicacies: Krakowska, blood sausage, kaszanka, smoked ham, and much more.
Fatty foods supposedly inhibits the absorption of alcohol into the blood. Nutritionist Laura Hagen, however, schooled us for the better: "Food, whether it's fatty or not, merely delays the absorption of alcohol, because the alcohol and the food mix in the stomach and this mixture takes more time to be digested and absorbed into the bloodstream."
Back in the day, German politicians didn't know any better. When they sent an entire German delegation on a state visit to the Soviet Union, they ordered them to swallow a tablespoon of kitchen oil before drinking any vodka with their counterparts. They even brought a bottle of it with them as a precaution.
Back to sausage. Sorry, vegans and vegetarians: There has to be some pig on the table. Well, sometimes. Many pork-loving Poles are still traumatized from the 80s, when meat and sausage were scarce and they had to wait for hours in line for a few wieners. If it wasn't your day, the butcher would sell out before you got to the front of the line and you would be left with nothing.
But mushrooms were never a scarce commodity and any self-respecting Pole spends afternoons in autumn in the forest with a basket gathering them. The bounty—if it isn't immediately consumed or dried—gets pickled and served with vodka. And if you're horrified at the combination of foraged mushrooms and alcohol following you into the hereafter, Hagen can put you at ease: "The rule for alcohol is to know your limits. Mushrooms aren't the problem. It's the [alcohol] dose that's poisonous."
If you're a vegetarian or scared of dying after swallowing some slimy, wild porcini, you can reach for a salty pickle. "Pickles [help to] prevent hangovers by supplying the body with minerals that get eliminated from the body from heavy alcohol consumption, along with water, which makes you dehydrated," explains Anna Stich, a pharmacologist. "Optimally, you should replenish both minerals and water in between shots, in order to balance the loss."
In spite of all of these precautionary measures, the Poles have an extra safety measure for preventing a hangover. With each glass, they drink to health: na zdrowie!
This article original appeared in German on MUNCHIES DE.