Picture yourself strolling through a Polish supermarket. Your eye is caught by the range of fantastic Polish foods, and not so fantastic international ones on offer. Your shopping list is gradually ticked off with no need to ask for help, or test that vocabulary or frantic hand pointing and miming on unsuspecting store assistants. Then you come to the deli counter.
Never before did you think a supermarket could present such a challenge. At the Polish deli counter there's no more simply picking what you want from the shelf and quietly dropping it in your basket before moving on. Here you have to speak. Here you have to choose your weights, your slices, your flavours, and all in Polish. That, or risk a lengthy and very theatrical assessment of piles of cheeses and salamis, while the counter assistant helplessly piles on more and more, then shrugs in confusion at the mountains of food that you've been unable to stop accumulating on the scales.
Don't fear, we're here to help. Let's take a look at the vocabulary and some phrases that will help you get food at the polish deli counters. It's worth learning because some of the stuff they can offer is really tasty, and not to be missed.
Cheeses and Meats
In Poland, cheeses and meats (the best cheeses and meats) are sold from the deli counters. These range from imported dry cheeses, to the locally sourced white cream cheeses famous in Poland. Commonly they are sold by weight, which means you'll have to let the assistant know just how much you'll want, in kilograms (of course).
At first, I found myself ordering only full kilos of cheese, because I genuinely couldn't say 'half' or 'a quarter', and the assistants have a tendency to just keep cutting until they hit 1kg. Here is some vocabulary that will help you get what you want, when it comes to chopping up the deli foods into weights:
Poproszę kilogram żółtego sera: Please can I have a kilogram of yellow cheese.
Poproszę pół kilo żółtego sera: Please can I have half a kilogram of yellow cheese.
Poproszę dziesięć plasterków sera gouda: Please can I have ten slices of gouda cheese.
Poproszę ćwierć kilo białego sera: Please can I have a quarter kilo of white cheese.
Poproszę trzy czwarte kilo białego sera: Please can I have a three quarters of a kilo of white cheese.
If the assistant asks 'pokroić?', they are using the verb 'to slice' to see if you want your selection sliced; you can just answer simply tak or nie. Similarly if they ask 'w kawałku' (literally meaning 'in one piece'), you can just reply monosyllabically.
You may also hear the local Polish ordering their deli foods in dekagramy, a weight measurement of just 10 grams. It may go something like this:
Poproszę dziesięć deko ('deko' is often used shorthand for the full 'dekagram') salami: Please can I have 100g of salami.
To ask for one and a half kilo, a common way of asking is półtora (one and a half), but a lot of people use the more colloquial (and strictly incorrect) półtorej. After one and a half (not that you will ever need to order that much cheese or ham) you just use the same format as in English (for example, 'dwa i pół', literally means 'two and a half').
So, don't be scared when it comes to getting food from behind the counter. In fact, think of it as a rare opportunity to practice your polish in a practical way. In my experience, deli assistants can be among the best teachers!