As with most Americans, my familiarity with the Polish fast-food genre is not anything to write home to your matka about. I have, from time to time, enjoyed a flavorful kielbasa, or Polish sausage, with mustard at a barbeque. I have also dabbled in the consumption of pierogi, which are basically the Polish version of a dumplings or potstickers.
But this week, at the restaurant ZAPS in Allston, I tried a Polish delicacy that was entirely foreign to me and defied conventional logic of what a sandwich could be. America, say hello to the “zapiekanka.” This unique, slightly unwieldy and above all delicious Polish snack just might be coming to a town near you.
The best way I can describe the “zapiekanka,” which affectionately goes by the nickname “zap,” is this: a baguette of around 16 inches in length sliced in half, covered with a combination of shredded cheese and mushrooms, and then topped with foods (besides the cheese and mushrooms, I’ve gathered that this can be flexible) ranging from ham and corn to jalapenos. The bread is run through an oven at a scorching 600 degrees, allowing the cheese to fully melt and the bread to become crispy.
After it emerges from the oven, the zap is placed in a plastic carton reminiscent of the container a Hot Pocket comes in and can be drizzled with a variety of condiments, including ketchup and garlic sauce.
According to the server I talked to at ZAPS, as well as my Polish friend Joanna (a fierce enthusiast of the zap), these open-faced delights are ubiquitous on the streets of Poland. The zap, which runs for about $5 total, is in Poland a food of the masses, served, like a hot pretzel in New York, on street corners into the wee hours of the morning.
These Poles must have tremendous hand-eye coordination. Alas, one of the zap’s potential flaws is that it is a bit awkward to eat, being narrow and hard to hold. When I received my order of the “Farmer” zap, which features cheese, mushrooms, ham and corn, I stared at for a while, unsure of how to begin my assault.
The server then informed me that the zap should be eaten “like a push pop,” with one hand pushing the bread toward the mouth. The melted cheese here does a surprisingly good job of alleviating my concern that the toppings would fall off the bread, and all in all, once I got the hang of it, I came to enjoy eating my zap. It was a novel experience, and this uniqueness will help zaps find success with a large audience in the States.
While I have always sternly opposed calling any open-faced sandwich legitimate, the zap treads a treacherous line between being a sub and a French-bread pizza. I don’t know if it qualifies as a sandwich or not, but at least the zap tasted fresh and flavorful. The crunch of the bread and the chewy texture of the cheese worked well together, as did the saltiness of the ham with the sweetness of the corn.
The owners of ZAPS present a tasty, cheap food option that is fresher and more unique than its competitors, and that thus has the potential to do very good business. The Allston location has the commercial look of a place looking to become a franchise, and we can expect a second ZAPS to pop up near Boston University in the coming months.
Hopefully, ZAPS will make its way to Tufts at some point in the next few years. I think students here would embrace these open-faced sandwiches with open arms, as a different, fun and fresh late-night treat.
Ben Kochman is a freshman who has not yet declared a major. He can be reached at Benjamin.Kochman@tufts.edu.