Sunday, February 21, 2010


With all the students around, Boston's Allston Village is chock-full of reasonably-priced restaurants: Burmese (with a separate vegetarian menu), vegan Vietnamese, vegan pizza, Egyptian falafel, Indian Chinese; plus old standbys like Tex-Mex, Korean-Japanese and checked-tablecloth Chianti-in-a-basket red-sauce Italian.

One of last year's new additions was Zaps, Polish street food. A zapiekanka is a baguette sliced in half lengthwise, topped with shredded cheddar and mushrooms, melted / toasted, and finished off with ketchup. It's more interesting tasting than that might sound.

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The name seems straightforward. zapiekać is the imperfective of zapiec 'to bake'. zapiekany is the passive participle; add the fairly productive -k(a) for resultative nouns and it's 'something baked'. There are, of course, various other forms of zapiekać in the only Polish cookbook I have. The za- prefix is a Slavic preposition with base meaning something like 'beyond'. piec is cognate with Russian печь 'oven' and so with PIE *pekʷ 'cook', whence also Greek πέσσω 'ripen; cook' and so peptic.

After we went there this weekend, I had another look around online and only then noticed that zapiekanka also means 'casserole'. There is a fairly clean split in English language sources between the two senses:

Street foodCasserole
  • Phrase books
  • Guide books
  • Dictionaries
  • Cookbooks

An Online Polish-English dictionary has both senses. An eponymous recipe collection seems to mostly be casseroles. But there are images and YouTube cooking videos of both sorts.

Not that this is all that surprising; both fit the base meaning perfectly. But now I am wondering whether there is a continuous semantic space (and what else is in it) and just how old this particular street food is. Hence this very short post. I would welcome informed comments.