Z is for zapiekanka

These are four different versions of the Zapiekanka, an open-faced, cheesy, Polish street-food experience.

Read Time: 8 minutes

Zapiekanka is an open-faced sandwich that was invented back in the 1970’s in Poland and served primarily as street food. According to Wikipedia, the word zapiekanka (plural = zapiekanki) is derived from the verb zapiekać which is basically the action of baking food until a crispy and browned crust forms on top.

I do not claim any Polish heritage and I have never had a zapiekanka in Krakow, but that hasn’t stopped me from using my kitchen to travel the globe before, so I won’t let it alter my path now. Just know that if you are looking for a zapiekanka recipe, mine might not be the most authentic. But I can guarantee it is tasty.

This sandwich was the suggestion of a member of my Patreon community, Tom Narawa. Tom has been an internet-to-real-life friend of mine for a few years, and he suggested that I check out zapiekanka partly due to his Polish heritage and because he wanted to see me give the recipes a shot.

I’m not going to pretend to be a Polish historian and get deep into the introduction of this open-faced sandwich into Polish society, but I can tell you that zapiekanka first appeared in Poland in the 1970s while they were still under Soviet influence. Wikipedia claims in the 70s the Polish Communist Authorities allowed some new private enterprises to establish themselves as catering businesses. This led to the equivalent of food trucks or trailers serving simple street food items and zapiekanka became a popular choice alongside kielbasa sausage, tripe soup, and boiled ham hock (this all also came from Wikipedia).

What toppings are on a zapiekanka?

Zapiekanki start with cooked mushrooms, onions, and melted cheese. Then there are typically toppings and a sauce. I grabbed a user-submitted photo from Restaurant Guru of the menu at Endzior, a restaurant in Krakow, Poland. As you can see, the menu starts at the top as just the default or “standard” with just mushrooms and cheese and each zapiekanka gets progressively more complex as you scroll down the menu.

In the making of this blog post, I decided to make a simple standard version and then I made two versions that are like zapiekanki you might see on this menu and then I made a final Chicago-style version of a zapiekanka.

Zapiekanka on YouTube shorts

Here are two quick short videos you can check out of other creators making zapiekanka at home to show how easy the concept is. But you can make them more complicated with different flavors if you want.

Is this Polish-style pizza?

You’ll see some recipes online saying that zapiekanka is “Polish pizza.” I can’t really agree with that. I can say that if you are familiar with Stoeffer’s French bread-style pizza, then zapiekanka will definitely remind you of that while you eat them. But it is nothing like actual pizza. The mushrooms and onions are super savory and nothing like tomato sauce. Since these are made on French bread it doesn’t seem like pizza at all. It seems like what it is, which is an open-faced sandwich or flatbread.

First, we need bread.

French-style bread rolls

I chose to bake my French-style bread rolls for this recipe instead of a baguette recipe simply because I wanted a more free-form shaped roll instead of a thinner, rounder baguette. These rolls are pretty much the same ingredients as a baguette, but the shaping process and baking process are slightly different which leads to a wider final roll that isn’t quite as crunchy on the outside as a baguette.

These rolls end up wider than they are tall which works very well for an open-faced sandwich.
You add water to a pre-heated pot in the oven to make sure you do have steam which adds crunch to the exterior of these rolls. A tiny bit of crunch is a pretty good addition to an open-faced, melty sandwich.

Here’s my French-style sandwich roll recipe. Basically, this recipe makes 6 or 7 rolls and instead, I shaped them into 3 rolls that were ten or eleven inches long. Everything else about the recipe, I treated the same way. Just make 3 rolls instead of 6. If you don’t want to bake your own bread for a zapiekanka, you simply need a baguette or long roll that is sliced in half.

11 hours and 33 minutes
French-style baguettes

A crispy, crusted bread roll that is still soft and chewy in the middle. Perfect for a fancier sub-style sandwich or even sliced thinly and served alongside meat and cheese on a charcuterie board.

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Mushrooms, onions, and cheese

The base of this open-faced sandwich is bread, mushrooms, onions, and cheese. These seem to be the default or standard for all zapiekanki, so that’s what I have done. Since we’ve already covered the bread, we can talk about the mushrooms, onions, and cheese.

Mushrooms and onions

Since I made multiple zapiekanki, I bought baby bella mushrooms and cremini mushrooms that were pre-sliced for my zapiekanka since these are super available in grocery stores near me. Most of the Polish recipes for this open-faced sandwich say, “white mushrooms.”

You will basically need 8 ounces of mushrooms and at least a half of a large onion for 2 or 3 zapiekanki.

The chopped mushrooms are cooked in a couple of tablespoons of butter with finely diced onions until both the mushrooms and onions are softened and fully cooked. This whole process takes less than 10 minutes, and you can also cook these in advance and simply bring the onion and mushroom mixture to room temperature or warmer in a microwave or pan on the stove.

All of my zapiekanka start with the same base. Cooked mushrooms and onions.

Once the mushroom mixture is warm, it will heat up even more when they are on the bread and baked in the oven. Spread it on in a thick and consistent layer and then top with cheese.


A lot of the recipes for zapiekanka say “shredded cheese” but many do not even mention the type of cheese. In almost every recipe or video that I have seen, the cheese seems to be a hard, white cheese that is easy to shred.

I used shredded Edam for all of these, but I believe you could probably use all sorts of cheese options if you shred it yourself. Edam worked great for me but anything that would be melty should be just fine.

Shredding cheese yourself is always a good idea because pre-shredded cheese contains filler agents that keep the cheese from clumping. These fillers aren’t harmful or anything, but they simply aren’t great for the melting process. It’s typically cheaper to buy blocks of cheese so if you’re buying pre-shredded, you’re paying for the convenience factor and buying those filler agents that aren’t great for your final food. Shred your own cheese.

Half a circle of Edam, still covered by the red wax. Tip: don’t eat the wax.

Plain version

This is my default or standard version of a zapiekanka. It’s cooked mushrooms and onions with melty Edam cheese, parsley, and crunchy onions that were topped with ketchup. I was quite worried about the addition of ketchup, but this ingredient seems to be very prominent and common as an addition, and it turned out to be a tasty addition.

For each of the four zapiekanki that I am featuring today, I’m going to have a simple list of toppings so you can scroll without needing a full recipe.

Plain Toppings
  • mushrooms
  • onions
  • Edam cheese
  • crunchy fried onions
  • parsley
  • ketchup
This is a default zapiekanka and it was very tasty with minimal toppings. I think I might prefer it with a spicy sauce (see below) instead of the ketchup.
If you hate mushrooms, you might be skeptical of zapiekanka, but their flavor is muted by the cheese and the way the cooked mushrooms are chopped changes their texture.

I used two different ketchups in the making of these zapiekanki and it wasn’t until I used the second ketchup (Heinz) that I noticed the extreme color difference. My wife is a big fan of a local ketchup called 78 Brand Ketchup so that’s the darker version that you’ll see in some of these photos.

The crunchy French bread and crunchy onions bring a lot of texture to this melty sandwich.
Ketchup and cheese and mushrooms? I wouldn’t have dreamed up this combo, but it works well.

Here’s my recipe for zapiekanka. This is the base recipe that all the other recipes or varieties that I made are based on. The next two versions I made do not have a recipe because they are simply other specialized toppings on top of this version.

Recipe Card
25 minutes

Zapiekanka is an open-faced sandwich popularized in Poland in the 1970s. These are savory, cooked mushrooms, onions, and melty cheese on top of a slice of French bread, baked to perfection and then adorned with a variety of topping options.

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Diablo version

For my Diablo version, I used bacon, spicy MSG pickles, and a slightly spicy sauce. The sauce was probably not something you’d find in Poland, but it was sort of based on an idea for a Polish garlic sauce recipe that I found online.

This isn’t quite as spicy as it sounds. The sauce is really the only spot where spice heat is added. I believe if I were to make this zapiekanka again, I would add pickled jalapenos to give it a bit more of a Diablo-worthy kick.

Diablo Toppings
  • mushrooms
  • onions
  • Edam cheese
  • bacon
  • dill pickles
  • spicy mayo sauce

Most of the Polish garlic sauce recipes I’ve found online included plain yogurt, mayonnaise, garlic, and dill or parsley. Instead, I just used mayonnaise, dill pickle juice, and hot sauce, specifically sriracha.

3 tablespoons mayo
+ 2 tablespoons sriracha
+ 1 teaspoon dill pickle juice

The combo of bacon, dill pickles, and spicy sauce worked better than I expected with the cheese and mushrooms. The mushrooms in all of these zapiekanka sort of just end up being in the background, lending some savory notes to the final open-faced sandwich.

A super simple spicy sauce that would be perfect on a burger or deli-style sandwich.

Here’s an addictive and easy-to-make pickle recipe you can try if you have never made pickles before.

25 minutes
Spicy MSG pickles

Spicy and dilly and savory pickles are great as a snack or in a sandwich. A great addition to any refrigerator. I based this recipe off of this tweet from Joshua Weissman and added extra spice.

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The spicy sauce, pickles, and bacon sort of gave this version a cheeseburger feel.
At first, I was concerned about the pickle addition but like I said before, these are all almost cheeseburger toppings.

Hawaiian version

My Hawaiian version is another open-faced delight that I loosely based on the zapiekanka Wikipedia page and the original menu photo way up at the top of this blog post. This is sort of like a Hawaiian pizza with ham and pineapple, but the addition of barbecue sauce added even more sweetness to the final zapiekanka. If you like pineapple on your pizza, you’d love this one. I found it a bit too sweet for my tastes, but still good.

Hawaiian Toppings
  • mushrooms
  • onions
  • Edam cheese
  • sliced ham
  • pineapple
  • barbecue sauce

Here’s my barbecue sauce recipe that you could use, or you can just buy your favorite storebought version if you have some in your fridge.

20 minutes
Sweet and tangy barbecue sauce

This tangy and sweet sauce will be great for your next barbecue adventure.

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The Hawaiian version was a bit more sweet than I prefer, some people probably love the combo though.
If you have a mustache, these sandwiches are going to get you a bit messy. Get some wet wipes.

Maxwell Street zapiekanka

I based this zapiekanka on the Polish sausage that is typically served in Chicago. When I was making these zapiekanki I was thinking about other toppings and as per usual, my mind started considering which Chicago-type food I could incorporate into one. I settled on the Maxwell Street-style Polish sausage which I have not written about yet.

The Maxwell Street Polish sandwich was invented in 1943 by a guy named Jimmy Stefanovic. Stefanovic’s restaurant is still in existence today and it still bears his name. Jim’s Original makes a Polish sausage with the sausage, grilled onions, sport peppers, and mustard on a bun.

Maxwell Street Toppings
  • mushrooms
  • onions
  • Edam cheese
  • Polish sausage
  • griddled onions
  • sport peppers
  • yellow mustard

I figured that since this is an open-faced Polish-born sandwich, the best thing to use as toppings was the toppings for a Chicago-born Polish sausage sandwich. So, that’s what I did.

Maxwell Street Polish sausages are cooked in the restaurant on a flat-top griddle, so that’s what I did as well.
Once I griddled the onions and sausages a bit, I split the sausages to give them a flat side and some extra sear.
Sausages and onions are good.

The split Polish sausages hung over the edge of the zapiekanka which made it a bit of a large sandwich, but if you were splitting this or if you simply made a six-inch, half-sized zapikanka, this would be perfect for one person.

This was too much food but if you like Polish sausages, it was really good.
The plain zapiekanka was a bit of a big meal on its own. But adding two sausages is a big add.
Maxwell Street zapiekanka view printable page for this recipe

This is a Polish zapiekanka combined with Chicago's Maxwell Street Polish sandwich which creates a crunchy, cheesy, savory sausage experience in an open-faced sandwich.


Zapiekanka base
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 8 ounces white or cremini mushrooms, chopped into small pieces
  • 12 large onion, finely diced
  • pinch of salt and black pepper
  • 1 10 to 12-inch long French bread roll or baguette
  • edam cheese, shredded (a block of mozzarella or white cheddar would also work fine)
Sandwich assembly
  • 4 Polish sausages or kielbasa
  • 1 onion, sliced into rings and then each ring cut in half
  • sport peppers or pickled jalapenos
  • yellow mustard


Add 3 tablespoons of butter to a medium pan over medium heat. 

Once the butter is bubbly and melted, add the finely chopped mushrooms and the diced onion. Season the mushroom and onion mixture with a pinch of salt and ground black pepper. Cook, stirring frequently for 7 to 10 minutes or until the onion is soft and the mushrooms are tender. Remove the pan from the heat.

Slice your bread roll all the way and place both halves on a cutting board or plate, cut side up.

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F (190 C).

Cover each side of the cut bread with a generous layer of mushroom and onion mix and then top that with shredded cheese. Place on a sheet pan that has been lined with aluminum foil. 

Once the oven is preheated add the sheet pan and bake for 10 minutes or until the bread is crunchier and the cheese has fully melted.

Polish sausage and onions: when the zapiekanka goes into the oven, slice your onion into rings, then cut each onion ring in half.  Place both the onions and sausages in a warm pan or griddle over medium-high heat and cook for 8 minutes, flipping the sausage over a couple of times to ensure proper browning. 

After 8 minutes of cooking the sausage, cut each sausage in half lengthwise and lay each piece flat on the hot pan to sear the inside a little.

Once the zapiekanka comes out of the oven, it's time to build the open-faced sandwich.

Sandwich assembly: place 4 sausage pieces on top of the cheese on each zapiekanka. Top each one with half of the cooked onions and then top the onions with 4 or 5 sport peppers or 10 slices of pickled jalapenos.

Squirt a squiggly line of mustard on top of everything and then serve the zapiekanka open-faced like a French bread pizza.

Check back next week for another regional sandwich

This one is from Ohio. If you were a member of my Patreon community you’d already know what is coming next.

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