Preparing Meals in Polish: Robić and Gotować

In my last post I’ve discussed the family tree of the verb robić. You can check it out to learn words from this verb’s family. Today, I’ll discuss the use of this verb for food preparation. What’s the difference between robić (“to do/to make”) and gotować (“to cook”)? You’ll find out today! (And I’m sure you’re as excited as when you’re about to find out who the wrongdoer in Scooby-Doo is).

Cultural Note

A lot of people will tell you that robić is used for not hot/uncooked meals and gotować for the ones that require warming up. This is true to vast but it won’t make much sense for a person who comes from a different culture.
Of course, the way Polish people eat has been changing to accommodate the modern workplace. Lots of Poles have breakfast, lunch and dinner like other Westerners. However, the language has been around for a while and when certain expressions were created they reflected reality.
Polish people less recently used to eat an uncooked breakfast śniadanie (often sandwiches), second breakfast drugie śniadanie (yet again, sandwiches, this time packed), obiad (a cooked meal around 4 o’clock), podwieczorek (an afternoon snack) and dinner kolacja (and yes, yet again, often sandwiches).
Obiad is very often translated to English as “lunch” but as you can see from the description above it doesn’t really carry the same idea.

Robić or gotować?

The main question is whether we “cook” (gotować) or “make/do” (robić) something. Robić can be used even if something is cooked but it doesn’t work the other way round. That’s why we would say:

  • robić śniadanie – “to make breakfast”

    Tata robi śniadanie dla dzieci. – “Dad is making breakfast for children.”
  • robić/gotować obiad – “to make/cook lunch (for lack of a better word)”

    Robię/Gotuję obiad, oddzwonię później. – “I’m making lunch, I’ll call you back later.”
  • robić kolację – “to make dinner”

    Co robisz na kolację? – “What are you making for dinner?”

Robić AND gotować

Just like in the example with obiad we can use both gotować and robić for some things. There will be a difference in meaning, though so choose wisely.

Robić pierogi means to form them out of pastry. You can also use the verb lepić (literally: “to glue”) here. The verb gotować should be used for pierogi, when you’re making them ready to eat by boiling them in hot water.

By the same token, we say robić makaron when describing the activity of cutting and shaping pasta and gotować makaron for cooking it.

Check Your Understanding

I hope that the difference between these two verbs is clear to you now. Just to make sure, do the test below. Remember to comment with your answers below so that I can tell you, whether you were right or not:

  1. Mama _____________ pizzę. (Mom is making pizza. Hint: forming the dough not baking it)
  2. Karol ____________ śniadania, a ja ___________ obiady. (Karol makes breakfasts and I make lunches.)
  3. ___________ pierogi już od godziny. (I’ve been making pierogi for an hour.)
  4. Zaczęłam ___________ pierogi, będa gotowe za 10 minut. (I’ve started to boil pierogi, they’ll be ready in 10 minutes.)
  5. Po polsku nie mówi się _________ kolację tylko ___________ kolację. (We don’t say cook dinner in Polish but make dinner).