STURDY soups, succulent game and rich stews, introduced by a glass or two of neat vodka and rounded off with a nip of plum brandy . . . these are the highlights of a cuisine which rivals Europe's best. Polish cooking has its own distinct characteristics, but it has adapted and absorbed flavours and ingredients from all over the world. Traditionally, Polish meals begin with soup - the most common varieties are made using beetroot. A spring-time version, for example, is made from young beetroot leaves. In summer, the deep red soup is served cold, thickened with soured milk and served with diced veal. In the winter, the soup is served hot, with the Polish version of won ton , small round dumplings filled with chopped meat or mushrooms. Another favourite is a sour soup, zur , based on fermented rye flour, hard boiled eggs and slices of sausage. Fish is not widely eaten, but cod, carp, pike and trout are popular. The best-known traditional Polish dish is bigos. This is a stew which combines various meats and vegetables, including cabbage and sauerkraut and seasoned with prunes, plum preserve and a little dry wine. Almost every household has its own recipe for bigos , and there are endless varieties. Other traditional foods include tripe, either baked or served as a soup, stuffed cabbage leaves, and pierogi - a Polish version of ravioli, filled with different fillings including meat, cabbage, mushrooms and cheese, and served as a main course. Fruit to finish off a meal is also popular, particularly blueberries and cherries. In the hunting season, wild boar, hare, wild duck and partridge are commonly found on Polish menus. Local herbs such as thyme and marjoram are frequently used in dishes but, over the years, overseas spices have been imported and Polish food has become more highly seasoned. At the end of a meal, Poles will often choose to eat cake, including cheesecake, poppy seed cakes or apple tarts. Poland's climate does not lend itself to wine production. Instead, mead takes its place. The most popular drink to accompany a meal is locally brewed beer, which has a large following in the United States. Pope John Paul II used to enjoy the beer from Zywiec, the home of one of the nation's two leading breweries. The other is at Okicim. For an aperitif or a drink on any occasion, Polish vodka has justifiably earned an international reputation. This powerful drink is enjoyed neat and swallowed in one gulp, followed by hor d'oeuvre chasers of herring or cold meat. An equally powerful variation is a herbal vodka containing a blade of bison grass, which, like Asia's lemon grass, adds a distinct flavour to the spirit. Plum brandy (or sliwowica ) is another international favourite. Hongkong has no restaurants serving Polish food regularly, but the Polish Consul-in-Charge in the territory, Mr Krzysztof Ciebien, is planning a Polish Week, which will include promoting the country's foods.