Krakow is a relatively undiscovered gem when compared to other European cities that have made its mark on the tourist map, but that’s only a matter of time. And what a sparkling gem it is! In this three part post, we explore various aspects of Polish cuisine.
Part 1 in a 3 part post
Krakow – an undiscovered gem
With history going back to the 7th century, Krakow’s historic centre comprising of the Old Town, Kazimierz (the Jewish District) and the Wawel Castle is included in the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The Stare Miasto or the Old Town is the most prominent example of an old town in the country is one of the biggest squares in Europe.The relocation of the royal capital of Poland from Krakow to Warsaw in 1596 didn’t in any way the city’s importance. The royal castle that houses a museum is definitely one of the best kept museums with tapestry. The city is an interesting contrast where an old historic town thronged by architectural monuments (an estimated 6000 buildings and other structures, and approximately 2,5 million artefacts stored in Krakow’s museums, churches and archives) boasts of being a university town with more than with more than 200,000 students. It’s no wonder then that the Main Market Square in Krakow has the highest number of pubs per square kilometre in the world! Jazz, pop, hiphop, blues, alternative rock and DJ sets vie comfortably with classical concerts and live performances and festivals.
All year round, Krakow hosts regular cultural events – some of them have become regular annual features – for example, Misteria Paschalia festival – one of the most outstanding European events focusing on Renaissance and Baroque music, Krakow Film Festival devoted to documentary, animation and short film, Krakow Summer Jazz Festival or the three-day long Pierogi Festival – a celebration of pierogis or stuffed dumplings that are so popular in Poland, which one can taste them in dozens of varieties!
Our 9 days long culinary trip to Poland was beyond exemplary, and was curated by Monica Kucia, a popular food writer and organiser of events on Polish cuisine. Our culinary experience went beyond our initial perception of Polish food as we were introduced to a whole array of traditional Polish cuisine as well as modern Polish cuisine stirred up by new-generation chefs who prided in using seasonal ingredients of regional variety. There seemed to be a resurgence of discovering old Polish cuisine that was wiped off temporarily during the communist regime. Polish cuisine, once upon a time had not only been a reflection of its agrarian culture but also an amalgamation of culinary inspirations from the neighbouring countries and cultures as a result of its shifting borders though history. It was good to see that the pride was back amongst Polish people to learn more about their own culinary heritage.
Engage with the local community
Learn to cook Polish food at a Polish home; but first, visit a local farmer’s market
Markets in Poland follow seasons and we were lucky to have visited Poland during this summer which has been pronounced as one of the best summers in a decade by all the chefs or the local producers we met – so wherever we went, we were surrounded by an incredible bounty of fresh seasonal produce and flowers.The first outing in Krakow was visiting Targ Pietruszkowy farmers’ market in Plac Niepodległości. The mission of this non-profit market is to connect customers with local food producers who are located withing an approx.150km around Krakow.
The market supplies fresh, organic, natural and pesticide-free products and truly as we inhaled the air around, the freshness of the earth, soil and purity of nutrients themselves engulfed our senses! The local farmers seemed to be quite passionate about connecting to their customers and spoke about their own produce at great length. We soon got introduced to a whole range of homemade Polish breads, dips, sauces, pickles and fermented products – the latter being a subject of discussion on its own.
Underground the main square in a cooler environment, there was a market selling high-quality cheese and meat. We bought a lot of seasonal herbs, vegetables and fruits, a home-made lavender syrup and cheeses including the legendary Oscypek or Oszczypek which is a smoked cheese made of salted sheep milk (we would soon visit a cheese farm in the mountains and learn about the intricacies and hardship of cheesemaking).
Plac Niepodległości; Saturday 8.00am-13.00pm and Wednesday 13.00am-17.00pm
Market to Table
The trip to the farmers’ market was followed by a very intimate cooking experience at Katarzyna Pilitowska, chef restauranteur and activist’s beautiful apartment, a few blocks away. Katarzyna or Kasia as she was addressed to lovingly and her partner were very warm hosts and explained every little process that went into the preparation of the dishes. And soon our dining table was graced with an overwhelming array of food – some traditional Polish dishes, as well as some modern renditions.
Kasia an advocate of Polish regional products and our lunch menu – Summer Breakfast Menu as she called it, showcased Polish seasonal and vegetarian dishes and consisted of a Summer Salad hustled by all of us with tomatoes, redcurrant, herbs, lettuce, Bunz (sheep’s cheese) and oil; Mizeria, a traditional Polish salad with grated cucumber, sugar, wine vinegar, sour cream, oil, dill and garlic; Cottage Cheese with honey and mint; Green beans in tomatoes and herbs; Young cabbage with dill; and a traditional dessert with seasonal fruits baked in Kogel-Mogel (egg yolk and sugar), that resembled thickened eggnog.
Join a Cracovian Picnic
Organised Cracovian (of Cracow or Krakow) Picnics over the weekends during summers have gained a lot of popularity amongst the eco-conscious community in the city. The first community picnic began in 2016 at two parks: Bednarski and Krakow and within a year, more parks joined in. It’s a seasonal culinary and social event in the area with food stalls and trucks, culinary and other art workshops for children and various pops ups. We were lucky to have experienced one in our Poland trip aslast picnic of the season was held just recently in September. Kasia is also one of the organisers of Piknikkrakowski and showed us around – specialty coffee stall like Dobra and a few regional savouries like Rogaliki – jam filled Polish croissants (or Russian Rugelach) caught our fancy!
Saturdays and Sundays, June- September
Dig into the modern eateries
The name, Ranny Ptaszek, literally translates into early bird – and this neighbourhood eatery closes early at 4pm and serves a breakfast menu all day long. From homemade muesli and apple crumpets with homemade jam to a hearty breakfast of roasted Hungarian sausage, fried egg, chickpeas in tomatoes, warm pitta bread, classic hummus and a sriracha mayo sauce, the one page menu is simple but promises to serve honest and soulful food.
We tasted homemade hummus, pickles, pickled mango sauce amba and various dips – spicy sauce sriracha mayo, tahina etc.
Our mains consisted of Ptakmi – grilled Greek cheese halloumi, cucumber carrot pickles, peanut mayo sauce, butter buns; Shakshouka with sausage and feta cheese – fried Hungarian sausage tipped with tomato-pepper sauce, fired egg, cilantro and parsley, homemade warm pita bread, homemade pickle and sriracha mayo; a Ratatouille de lux with egg and feta – served hot with stewed vegetables, eggplant, zucchini, onion, pepper in tomato sauce and hot pita; and Sabih (a popular Israeli sandwich also known as Sabich) – hard boiled egg, roasted eggplant, Islareali salad, tahini sauce, pickled mango sauce amba and warm pita bread.
The desserts on the menu – Chocolate cake and Rhubarb Pie, the latter coming with a drizzling of Rhubarb and Salted Caramel syrup deserve special mention as the owner (Kasia yet again, she’s the owner of Ranny Ptaszek!) is very conscious of the fact that her food has is delicious yet made with natural ingredients, hence guilt free! Freshly made Monka – home-made ice tea, different lemonades, Mimosa and a Venetian Prosecco complimented our lunch. It might be of interest to add here, that Kasia and her partner Bartłomiej Suder also own Hummus Amamamusi, is a very popular hummus bar located nearby in Meiselsa 4 str. There are 25 different flavours of hummus featured on its menu which Bartłomiej makes singlehandedly every day!
Address: Augustiańska 5 str., Krakow
Opening in 2016, Karakter is listed in the Michelin Guide (the horsemeat tartare is highly recommended) and has already made a buzz amongst the adventurous foodies for its slightly unconventional and daring menu offering – offal, horse sweetbread, ostrich gizzard etc. From an extensive ‘daring’ menu, we tasted the Ostrich eye fillet with a choice of squid confit in olive oil with garlic and pepperoncino, baguette with smoked butter, compressed cucumber, crème fraiche; Beef cheek in chocolate pepper sauce, avocado and fermented garlic; Duck breast glazed in ponzu/celery -cider puree, rhubarb, cherry sauce with black lila.
The wine list is extensive too and takes pride in listing Polish wines, beers and the very popular ciders. Service is prompt and the staff friendly, well versed in English which is quite helpful as the menu often needs elaborate explanations to foreign guests.
Address: Brzozowa 17 str., Krakow
Filipa 18 – Food | Wine | Art
The graphics of young Krakow artists from the Polish School of Posters adorn the walls of the restaurant giving it an art gallery vibe while Chef Marcin Sołtys creates a menu inspired by traditional Polish cuisine and presents it in a modern style, using regional products from the oldest market in Krakow – Stary Kleparz.
A selection of finest wines from across the world complemented our tasting menu that had been specially curated for our memorable dinner at Filipa 18 as we met up with Magda Kasprzyk-Chevriaux, a culinary journalist, author of food column in Culture.pl. Interestingly, Filipa 18 is housed in Hotel Indigo in Krakow’s Old Town, which is a boutique hotel located in a historic building, built in 1836 (mentioned later in this post).
Filipa 18 Restaurant
Address: Filipa 18 str., Cracow
How to get there ~ Where to Stay ~ Visas ~ Currency ~ Language >> Details HERE >>
Disclaimer: Debbie and Ishita were guests of Krajowy Osderek Wsparcia Rolnictwa (the National Support Centre for Agriculture in Poland), Poland Tastes Good and the Krakow Municipality with the mission to learn and share about Poland and its food, cuisine, culture and culinary traditions. This compilation has been drawn from their experiences – some of them hosted and some self-paid. www.kowr.gov.pl