Wednesday, 30 May 2018

What's On The Menu in Krakow?

Kraków is one of the most beautiful cities in the world.  I'm half Polish so yes, I might be slightly biased, but equally the thousands of tourists that visit there each year don't contradict that statement either, many of whom return time and time again.

The sights are wonderful, Wawel Castle, Rynek Glowny, Kazimierz (Jewish Quarter) and I could wax lyrical about those all day, but right now, I'm focusing on the food.

Before we left, MCH (My Carnivorous Husband) and I made a pact that we would only eat Polish or Jewish food whilst there and even though there is a plethora of international cuisine available, we went for the 'when in Rome' approach - or rather when in Kraków.....  The other main reason is although I love cooking Polish food at home, most of it is so time consuming to make, so the fact we could have it readily, with no washing up afterwards was a blissful concept.

So what is Polish food?   Many in the UK might already be au fait with it following the wave of Polish migration to the UK in recent years with Polish shops and restaurants appearing on High Streets, but in essence, I call it hearty, rustic and comforting.

Menus typically contain lots of meat dishes like bigos, pork knuckles, traditional steaks, fish for those of a carnivorous persuasion, but for vegetarians, Kraków is great, especially if you are happy to dip into trying international foods.  There are plenty of standalone vegetarian restaurants and a good few vegan venues dotted around the city with even vegan sushi on offer (I wonder what my Polish Grandma would've made of that?.....).  

Photo: Word In Veg Ways
But like I said, we were staying firmly on the Polish/Jewish cuisine path.  So, quite a few times during the weekend I had 'pierogi' for lunch and dinner.  I adore pierogi!  For those that haven't tasted the splendours of pierogi, they are stuffed dumplings like ravioli but made from dough rather than pasta dough.   They can be sweet or savoury, fried as well as boiled and typically come in a 6-8 piece portion size.  The savoury classics are Ruskie (mashed potato with cheese) or cabbage & mushroom and when served with fried onions and/or sour cream it is sheer comfort on a plate!  It depends where you eat, but it can be as little as £3.00 when bought from a food truck (underneath Wawel Castle) or from a casual cafe (like Marchewka z Groszkiem) or it can be over £10.00 when purchased at one of the outdoor restaurants in the main square Rynek Glowny.  I literally gorged on them for the whole weekend.

Golabki and Pierogi
Photo:  Word In Veg Ways
Gołąbki (stuffed cabbage leave parcels) are another favourite, more likely to be stuffed with meat, but vegetarian versions can be found made with buckwheat, mushrooms or rice.  Filling and the epitome of home cooking, these are gloriously served with a rich tomato sauce (typically).  They are on the menu in one of my favourite restaurants, Ariel, in the Jewish Quarter (Kazimierz).  Frequented by Steven Spielberg when he was filming Schindler's List in Kraków, this restaurant is hugely popular and as such, you could struggle to get a table inside or outside.

Ariel Restaurant - Jewish Quarter
Photo:  Word In Veg Ways

The whole of Kazimierz is full of fabulous restaurants that really showcase Jewish cuisine and some run a full kosher kitchen.  Most of which are based on the semi-pedestrianised Ulica Szeroka (Broad Street) and as well as Ariel, there is Ester and Klezmer Hois.  On a warm day, there is something very relaxing and even romantic about sitting outside one of these restaurants as their own klezmer musicians provide a backdrop soundtrack with accordions, violins and oboes playing a host of Yiddish tunes like Hava Nagila and more familiar songs from The Fiddler On The Roof.  As well as gołąbki, other veggie Jewish food such as latkes (potato pancakes) and cholent (bean stew) can be ordered.  Different yet similar to Polish food, but still with the emphasis on comfort and plenty.

Jewish Purim Cake at Klezmer Hois
Photo:  Word In Veg Ways

Keeping the momentum going for me now I'm back is the cook book 'Wild Honey & Rye' by Ren Behan.  It's full of Polish classic dishes as well as some that have been given a contemporary makeover.  As well as the recipes, for me, there are lots of nostalgic references within.  Both Ren and I are children of Polish diaspora, a topic which she talks about and Ren weaves those into her recipe descriptions breathing life and relevance into each one.  I totally recommend it for anyone looking for an introduction into Polish cuisine or who having a little exposure already, wants to explore it further. 

I truly fell in love with Kraków, both culturally and with the food scene, with thoughts now turning to when I can return.  In the meantime, I have Ren Behan's book and a bottle of duty free Zubrowka Czarna vodka to keep me company until I'm Polska bound once again.