We’d be kidding if we told you that Poland is up there amongst the world’s elite nations of gastronomy. Yet, in Poland’s second largest city of Krakow (and its former royal capital), we unearthed a surprising bounty of flavours, where food stories of the past and culinary trends of the future converged in this pristine European capital of culture.
Of course, the major landmarks are not to be missed – St. Mary’s Basilica with its stunning interiors and hourly trumpet calls; Wawel Castle with its magnificent art collection on the sprawling residence of former Polish kings; Schindler’s Factory with the its fascinating but sobering wartime atrocities carried out by the Nazis – but it was through our mealtime repasts that we experienced most intimately the Krakow way of life.
Polishing off Polish pizza at Plac Nowy
The heartbeat of Krakow is the loudest at Plac Nowy – upmarket wine bars rub shoulders with stinky dive bars, just as yuppies and socialites sit cheek by jowl with hipsters and grannies on the grimy sidewalks. Krakow roars to live in Plac Nowy’s central, concrete piazza, where an outward-facing circle of stalls dole out piping zapiekankas, the city’s quintessential street bite. These elongate, open-faced sandwiches are smeared so liberally with cheese and ketchup that its aromatic, onion-sauteed mushrooms often only register after a bite or two. They are a gooey mess, but a comforting snack to share, especially after a drink too many. Queues, however, are almost always guaranteed.
Sipping cold beer over the Rynek Główny
Rynek Główny count amongst Europe’s most beautiful market squares. A vast expanse of space surrounded by towering churches and historic townhouses, it’s enlivened by a day-long line-up of criss-crossing musical acts (accordion players, grand harpists, vaudeville magicians, and more). People-watching at an outdoor café in the square can also be extremely therapeutic, what with the backdrop of the majestic Town Tower Hall.
While Poland’s beers don’t have a phenomenal reputation, Tyskie and Zywiece are dependable, crisp lagers that are widely available. For an extra strong beer, get one with “Mocne” on the label – you’re guaranteed a knock-out. Chug along to the rhythm of Krakow’s cultural heart, where the Polish spirit can both be slurped and heard.
Nibbling on highland cheese from a street cart
A common sight along the streets of Krakow is that of a man hawking a basket of highland cheese (also called Oscypeki cheese). These distinctively parched cheeses are made of sheep milk and smoked for weeks over a highlander bonfire, yielding a chewy, salty dairy product.
It’s tough on the outside, making a hardy souvenir that’ll survive the bumps of brutal air transport, especially if you have a long journey home. A minute or two on the grill will soften it, releasing heady aromas at the same time .
Polish cuisine is a manifestation of the country’s agrarian past and its mountainous surrounds – behind beets and potatoes, highland cheese certainly ranks up there as a representation of the region’s bounty of indigenous ingredients.
Meals on wheels at food truck parks
Can’t shake that image of stodgy East European grub out of your head? Well, trendy food trucks are taking the city by storm, especially in the gentrified quarter of Kazimierz. At any one time, three to six trucks congregate on a concrete patch, serving all manner of street food, from paninis, crepes, cheesy fries to even sushi – you may be forgiven for thinking that you’re now outside Poland. Mismatched beach chairs, benches and low stools are scattered around for locals to gather, imbibe and revel. Against the backdrop of street graffiti, billowing smoke and unfettered chatter under the stars, the hip dining experience reminds us that Krakow isn’t stuck in its own storied tradition.
There are no direct flights from Singapore to Krakow. The quickest way to get to Krakow is on Swissair through Zurich, or on Lufthansa through Frankfurt. Easyjet and Ryanair both fly into Krakow from various European cities.
Top Image: Judah Square Food Truck Park