What to eat and where to eat traditional Polish food in Krakow
Food in Poland
I knew a little bit about what to eat in Krakow having grown up with some Polish friends. Prior to heading to Poland a few weeks ago, I thought I might do some research on what to expect from traditional Polish food. Now been treated to some great Polish foods I was really looking forward to some of my favourite things to eat in Krakow like kielbasa, golabki and those fabulous paczkis not to mention cabbage rolls. No, I’m not forgetting the iconic traditional Polish dish pierogies.
What is Stare Miasto Krakow?
Stare Miasto is Krakow’s old town. This is a UNESCO protected area located in the centre of Krakow. It is surrounded by a green ring known as Plankty Park which replaced the old town walls destroyed centuries ago it is the beating heart of Krakow. The area includes Wawel Castle, Rynek Square with its Basilica and Market Square, the University and the Barbican and ancient entrance into Krakow.
The heart of Stare Miasto is Rynek Glowny, which is the biggest medieval square in Europe. Inside the Stare Miasto, you will find plenty of restaurants from the cheap to the gourmet to Starbucks and Costa Coffee. Not only packed with food joints the Square has hundreds of bars and pubs. You will find vodka shots for around €1 Euro to a pint of beer for the same amount.
The Polish love their Vodka and beer and both are cheap and plentiful the food is also pretty inexpensive and the portions served are huge.
We stayed just outside Old Town which can get expensive depending on the season. Where we were located was within the Kleparz District. This area sits just to the north of the Old Town and the park “walls” that surround the Old Town area from our apartment it took 15 minutes to walk to the main square.
Now for those of you who don’t know any of those Polish foods here is a bit of a list about some of my favourites and what the Polish love to eat.
What and where to eat in Krakow
Pierogies are probably one of the most well known of Polish foods. Tender little pockets – or Polish dumplings if you like, similar to an Italian ravioli or stuffed pasta. Pierogies even have their own patron saint who is called St. Hyacinth he is a 13th-century Polish saint who, according to legend brought Pierogies to Poland from Kievan Rus which is now the capital of Ukraine.
In the Ukraine, pierogies are known as varenyky and are typically just boiled instead of boiled and then fried.
Another legend holds that pierogi were brought by the Tatars to the West from the former Russian Empire.
Polish Pierogi come can be filled with a wide variety of fillings. The dough used for the shell is basically a flour and water dough, sometimes eggs are used. The dough is rolled flat and then a circle is cut from the dough and stuffed. The stuffings that are the most common are ground beef or various meats, grains, mushrooms, sauerkraut and cabbage. There are also sweet versions available when fresh fruits are in the markets.
Various pierogi are served on specific holidays. Polish Christmas food includes pierogies that are filled with sauerkraut, mushrooms and cabbage. This goes back to an early Catholic rule of fasting before Christmas and abstinence. An Abstinent meal would be free of meat and dairy.
Wedding pierogi can have a variety of fillings but are usually much larger than normal, as befits the occasion, but the most traditional filling is chicken, and the resulting dish has its own name, kurniki. Even the word, pierogi comes from a Slavic word, pir, meaning “festive,”
While wandering around Krakow you will see numerous traditional Polish Pierogie Restaurants some are open just from breakfast to lunch and some only in the evening but it is inescapable Pierogies are a must to try in Krakow. We ate in a variety of restaurants and pierogi was served in all of them.
# 2 BIGOS
Bigos are the ultimate Polish comfort food and the national dish of Poland. This is a traditional Polish stew usually made with any kind of meat from pork to rabbit or venison, but it should always have Polish sausage in the pot. Also called a Hunter’s Stew the other ingredients include: traditional Polish sauerkraut, mushrooms, onions and spices.
This leads me to Kielbasa, now kielbasa is actually Polish for sausage. Many of us N. Americans are accustomed to going into our delis and getting some Kielbasa but in Poland, if you ask for a kilo of Kielbasa you get asked which kind. In Poland just asking for kielbasa is like asking for cheese. Do you want Edam, Cheddar, Swiss, Blue, Feta or exactly what kind of Cheese or in this case kielbasa.
There are two types of kielbasa in Poland a normal sausage that has to be cooked or the dried or sucha which is eaten cold. Regular kielbasa can be eaten cold or cooked and is the most common sausage in bigos.
The 4 types of favourite Polish sausages are called: kabanosy, krakowska, wiejska and mysliwska.
Kabanosy – is an air-dried sausage flavoured with caraway and black pepper.
Kielbasa Krakowska – apparently the best kielbasa is this one from Krakow. The original recipes for this sausage hail from the 16th century. Usually eaten in salads or sandwiches or as I like it with a hunk of crusty bread. This is the type we most often find in Canada.
Kielbasa Wiejska – This sausage usually comes in a U shape and is made of veal and pork with marjoram and garlic. A smoked sausage that has garlic, black pepper, and a pinch of salt. This is called a Hunter sausage in Poland it is usually a dark brown with very wrinkled skin.
Kielbasa Mysliwska – A raw sausage made from pork and beef in a natural skin with garlic, black and white pepper, salt and marjoram. It is a traditional Polish food served during Easter in the fabulous POlish soups called Zurek.
On the edge of the Kazimierz district across from the Market Hall, a great Kielbasa can be had from the now legendary Krakow Blue Van which can be the van has been a Krakovian street food institution for over twenty-five years. Here two old boys in white smocks set up shop outside their blue Nysa (a Polish PRL-era van) every evening except Sundays to grill kiełbasa sausages over a wood-fired stove. Kraków’s first food truck, don’t miss it if you’re in the neighbourhood. Kielbaski pod Hala targowa ul. Grzegorzecka 14, Krakow.
Or as we call them Cabbage rolls. Gołąbki is the Polish name for this dish that takes boiled cabbage leaves, wraps them around a filling of minced pork or beef lightly seasoned with salt, pepper, garlic and onions with some white rice added. These are then baked and served with a tomato sauce. I adore cabbage rolls I have eaten them around the world and with all kinds of variations but Polish recipe ones are my favourite. I even tried vegan cabbage rolls in Krakow at ????? which had bulgur, lentils and a wheat berry filling that was out of this world.
#5 GULASZ WOŁOWY
Originally from Hungary Polish goulash is a thicker version of the Hungarian soup. A thick meat stew made with mushrooms, carrots, onion, potatoes and bell pepper flavoured with paprika. Always best served the next day the Polish serve goulash with crispy potato pancakes, potato gnocchi or simply served over kasha which is roasted buckwheat. In most European countries Kasha is simply grain-based carb-like buckwheat, wheat, barley, oats, millet or rye. It makes a tastier and healthier alternative to white rice or pasta.
#6 KOTLET SCHABOWY
At heart, this is a pork schnitzel. It is a pork cutlet pounded until thin and then coated in breadcrumbs and fried till crispy on the outside tender on the inside. This is served all over Krakow and is considered a very traditional Polish dinner.
A soup that is seen on virtually every menu in Krakow. This is a sour rye soup with potato, sausage or an egg, sometimes served in a bread loaf. It has a very distinctive taste that does take some getting used to. It’s not sour like lemons or vinegar but more sort of sour doughish. This flavour comes from fermented rye flour. A traditional soup to serve at Easter zurek soup is often served in a bread bowl. Accompaniments include hard-boiled eggs and a white Polish sausage that is boiled before adding to the soup.
#8 POLISH SOUPS
Poland is very much a meat and potatoes country with lots of soups and stews appearing on their menus. The most well known traditional Polish soup is Barszcz czerwony which is similar to a Russian borscht soup. this beetroot soup with vegetables and sour cream or served clear with dumplings. There is also Grochówka a thick green pea soup and it wouldn’t be Poland without a mushroom soup. Zupa grzybowa which is a mushroom soup with cream. The Polish are obsessed with mushrooms and they are one of the largest producers and exporters of mushrooms in Europe and every summer you will find legions of them foraging for mushrooms in the forests.
Another Polish favourite these are soft dumplings made from potato very similar to gnocchi. Kopytka are cooked in water, salted if the dish is to be savoury or plain if used as a sweet dish. If served savoury they are baked with various sauces such as goulash or mushroom or baked with bacon and cheese with some fried sweet onions. If sweet they are dished up with butter, sugar, cinnamon and sweetened quark.
A great big jam-filled doughnut. Tender and sweet the most traditional filling is a rose flavoured jam. These lovely deep-fried morsels of joy are usually eaten on Shrove Tuesday before Lent and include fillings such as prune, apricot, strawberry, raspberry or sweet cheese filling. Some make these puffy dough balls without filling and roll them in granulated sugar.
#11 PLACKI ZIEMNIACZANE
These are very much like latkes, Swiss rosti or Irish boxty. Usually made from mashed or grated potatoes mixed with flour, a little onion and some salt and egg to bind the mixture then pan-fried. They can be served sweet with cinnamon sugar and cooked apples with cream, or savoury as we had them at Chata with a pork stew.
As seen on every menu this is simply steak tartar; raw minced beef with chopped onion and raw egg yolk served in the centre of the meat patty. Here in Krakow Tatar is served with dill pickles, pickled mushrooms, and a yeast extract like Marmite instead of Worcestershire sauce.
#13 POLEDWICKZKI WOLOWE
A beautifully tender beef sirloin usually served with a fine foraged mushroom sauce.
A Polish cheesecake made with a farmer’s cheese called twaróg it has a sweet pastry crust. Sernik is less sweet than N. American cheesecake and much thicker I guess I’d describe more cheesier.
A poppyseed roll made from a sweet yeasted dough and stuffed with poppy seeds, It’s a must-have for Easter and Christmas in Polish homes, but it’s not saved for these special occasions. Often served for breakfast or with a cup of coffee during workers coffee breaks.
#16 MASTERS BREAKFAST
We saw this on every breakfast menu we looked at and it appears to be fried eggs on toast with bacon and avocado. Pretty tasty and served with a salad.
Also called the Krakow bagel or pretzel the obwarzanek Krakowski is a braided ring-shaped bread that is boiled and sprinkled with salt, poppy seeds, or sesame seeds before being baked. It is served virtually everywhere and is particularly popular for lunches served with hummus.
Polish pizza from Plac Nowy which is a small square in the Kazimierz District that hosts a variety of food trucks and one of the specialities is Zapienkanka. At its most basic zapiekanka is an open-face sandwich made on half a baguette and loaded with sautéed mushrooms, cheese and toasted until the cheese melts. Served hot with ketchup, it is popular street food in Poland and in high demand when the bars let out.
#20 GRILLED OSCYPEK
Is on virtually every menu as a starter it is a soft cheese made from salted sheep’s milk that is curdled and rinsed several times in boiling water and pressed into a mould. This gives it a chewy texture and distinctive light smoky flavour. Since 2008 the cheese is a protected trade name under the EU’s Protected Designation of Origin geographical indication. The milk is from a special breed of sheep called Polish Mountain Sheep.
For centuries, the tradition of making oscypek by hand has been passed down from generation to generation. This seasonal cheese is produced from May to September during sheep milking season (sometimes small amounts of milk from a special breed of cow – the Polish Red Cow is added). It is served grilled with a sweet tangy cranberry sauce.
#21 Maczanka Krakowska
Simply perfect Polish street food. Maczanka Krakowska It was one of the most famous Polish street food before WWI. Invented in Krakow (hence the name) this is really a very traditional Polish pork dish that resembles a pulled pork. It is served in a bun which is dunked in the sauce or gravy before being filled with the meat, it was a popular student snack that kept them going for hours.
What is a Polish Milk Bar?
Poland’s first milk bar was actually opened on Kraków’s market square on May 30th, 1948. Originally no actual food was served only a glass of milk. Run by the government, this was the Communist Party’s way to popularize milk-drinking to use up Poland’s large surplus of dairy products. As restaurants were nationalised by the communists more milk bars were started and many workers had their lunches or meals at a Milk Bar included as their “pay”.
One of the earliest Milk Bars -Bar Mleczny is in the Old Town, on Grodzka, a street near the Castle, on one of the main tourist routes that connect the Castle and the Town Square. The cafe is very busy and popular as it is very cheap. There is a menu in English and the staff do speak English. Milk Bar’s are self serve, place your order and wait to pick up to take to your table. It’s a very cheap way to eat and highly recommended.
What is a traditional Polish breakfast?
In Poland breakfast is a pretty substantial meal it’s similar to a Full Irish Breakfast but it includes cold cuts, Kielbasa, pickled and fresh fruits and vegetables, hard-boiled eggs cheeses both a soft farmer’s cheese and hard sliced cheese, pastries and bread, prune jam appears to be the most popular. One thing we did notice is that the Polish like their fried eggs and scrambled eggs very wet and what we might call undercooked so they were rather runny.
We found we often didn’t need lunch because the Polish breakfasts were so substantial we were quite satisfied until much later in the day.
Our two favourite restaurants for breakfast were:
Domowe Przysmaki is a small restaurant that we passed by on our way to the Square. We ate both breakfast and lunch there. Our breakfast was the Master’s Breakfast which was eggs on toast with avocado.
We also enjoyed a true Polish breakfast which included rye bread, sliced meats, cheeses and salad. They also served traditional Polish cuisine such as pierogies, borscht and various other dishes.
Relaks Cafe we discovered on our way to Old Town from Kleparz (on Dluga Street) as we walked right past it. It had a nondescript black chalkboard offering a breakfast buffet for zlotys (A zloty when we were there averaged around .25 cents).
What we discovered walking through the sort of tunnel was a lovely little courtyard and a small cafe with stone arches and a fantastic breakfast buffet. By the way, they also have a beautiful hotel or rather aparthotel attached.
We enjoyed the full extent of the buffet and were offered a variety of differently prepared eggs to go with our feast.
Our favourite lunch restaurants were:
Pierogarnia Krakowiacy is a really pretty little traditional restaurant that only serves pierogi and a couple of stews and soups. But oh those pierogies will leave you dreaming about Polish food.
2 Ona Kazimierz next to the High Synagogue in the Jewish quarter, we stumbled across this little cafe that looked a little bare in the middle of March, to be honest. A young woman was hanging paintings on the wall and the cafe was pretty empty at lunchtime. We decided we didn’t care and ordered coffee with lunch platter.
That platter was loaded with sliced meats, cheeses, olives, and some of the best hummus we have ever eaten there was a plain one, sundried tomato and an olive hummus. We also had lettuce, tomatoes and soft Polish spreadable cheese along with a huge basket of obwarzanek Krakowski.
Our favourite dinner restaurants were:
We discovered Chata which was directly behind our Aparthotel and we managed to get in and get seated on a Sunday night. The place was packed and many times over we saw folks being turned away. Chata is in the Kleparz district just outside the green park.
Inside it looks like a country cabin the tables are huge wooden and the bench seating is covered with fake fur. You feel like you are seated in a mountain cabin. The fire is burning and folks are all chatting to each other at the communal tables.
The first time we went to Chata we had the best goulash I have ever tasted and it was served in an edible bowl absolute deliciousness. We also tried the Cheese and cranberry starter, the potato pancakes with garlic and honey. For mains, we had the Pork Chops with crispy potato pancakes, obviously the pierogi and a stuffed pork chop mains as well.
We did go back again to Chata as the food was absolutely superb and great value for money.
Podleliwa Restaurant is located on Sławkowska Street just before you reach the main square. This was once an XVII century palace owned by the Tarnowski family and the baroque portals on the interior walls are decorated with coats of arms.
We began our meal with Żurek soup and Chlodnik which is the cold borscht. Our mains was Vegan cabbage rolls with buckwheat and forest mushrooms.
Schabowy cutlet for hubs and Beef cheeks cooked in dark beer.
Ariel Restaurant in Kazimierz the restaurant was established in a tenement house erected between the World Wars, occupying the place where an old 18th century “Rabbi House” used to stand.
Currently, it houses the first private Judaistic art gallery in Cracow, with old and contemporary pieces of art, and in the second symmetric wing of the building, newly constructed, there is a cafe and restaurant with Jewish music concerts.
One of the oldest restaurants in Kazimierz it serves some wonderful Jewish foods such as Carp fish Jewish style, Gefilte fish, Chopped chicken livers with eggs, Kreplach, Matzaball soup, Cholent and other great dishes from the Hasidic and Orthodox traditions. The restaurant is kosher and probably on the more expensive side for Krakow but the food is superb.
Pierożki u Vincenta is a tiny restaurant in Kazimierz where our tour guide advised us to try the pierogis at Mr Vincent Pierogi. A small homey place it has Van Gough inspired interiors and a large selection of pierogi’s to choose from. With over 40 kinds to choose from the best is to go with more than two people and try a selection of the pierogis.
They have the usual culprits but also a great selection of sweet pierogi like Grandma’s Dumplings which have sweet cottage cheese and vanilla, there are cherry dumplings, plum dumplings and much more. The savoury dumplings include the Castellan with chanterelles, honey, butter, cream and fresh herbs, Tiria Dumplings with 3 kinds of cheese, Dumplings from Hell with hot peppers, salami, red beans, chicken and sweetcorn alongside the traditional Polish pierogi.
Hamsa Restaurant Kazimierz. Make hummus not war is the Hamsa restaurants credo. An Israeli restaurant settled in a gorgeous old stone building in the Kazimierz district Hamsa concentrates on serving fresh Israeli dishes.
On weekends they have an amazing Middle Eastern breakfast brunch. The menu includes Muhammara, Baba ganoush, various hummus dishes, homemade marmalade, homemade granola and weekly specials!
For lunch and dinner, you can choose from a variety of Mezes and sets which include a salad with sweet potatoes and cheese, red grapefruit, roasted pumpkin seeds, roasted almonds, pomegranate treacle sauce. Soups such as chreime a thick fish soup from North African Jewish cuisine, with pieces of cod and salmon or how about a long-simmered lamb tagine complete with fresh apricots.
For someone missing their pastrami, a huge pastrami sandwich was ordered and enjoyed, in fact, there was two kinds on the menu hamsa pastrami: which included sliced beef pastrami, muhammara, sheep`s cheese from Beskid Mountains, jalapeno, gherkins, shallots and salad mix. The falafel pastrami: contained sliced beef pastrami, sun-dried tomato and basil hummus, falafel, pickled turnips, chilli peppers and rocket.
For 4 days in Krakow, we probably spent a grand total of €40 euros a day for two of us and that includes beverages so 2 coffees with breakfast, tea, coffee or a beer with lunch and a couple of beers at dinner. The one or two nights we had some drinks (as in vodka drinks) we spent a whole €15 euros for many vodkas and a few beers.
We absolutely loved Krakow and would love to return again in the warmer months.
Have you been to Krakow? What was your favourite food?
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