It is quite difficult to briefly present the history of Krakow. Over the years, from the former capital and an important hub on key trade routes, Krakow turned into a peripheral city of AustriaHungary. Although two world wars left the city with almost only the Polish language on the streets, each of the inhabiting nations imprinted its mark on the city, its culture, and consequently – its cuisine. Today, the Jewish and AustroHungarian influences are the most noticeable ones. Numerous bakeries will tempt you with aromatic challah, in a restaurant on the Main Market Square you will enjoy a Wiener schnitzel, and for dessert you will get some apfelstrudel.
Culinary experts and chefs are currently looking into what Krakow cuisine is actually all about. They seek inspiration in the royal court bills, the menus of feasts and evening parties, as well as in the descriptions of street food. They peek into the former patisseries and cafes. Slowly, the first restaurants are emerging that are inspired by the history of the city, Handelek (św. Filipa 16/2) is one of them. More than a hundred years ago, the “handelki”, i.e. bustling breakfast bars where you could eat and drink beer from morning till midnight, were founded next to del-icatessen stores. Offal dishes and… sandwiches prevailed in the menu. Hawełka was famous for the latter, where one was served enormous, multi-layered sandwiches covered with sheep’s cheese with paprika, salmon, caviar and Swiss cheese. Today’s Handelek is a spacious breakfast restaurant near the Stary Kleparz. The sandwiches will tease you with cold cuts from the Wolarek butchery (Lisiecka sausage and Krakowska Sucha sausage),butter and cheese from the dairy in Skała or Ojcow trout, while the cheesecake here is served with Podhale sheep’s cheese — in other words, visit Handelek to taste good quality local products. And a challah served warm is a must!
You cannot leave Krakow unless you have tried the obwarzanek — a braided ring-shaped bread that is boiled (not to be confused with bagel!). It is said that the Cracovians are divided into those who prefer obwarzanek with salt, poppy seeds or sesame. Obwarzanek belongs to the products whose uniqueness lies in their refined simplicity. While it doesn’t seem to differ much from ordinary freshly baked bread, its crunchy golden-brown crust and mouth-soft, moist and chewy crumb make it one of the most favourite snacks. Obwarzanek is hand-made, as it is the baker, not the machine, who twiststwo or three strips (fingerthick dough rollers) and then skillfully joins the ends together to form a shapely circle. When the dough proofs, it is placed in a hot bath, i.e. it is parboiled. Parboiled rings are decorated by sprinkling them with various ingredients, and then baked. If you want to see for yourself if making obwarzanki is easy, visit the Obwarzanek Living Museum next to the Stary Kleparz (Paderewskiego 4). Please be aware that not all of them are vegetarian! Many bakeries use animal fats for their production.
Another Krakow delicacy is the maczanka sandwich. Legend has it that in the past it used to be a cabmen’s delicacy. Maczanka is a long-roasted, crumbling and extra tender pork neck with caraway and onion slathered in a rich gravy, in which a water roll is dipped. A few years ago, it became very popular mainly due to the fact that it became a flagship dish on the Andrus food truck (św. Wawrzyńca 16) menu. This favourite dish of the lower social classes has also been given its rightful place in Krakow’s best restaurants.
The menu of the best restaurants across Poland has been enriched with the Ojcow trout, unquestionably the most awarded Polish fish. It tastes best in the heart of the Ojcow National Park. And it’s really a great idea to go on a trip there. Interestingly enough, two women, a mother and a daughter, are responsible for reintroducing trout farming in Ojcow: Magdalena Węgiel and Agnieszka Sendor. The Ojcow ponds are abundant not only with the rainbow trout, available in every shop and easier to breed, but also with a real gem — the river trout. Once you get there, you can enjoy smoked or grilled fish and drink craft beer. If you don’t have time to visit Ojcow, stop by the Lorek & Portoyan booth in the Stary Kleparz to taste a smoked trout.
Look for other delicacies at Krakow’s numerous market squares: prądnicki bread, a bun called kukiełka lisiecka, piaszczańska sausage…. Krakow, as the capital of the Małopolska Province, can boast the availability of 12 certified regional products and over 200 traditional ones. They are all available within a radius of 100 kilometres from our city. You can also taste these products in restaurants marked with a red snail, the symbol of the Slow Food movement. This label means that the ingredients used by chefs come from small manufacturers who still use traditional methods. Krakow restaurants recommended by Slow Food Polska are: Trzy Rybki, Ed Red, Biała Róża, Miodova, Qualita, Albertina, Bottiglieria 1881, Amarylis, Pod Nosem.
When selecting a restaurant, you can also follow the advice of Michelin inspectors who award the restaurants with the following symbols: Stars — for the mastery of flavour of dishes (1-3 stars), couverts — for the decoration, quality of service, atmosphere of the restaurant (1-5 couverts) and Bib Gourmand — for the value for money. In Krakow, 25 restaurants were distinguished: three sets of couverts: Copernicus, Trzy Rybki; two sets of couverts: Kogel Mogel, Pod Baranem, Jarema, Amarylis, Cyrano de Bergerac, Corse, Studio Qulinarne, Szara Kazimierz, Szara, Albertina, Leonardo; one set of couverts: Karakter, Pod Nosem, Bianca, La Campana, Farina, Del Papa, Bottiglieria 1881, Zazie (plus Bib Gourmand), Miodova, Hana Sushi, ZaKładka Bistro de Cracovie, Sąsiedzi.
Another noteworthy guide is Gault&Millau, which recommends twice as many places in Krakow. A novelty in this year’s edition of the guide is the POP category, which lists cafes, pubs, bars, beer houses, food trucks and confectioneries distinguished by an interesting selection of products and/or atmosphere. These awards clearly prove why Krakow was granted the title of the European Capital of Gastronomic Culture 2019. On the occasion of this culinary feast, numerous events were organized to promote the local culinary heritage, which will also enable you to experience the famous Krakow hospitality. One of them is the Krakowskie Menu Stołeczne (Krakow Capital Menu). In 21 restaurants you can taste dishes inspired by local products and historical recipes.
If you want to learn more about the culinary traditions of the city and find out where the chefs, organizers of culinary festivals and Krakow foodies dine, visit the bilingual website culinary.krakow.pl (kulinarny.krakow.pl)