We spent a week in Kraków in Poland en route to Austria. I have never been to Poland before and had absolutely no idea what to expect from the food. We arrived late in the evening and went straight to sleep so my first meal in Poland was breakfast, or śniadanie. Always a challenge. Breakfast is one of those meals that many people like to be familiar. I used to stick with toast until I made a conscious decision to “breakfast like a local”. This was challenging initially especially when confronted with items like meat or noodles which is far from what I eat at home. Some years ago I fell in love with German breakfast and then when I tried to replicate at home it was not appealing at all. These days, as some of you will know I do eat radishes and tomatoes for breakfast when we have them in the garden, but I usually stick with toast and vegemite.
Back to Kraków. We set off for breakfast around 8.00 on Sunday morning having no idea what we would find. We stumbled upon a nice looking café, Tomasza 20 Resto Bar, and sat outside to enjoy our breakfast in the sun. Having come from Wellington winter, sitting out on a warm Sunday morning was very appealing. In fact the temperature climbed to 36 degrees that day which became less appealing. I chose one of the set breakfasts which consisted of bread, cheese, tomatoes, olives, cottage cheese and scrambled eggs. The scrambled eggs in Kraków were not scrambled they way I do them at home. Firstly there were always three eggs which did seem somewhat excessive. I think the eggs were broken directly into the pan and scrambled gently in the pan so that the whites were just set and some of the yolk was still soft. They had chives sprinkled on the top and were wonderful. Three eggs were a bit much for me and it was a struggle to finish the bread and cheese however I made a valiant effort. I will try this method at home.
With this meal we had unlimited coffee for 1 złoty which translates to about 40c. I was initially dismayed by the bucket of coffee approach however it was really nice coffee. I discovered that if you asked for black coffee you either got this 1 złoty bucket of coffee or the best long black ever for around 4 złoty and you didn’t know until it arrived which it was to be. Both were excellent coffee and the bottomless style was great for breakfast. I initially fell into a trap for the unwary – if you asked for a glass of water you will pay upward of 8 złoty for a bottle of mineral water, still or sparkling. I was quite taken aback when the bill came. If you order a short espresso you do get a glass of still water on the side, however the water is never chilled.
I had the eggs again at Wesola café. I then decided that 3 eggs for breakfast was too much for me. I am however going to attempt the scrambled eggs at home using three eggs between two rather than three each.
We discovered a café called Smakolyki and as part of my breakfast set I had what I think was a basil smoothie. That was rather amazing. I am not sure what was in it. The bread was also hot from the oven with very crusty crusts so I ate rather a lot of it.
On the last day I had an obwarzanek krakowski. I had been avoiding this because it was referred to as a bagel and I am not a fan of bagels – too dry. This is not a bagel. It is a thing of wonder. Similar to but definitely not a bagel. Next time this will be my go to Kraków breakfast.
Lunch in Europe is often a three course dinner so we tended to look for the “snack” option on the menu and there isn’t much to say. I prefer my dinner in the evening. There is an abundance of cake and sugary goodness, most of which we avoided. I did succumb to a salted caramel ice cream which was delicious. The temperature was over 30 degrees for half of our stay and in the high twenties for the rest so it seemed a necessary indulgence.
One evening we went to Klezmer Hois in the area known as Kazimierze which was the old Jewish quarter from the 14th century until 1941 when the Jewish population was moved into the ghetto in nearby Podgorze. The Klezmer Hois was a former mikveh, a bath house used for ritual bathing. During dinner each evening a Klezmer band played, which was the main reason we went. They served classic Polish Jewish cuisine. I started with beetroot soup which was astounding. It was a thin liquid with such depth of both colour and flavour. This is another dish I am going to try and recreate at home. There was no texture of beetroot, just flavour of beetroot. The following evening I had this at Smakolyki but with pierogi, Polish dumplings. For my main dish I had chicken kniedlach – matzah balls, with boiled potatoes and beetroot salad. The dining room was reminiscent of a grandma’s sitting room and the band created a wonderful atmosphere.
My sojourn in Poland started with me knowing nothing about Poland or its food. I learned a great deal about both, in particular the history and culture of Kraków and its rich and varied cuisine. I enjoyed both the traditional and the modern. Much of Polish cuisine is intertwined with its rich and ultimately tragic Jewish history and the shadows of the twentieth century are certainly perceptible, however modern Poland is very evident in both cuisine and in culture. The Museum of Contemporary Art, Krakow (MOCAK), which is housed in the building that was Oskar Schindler’s enamel factory, is one of the most exciting and challenging modern art collections I have seen. We also discovered a contemporary dining establishment, Enoteka Pergamin, which warrants an entry of its own.