Gastronomy '
Magdalena Wójcik
Reading time: approx. 8 minutes

An Appetite for Kraków

Kraków’s culinary world has always benefitted from outside input. In centuries past, the city welcomed merchants bringing their spices, recipes and delicacies along trade (and culinary) routes. In the 21st century, the inspiration mainly comes from tourism. Restaurateurs work incredibly hard to keep up with international trends and attract visitors, while Cracovians love opening new venues serving up flavours they fell in love with on their travels.

Kraków’s culinary scene abounds with variety, with history rubbing shoulders with the latest trends. Head to Kazimierz to Jewish delicacies such as sample helzel (stuffed goose necks), gefilte fish with almonds and cinnamon, cholent, tzimmes, challah bread or chopped liver. After lunch, step into one of the patisseries around the Main Market Square for a Pischinger torte, Sacher torte, apple strudel or Cracovian cheesecake. And why not follow the lead of café regulars from a century ago and take a glass of liqueur, or, better still, something a little stronger with your coffee. The city’s coffee shops and patisseries still reflect the atmosphere of old Kraków.

Kraków à la carte

Many Cracovian restaurants – and there are a few hundred! – could just as easily be found anywhere else in Europe. But there’s also plenty for fans of less obvious cuisine. As well as top-notch restaurants boasting international accolades and scoring top marks on review sites, Kraków is also home to eateries founded and run by home-grown cooks who are making a living out of their life’s passion. Each such place has a unique atmosphere and guests are treated like family – not infrequently because the dining room is barely larger than a home kitchen! – and the meals they serve soothe far more than grumbling stomachs. Many similar venues are opening beyond the city centre and off the beaten tourist tracks, so if you love snacking as an excuse for sightseeing, you’ll be able to explore quieter parts of Nowa Huta, Zabłocie and Stare Podgórze – rapidly becoming a culinary mecca since the opening of the Father Bernatek Footbridge – all the way to Salwator.

To the delight of the more thrifty locals, students and tourists mindful of their budget, the old-school institution of milk bars is still thriving in Kraków. Regulars are attracted by the low prices, fast service and classic Polish dishes, served up with a dose of nostalgia. In many bars the décor has never been updated, and the same can be said for the staff.

 

On the other end of the spectrum of Kraków’s gastronomy we find several fine dining restaurants. Local gourmands rejoiced when Bottiglieria 1881 was the first venue in the city to be awarded the Michelin star in June 2020. The guide also lists another 18 venues in Kraków, with two awarded the Bib Gourmand distinction: the popular, unpretentious, honest French bistro Zazie and the refined Fiorentina at Grodzka Street. The Polish edition of the yellow Gault&Millau guide lists over 60 Cracovian restaurants.

The capital of Małopolska abounds with delicacies of all nationalities, frequently prepared by expats.

You can sample Japanese favourites ramen, udon and sushi, taste fresh, hot Korean, Vietnamese and Thai cuisine, or popular Middle Eastern staples from Israel, Lebanon or Syria – often with a local twist, such as hummus with smoked prunes. Local foodies pop out for Basque pintxos and tapas, down hot espressos with Portuguese pastéis de nata, devour French coq au vin for Sunday lunch, spend Friday nights sharing certified Neapolitan pizza with friends and order Georgian khinkali for a workday lunch. Dedicated carnivores have a vast selection of all cuts and offal to choose from, while vegetarians and vegans are equally well catered for with timeless meat-free dishes and creative twists on classics from all over the globe.

Kraków has always been a city of street food: since its day as a mediaeval trading centre, market squares have kept hungry locals and travellers fed on fried sausages and chicken livers, cold cuts and brawn, buckwheat, roast potatoes and bigos, groats, tripe, and substantial broths such as meaty borsch, pea soup, potato soup and barley soup. Such cheap, nutritious fare never lost its popularity – when you’re heading home from a night out, don’t miss out on the classic late-night snack of grilled sausages served from a van by Hala Targowa. And while you’re out and about in Kazimierz, take your pick from myriad stalls and food trucks selling delicacies from all corners of the globe – with many traders seeing their venture as the first step on the way to opening a restaurant.

From the field to the plate

The capital of Małopolska is extremely lucky when it comes to fresh local produce and ingredients, increasingly used by ambitious chefs who prefer to showcase traditional Polish flavours rather than rehashing international standards.

Polish gastronomy and cuisine as envisioned by some of the most talented chefs continues to reinvent itself. They reach for inspiration to their childhoods and tirelessly search for old recipes, perhaps those used by cooks working for wealthy aristocratic families in centuries past. They find new ways of elevating the humble street staple of the obwarzanki whose beauty lies in their simplicity (the ingredients are just flour, water, fat, salt, sugar and yeast) and which are said to date back to the 14th century; they rediscover how to ferment the ancient celtuce.

But local produce remains the source of greatest inspiration, with such delicacies as smoked prunes, smoked sheep’s milk cheese, myriad cured sausages, wild trout and Galician garlic.

Another popular local flavour is caraway – so much so that for many decades almost all bakeries sprinkled the spice on fresh bread. Caraway is also an essential ingredient of maczanka krakowska – a legendary favourite of drivers of horse-drawn carriages. Maczanka is braised pork neck in a sauce rich with onion and caraway, mopped up with a simple bread roll. The traditional snack has rapidly become one of favourite staples of Cracovian street food, popularised by the Andrus food truck.

 

You can find plenty of local specialities at local market squares – as well as selling all manner of food and household goods, they are increasingly turning into local delis and tourist attractions. The busiest and most important is Stary Kleparz, supplying several of Kraków’s fine dining restaurants. There is also the twice-weekly market in Podgórze, with producers of organic food and smallholders bringing their wares on Wednesdays and Saturdays.

 

Gourmands cannot possibly overlook Kraków’s myriad bakeries such as Zaczyn, Pochlebstwo, Breaking Bread, Świeżo Upieczona and the more traditional Mojego Taty and the Binkowski family. Third-wave coffeeshops such as Coffee Proficiency, Dobra and Karma source speciality beans – and don’t forget to ask about home-made kombucha! The ancient local beermaking traditions are continued by artisanal breweries such as Pracownia Piwa, Górniczo-Hutniczy, Brokreacja, Piwojad and Twigg. Kraków is home to many beer shops and tap bars specialising in small, independent breweries from the city and the region.

Festivals, fairs, picnics…

But Cracovian’s don’t just gather at restaurants: there are plenty of opportunities to discover the latest culinary news and spend time with family, friends and neighbours at Kraków’s numerous festivals, markets, fairs and picnics. Between April and October, locals flock to the Stary Kleparz for the Art & Food Bazaar, dominated by wine and seafood. The Najedzeni Fest! is Kraków’s leading food festival, held at different locations several times every year. In September, the event comes to Stary Kleparz to celebrate the humble (or should we say noble?) potato. Fans of more intimate, local outdoor events head to the Kraków Picnic, showcasing the city’s local parks and promoting spending time with the family.

 

Other culinary events include Veganmania dedicated to plant-based cuisine, the Food Truck Festival, Beerweek and One More Beer Festival, the Coffee Festival, the World Class Cocktail Festival and Enoexpo, Young Wine Festival, the Confetti Wine Fest, the Zaułek Małopolskiego Wina and Małopolska Organic Autumn festivals.

Don’t miss the Kraków Indulgence, the Obwarzanek Festival, the St. John’s Fair and the Pierogi Festival when exploring the history of local cuisine and traditional Polish fare.

 

Kraków’s flourishing culinary scene earned it the title of European Capital of Gastronomic Culture in 2019. The same year, the City of Kraków took to Facebook to publish a free guide in Polish and English listing the most important and interesting restaurants and culinary venues. A few months later, chefs and gourmands involved with slow food published a guide to Kraków’s history and latest trends in the movement. Both guides are free and available online!

Facebook groups Krakowskie Wieści Spożywcze and Jedlingi w Krakowie by Have a Bite Kraków are another great source of the latest news on the local culinary scene. You’ll learn where to find the best doughnuts on Fat Thursday, where to source unusual ingredients and where to take friends who still think of Polish cuisine as a little exotic. Both groups are excellent chronicles of Kraków’s culinary life. Follow them closely to keep up-to-date with the latest trends and delicious news!

Magdalena Wójcik

Organiser of culinary festival and events such as the Najedzeni Fest!, Restaurant Week and Fine Dining Week, journalist and author of a report on Kraków’s heritage commissioned by the Kraków Municipal Office and a culinary guide to Kraków published by Facebook.

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