Is it just me, or is it sometimes quite a chore finding a decent place to eat in this town? Every other shop front seems to be a restaurant, cafe, bar or bakery, but the places worth seeking out aren’t that obvious. I moved here from London four years ago and have done a fair bit of walking, eating and stoically dealing with disappointment in my search for Krakow’s food gems, and now that the brilliant Dana has moved north where she’s casting her analytical eye over the delights of the Warsaw dining scene, I’ve been given this opportunity to share my findings.
So welcome to the new look food column. Over the years, I’ve spent more time eating and cooking food than writing about it, but this was a chance I couldn’t pass up. I’ve always loved food – my parents seemed to trust me with sharp knives from quite an early age and I’ve been cooking ever since. Having a Polish mum and grandmother that loved baking also helped and as a result, I think I could probably live on cakes and coffee. Or goląbki (cabbage leaves wrapped around a filling of rice and meat, steamed over a low heat and served with tomato sauce). When visiting Krakow a few years back I once ate them every day for a week. It would probably have been longer but for the fact that I had to go home. But I’m going to resist using this column to talk about cabbage, caffeine and sugar fixes.
My other interest is in where our food comes from, how it gets to us and where it goes when we’re finished with it. Over the last four years I’ve been exploring “real” food in Krakow – food that is produced locally, with care but not necessarily according to tradition. I’m glad to say that there are quite a few examples around, so I’ll be writing about local bakers and pastry chefs, charcutieres, sheep farmers and cheesemakers in future editions.
I’ll also be writing about some of my pet hates; restaurants whose menus make your mouth water but palm us (and our visitors) off with cheap, substandard produce and sloppy cooking, because they know that most of their customers are only here for a weekend. And also pretentious restaurants that are style over substance, like the upmarket joint that’s run by a chef/proprietor who prides himself on importing New Zealand lamb rather than making the 100km trip to Zakopane to buy from local farmers. I have nothing against New Zealand lamb, but pretty much all the Polish lamb produced is shipped off to Italy where it’s a delicacy on the Easter menu. If it’s good enough for the discerning Italians, why won’t Polish chefs use it?
So my intention is that this column highlights some of the people and places that add colour to Krakow’s culinary landscape, as well as those who turn it grey. I’m always happy to discover new places, so if there’s anything that you’d like to try out (or not), let us know.
Tried & Tested
My favourite food places in Krakow? Well, I’d have to start with the markets, namely the 900-year-old Stary Kleparz market, just north of the Old Town, and the newer Nowy Kleparz market at the north end of ul. Dluga. Having been brought up in London where seasons only apply to the world of fashion, these two classic markets plug me right in to the seasons and to what’s happening in the countryside around Krakow. Some of the fruit and vegetables even come directly from the gardens of the people selling it and they’re always happy to tell you about it. Right now the market stalls are heaving with a bumper mushroom crop and huge pumpkins as well as apples, pears and plums. If you get there early enough you can also find quinces, sloes and the last of the very late raspberries; in fact, everything you need to make homemade sloe gin or fruit liqueurs (nalewki) to see you through the winter months.
If you don’t want to (or can’t) wait six months for your concoctions to mature, you could look out for Karol Majewski’s delicious fruit based liqueurs sold as Nalewki Staropolskie in some of the upmarket shops around the Rynek. He’s been making liqueurs for 30 years and has mastered the art; his plum-cherry liqueur is an outstanding winter warmer and a taste of the Polish orchard.
Or you could head over to another favourite, the Noworolski café in the Sukiennice (facing ul. Sienna), where they also make delicious liqueurs to their own traditional recipes. It’s not at all fashionable and the cakes can be hit and miss, but you’ll always find a seat, the coffee’s good and the painted decorations that Lenin enjoyed a hundred years ago are pure Krakow.