If the holidays are a time to celebrate traditions of a culinary nature (and who could argue that?), then any time is party time in
The entire country of Poland has seen a culinary renaissance. It goes far beyond the legendary soups, sauces, venison, ubiquitous pierogi (dumplings) and seasonal dishes, especially those made with forest-foraged mushrooms and wild and cultivated berries. It’s all been happening, chefs you meet will tell you, since the restrictive
No place or space for Poland World War II history lessons here but if you’re interested, start with this
“When I came here 18 years ago the Polish traditions had all but died out,” says Aziz Seck, erstwhile basketball player (it’s what brought him to Poland), acclaimed cocktail mixer, a transplant from Africa via France and owner of
While Seck is intent of promoting the best of his African roots in Poland, he acknowledges that Poles are doing the same with their culture. “This country was closed for a long time under communism. Now the scene is vibrant. People are cooking. The markets are filled with local produce. A generation of new young Polish chefs are reviving and promoting traditions.
“Poland is now open for the world. The people are enthusiastic, hard working, entrepreneurial. The country is moving forward. The Poles want to showcase their culinary traditions. There’s a positive atmosphere. Many changes and all for the better.”
I recently spent three weeks in Poland, a large chunk of that time in Krakow. So what would I say is the reason it’s the country’s top tourist city? Well, it has the largest Medieval market square in Europe. This expansive pedestrian area is filled with glorious architecture and throbs with life day and night. It’s crammed with restaurants, cafes, pubs, clubs with music, vodka bars and in the summertime, al fresco food markets and entertainers. Churches too that are awe-inspiring, whatever your faith — and sometimes music-filled. I went to a chamber music concert in one. Oh, and a fabulous Chopin piano recital upstairs in an old palace right on the square.
Poland is now part of the European Union. That it still uses the Polish złoty currency (not the Euro) means prices are excellent for U.S. travelers.
As a holiday gift, dear readers, I share seven of my most delicious Krakow holiday highlights.
1. Nice to Meat You
Adam Chrząstowski is a delight. He is the chef at
He talks about how culinary traditions are reviving in the post-Soviet era. “People are becoming interested in food again,” he says.
I say I’d like to try something local; traditional.
Be careful what you wish for comes to mind when the waitress puts down a plate and chef tells me the five items I’m about to eat are all from a young calf (veal):
- brain made the Polish way, cleaned in water and vinegar then roasted with egg and parsley. “It was a classic bar snack before World War II that we’re reviving,” he says.
- cheek with grated horseradish on pumpernickel
- sweetbread (thymus)
- tongue, with radish and chives on rye bread
- and liver — with pear — on brioche. “We like to respect the whole animal,” he explains.
Verdict? Well, the idea of the brains threw me. But surprisingly, I’d eat his brains again.
2. Lunch in the Salt Mines
We ate well in the salt mine at
3. Carping on it
Something they’re promoting about one hour by car west of Krakow in and around a small town called
4. Lovely Lanckorona
I think of myself as a city girl. So what was it about
Yes, the place is picture-postcard perfect. But so are a lot of other Polish towns, yet they did not have this effect.
Sure, almost every one of the 19th century wooden houses close to Lanckorona’s medieval “market” square makes you want to reach for your camera. And the view across the rooftops to rolling green hills and distant forests from the grounds of the church is stunning.
There is a single coffee shop. Eccentric in its details,
Now local gal Renata Bukowska is attempting to focus the world’s attention on the culinary traditions of the Lanckorona district and local and regional specialty products. She introduces me to two young women whose mission is to capture traditional recipes before the old people, who are privy to them, die with them. Worthy project, no?
She also takes me to a farm belonging to two women. The farm is called
5. Benedictine Abbey Road
Abbot Zygmunt Galoch is guest manager at the oldest monastery in Poland, the
The abbey has
We take breakfast with him, which includes a platter of breads, salamis, gherkins, pates, cheeses and more. All the products (and many more) are sold in
6. Pod Baranem Na zdrowie!
It’s blustery and raining in Krakow for my lunch date at
I’ve barely had time to settle in when waiter Mariusz Scetlak brings me a what he tells me is “quince-infused vodka — made by the owner; to warm you up”. It accompanies a small platter that includes a tapas-size serving of
The tartare, prepped by Pod Baranem owner and chef Jan Baran’s “number-two chef” son, Patrick, is prepared with gherkin and marinated foraged mushrooms, both made in-house.
“We have to constantly plan around the seasons,” Chef Patrick tells me. “In mushroom season we buy foraged mushrooms and freeze them. We use 2,000 kg of fresh foraged mushrooms a year and 300 to 400kg of dried mushrooms.
“At the moment we’re making plum jams. The plums are in season. We freeze fresh berries to use all year and make jams which we can then reconstitute year-round in sauces, hot or cold.”
The berry mousse cheesecake I end my meal with is made from fresh berries. The intense berry drizzle in the velvety garnish that accompanies it is made from one of their berry jams, he says. It means they can keen this favorite on the menu all year.
Scetlak pours me what he says is Chef Jan’s special 14-year-old barrel-aged prunus padus-infused (bird cherry) vodka to accompany my cheesecake and coffee.
I was offered the option of wine. It would have been French. Why, when the option was to sip on infused local vodkas made in-house?
7. Wine time in Polska
Poland doesn’t have a wine industry to speak of — yet.
But it does have eccentrics — and entrepreneurship.
Winemaker Marek Górscy, who grows French and Polish grapes against what might call “the winter odds” at his vineyard,
They did laugh when spring came and they saw for themselves.
They’re not laughing now that 10 people in the area have followed suit and weekenders travel regularly from Krakow to taste and buy his wine.
He’s winning awards. He’s beating the odds.
Beat the odds — and the crowds. Go visit Poland soon before everyone discovers it.
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