Eating and Drinking in Krakow
Krakow has over a thousand years of history, and almost as many influences on its food. Italian, Austrian, Hungarian and a dozen other national cuisines have been thrown into Poland’s, and Krakow’s, culinary grab bag over the centuries and the opening up of the city as a major tourist and expat destination over the past twenty years has added dozens more.
The staples of traditional cuisine are well represented in Krakow. These include pierogi (often translated as ‘dumplings,’ they are stuffed half moons of boiled dough), soups (the two most important being the hearty, sour zurek and the lighter, sweeter barszcz, made from beetroot), fried meats (breaded pork, or kotlet schabowy, being ubiquitous) and krokiety (the Polish version of croquettes).
Today, it is possible to find the simplest and most traditional of Polish foods alongside everything from sushi to New Zealand burgers to ultra-purist vegan fare.
As well as the usual, traditional Polish dishes, Krakow is home to the obwarzanek krakowski – a dense, chewy kind of bagel unique to the city. Under EU law, the obwarzanek krakowski can only be produced in Krakow. They are sold at small street stalls all over the city and baked in their tens of thousands every day.
A smoked sheep’s cheese known as oscypek is another common sight. Produced by the mountain people, or Gorale, from the hilly bits to the south of Krakow, oscypek is not technically a Krakow speciality, but Krakow is a great place to buy it.
Rivalling the obwarzanek in popularity, especially among Krakow’s late night revellers, is the zapiekanka – a toasted, open-faced baguette-like snack typically topped with melted cheese, mushrooms and other savoury things drowned in sauce. Long but rapidly moving queues of hungry Cracovians form outside the city’s top zapiekanka bars as evening beer consumption accumulates.
Poland’s taste in alcoholic beverages has evolved rapidly in the past few years. For decades, the majority of Poles had a choice between mass-produced vodkas and mass-produced beers – neither of the best quality.
The number of Polish vodka brands exploded with the advent of the open market and today, the quintessential Polish drink can be enjoyed in every form imaginable, from the traditional purity of Wyborowa and Zubrowka (the latter flavoured with Polish grasses) to wallet-draining oddities containing flecks of gold leaf.
Polish beer also languished in mediocrity for decades. Even now, three companies control 85 percent of the market. The three big brands (Zywiec, Tyskie and Okocim) are found in the vast majority of bars, wherever you are in the country, and none of them are much to write home about.
Fortunately for beer lovers, there has been a quiet revolution in the past few years as Poles have rediscovered centuries-old brewing traditions. There are now dozens of micro-breweries, and the big boys have also recognised the growing sophistication of the Polish palate by introducing a wider variety of quality products. Krakow is now home to a growing number of pubs that sell a huge range of local bottled beers.