Anyone who knows me knows I love food. I can’t decide if it’s because of my Italian upbringing, because of a genuine passion or just because I’m a fat ass. I guess it’s a bit of all of them. Point being, one of my favourite things about travelling and visiting new places is trying the local cuisine and unique dishes which you can’t find anywhere else, as I feel it’s one of the best and most enjoyable ways to experience a different culture.
To be completely honest with you, I had never heard much of Polish food. Sure, there are a lot of small Polish small shops in Aberdeen, but I had only been there a few times and wasn’t really sure what to try out. My knowledge of it was pretty much nonexistent.
- STREET PASTRIES
Because my first couple days in Poland were spent with an actual Polish guy to introduce me to the culture, I quickly got to know a few “must try”s of Poland, which ranged from basic street food to more traditional dishes. One of the first things I tried is something that I honestly don’t know the name of, that we got at a random stand on the street. It was shaped like a small ball, sweet and covered in white powder. I wasn’t sure what to get and if I would like it, so I went for this one as it looked small enough to be safe to try. Needless to say, it was really good, so I decided to venture out and try another one at a stand inside the train station (quick note: train stations in Poland are the same as in Hungary, aka full of small fast food stands full of cheap and delicious food. I fucking love it). This one was a sort of shapeless pastry with a sugar glazing all over it, and apparently my friend’s favourite one. I looked pretty much like this and I had to try it.
On my second day, Tomek (my friend) and his friend took me to a really traditional Polish place: Milk Bar. Apparently, during Communist times in Poland food was often lacking, not necessarily because of lack of money but because of lack of actual food to buy or sell. Milk Bars were the places where people – and workers especially – could get their fair share of nutrition at a good price, sometimes included in their overall salary. Sort of like a school cafeteria, but nation wide. To this day, although Communism has collapsed, Milk Bars are still a staple in Poland, where you can get pretty good food for a fraction of the price that you’d pay anywhere else. I guess it’s a must see in Poland, because it plays a huge part in the recent history and culture of the country.
When I went, the whole menu was (obviously) in Polish, so my friend kindly ordered for me my first taste of Polish pierogi – the third Polish food on my list. Pierogi are essentially dumplings, which you can fill up with a really wide variety of things. This first time, Tomek adviced me to get pierogi filled with blueberry sauce and topped with cream, which I decided to couple with a couple more filled with cheese instead. Here’s a really badly taken picture of how they looked:
Next to them you can see a glass of something which – to this day – I am not sure what it was. Tomek’s friend ordered it for me and I just drank, but I’m fairly sure it was something like blueberry juice (which I guess complimented the pierogi quite nicely!). The dish overall was really good, although perhaps a bit too sweet for me (I am a fan of bitter and sour tastes), which left me feeling really really heavy haha. As a first try though, a definite success!
When in Krakow, I decided to give it another try and went for a slightly saltier version, filled with spinach and feta cheese. Pretty fucking good. Notice the complimentary chunk of butter in the middle for an extra dose of healthiness.
My favourite one yet. When in Krakow, I decided to venture on the Couchsurfing hangout section to see if anyone was up for a chat and a little bit of exploring in the city centre. I eventually made plans with a Brazilian guy and his girlfriend for the afternoon, so I decided to spend the morning in Kazimierz – the Jewish quarter – in the meantime. When I told the guy where I was headed, he said I absolutely had to try something called “Zapiekanka”: a bread-like base filled with mushrooms, cheese and any other topping that you’d like. Apparently, the ones served in the Jewish district are “the best in Poland”, so I knew I had to do it.
I was not disappointed.
If you get to the main square of Kazimierz, you are welcomed by a number of market stands enveloping a circular building full of street food shops. All of them are selling Zapiekanka, so take your pick and choose the one stand that inspires you the most! Personally, I just chose the first one I saw and the one which had the most interesting menu. The options are endless: tomatoes, spinach, peppers, double cheese, double mushrooms, any kind of sauce to top it up. In short, the place to get fat.
The stand I picked was called Bar Oko, and I decided to try out the number 4 on the menu, called “yummy” and sporting cheese, cream, spinach and tomatoes, topped up with some herbs for extra flavour. I also didn’t realise there was a small and a big version to choose from, so the street vendor decided for me and gave me a big one, which turned out to be absolutely massive. As in, over two times the length of my hand.
But I ate it.
I liked them so much that I decided to come back one more time before leaving Krakow, this time going for a slightly lighter spinach and feta cheese combination instead (I really like this combination with Polish food, I just realised..).
P.S.: Apologies for the bad picture, turns out spinach and feta cheese are not as photogenic as tomatoes unfortunately.
Next up is something which I’ve been told in the comments is called Obwarzanek, sold on every street corner of Krakow in big quantities. It’s sort of like a bagel shaped thing, which you can either get in its basic form, with seeds or cheese. I don’t know if there’s any specific shop or stand where they make good ones, so I literally just went for the first one I saw on the street. The price for one is shocking – at least to a foreigner – as it doesn’t even come up to 50 pence and is a respectable, filling snack to have at any time of day. Pretty sure you’d have to pay at least 2 pounds for this delicacy in the UK..
Either way, I decided to go for the cheese option because I really hate seeds and because I really love cheese, and it was pretty nice if a little bit dry. Would definitely have it again though: it’s a really quick and easy snack to have when you’re on the go, available pretty much anywhere in the city and cheap as fuck, so a definite yes from me! Hashtag skint student.
I decided to munch on mine as I walked from the city centre to the river, on the hunt for the geocache featured in this video by Damon and Jo (which I eventually found – hurray! Thanks D&J). I walked down Krakowska – snack at hand – and was welcomed by a series of vintage and second-hand shops which seriously tested my self control, as I had no luggage space at all for any kind of rash purchase on this trip (sadly). It was a really nice walk and I eventually ended up right by the water, where people were casually going for a jog or soaking up the sunshine (even though you can’t really see them in the pano – I swear they were there).
After walking around Krakow for a couple days, I decided to get out of the city for a day trip to Zakopane, the ultimate Polish winter destination. Although I was told it’s best to go in the colder months, I still wanted to see this small little town and also enjoy a bit of Polish nature outside of the crowded Krakow.
One of the most traditional foods in Zakopane is Oscypek, handmade smoked cheese which is sold on every corner of the town. Aside from tasting really good, the actual shape of the cheese is aesthetically gorgeous and looks pretty much like this:
(credits to https://belalumo.wordpress.com/2010/07/10/postcard-polish-smoked-cheese-brussels-travel-photographer for the photo which I failed to take)
You kind of feel bad for eating it. Although I didn’t buy one of my own (I couldn’t cope with a whole chunk of cheese to myself and didn’t want to keep it in the bag), a kind lady in one of the stands decided to let me try pretty much every single type she had in her basket – which tasted delicious – so I can tick that off my bucket list.
If you’re ever in Zakopane, definitely try it out! Aside from being a very traditional food, it’s also good to help out the local economy in any way (even though I technically didn’t.. oh well).
6.0 PLACKI ZIEMNIACZANE
On my way to Gubalowka – Zakopane’s famous hill overlooking the whole town – I decided to try something which was described to me as a “potato pancake” but that I found out to actually be called placki ziemniaczane. What a mouthful just to try and pronounce that, am I right? 😅
The thing was bigger than my hand and cost me 3zl, the equivalent of less than 1 euro / pound, and filled me up for hours. I mean, I climbed up a hill after eating it and still I wasn’t hungry not even after that. Definitely a bargain, if you ask me.
My photo is not as nice but trust me, it was good. I love potatoes and I love fried food, and this one was so deeply fried it was crunchy, which my fat soul loved. Hehe.
To make things even nicer, I walked up to a church in front of the fast food place to eat it and was welcomed by a wedding ceremony as well, which together with the sunny weather made the setting for my healthy lunch just perfect.
… Maybe not as perfect for the newly wed couple having an Italian dressed like a tramp stuffing her face with a pancake in the far away background, but hey ho.
7.0 VEGAN BURGER
Being a vegetarian, I am always on the lookout for good meatless options to try. Feeling the need for something more elaborate, I googled vegan restaurants in Krakow and came across a place called Vegan Burger, which apparently is one of the best vegan places in the city. After a long day of walking, I got back to the hostel at about half past ten and sadly discovered the place closed at 11pm, hence my desperate run across Krakow to get there before they shut the doors. I was lucky enough to get there at 10:55, tired and breathless and hungry as fuck. Although they were already cleaning, they still let me order one last burger (they must have seen the desperation on my face) to take out on my way home, which was a miracle. Being in a hurry, I decided to quickly go for the thing that sounded nicer and ordered a vegetable mix topped with mayonnaise sauce, which was ready in under a minute (they really wanted me to leave).
The picture is not as nice but trust me when I tell you that burger was out of this world.
I ended up eating the thing in less than two minutes in the main square, accompanied by a refreshing cigarette and live music playing in nearby streets. Honestly, the best kind of way to eat if you ask me.
8. WEIRD SHAPED ICE-CREAM
On my last day, I decided to take a morning tour to the Wieliczka Salt Mines, a 20 minute ride outside of Krakow and apparently a tourist must see in the region. After begging the hostel guy to book me an English tour instead of an Italian one, to stay away from my loud compatriots, I finally set off on my last Polish adventure.
After the tour, I was once again starving (no surprise there), so decided to try out the ice cream they sell outside the mines. To be honest, it didn’t look remotely close to the Italian gelato I am used to, but I was hungry and happy to try out their touristy version. I ended up with a massive, two-coloured ice cream to eat within 5 minutes, before my bus back to the city departed from the parking lot.
There’s not much to say about it, but I thought I would throw it in as it’s something that I haven’t really seen anywhere else – despite it being so basic.
So, that’s all for my Polish food tasting! Not a lot but then again I had breakfast at the hostel every morning and not enough time to have proper meals every day, so that’s all I got. Hope you enjoyed reading about it, if you’re ever in Poland definitely try some of these – or all of them – because they’re worth it. Trust me.
If you have tried them or have any suggestions for the future, please let me know in the comments! Would love to hear all about it. 🙂
Now go and have some food.
And have a great day!