To be honest, I had never had Polish cuisine before my foray into Poland. My quick Google search on the cuisine threw up all kinds of foreign foods with difficult names, making me curious about what it would taste like. I mean what is a visit to a new country without delving into its history, streets and, most importantly, food?
Yayy to Krakow.
It turned out to be an amazing journey of food discovery, one that left me wanting a warehouse sized tummy for my short time in the city. Also what Krakow does much better than its European counterparts is this – serving up massive portion sizes of delectable food for ultra cheap prices.
Isn’t it the best feeling when you can eat all you want without bothering even once to look at the price list? Makes travel just so much sweeter. In Krakow, you can do just that and have a fulfilling (in more ways than one) holiday with a happy tummy.
Each city has its own communal place of eating and drinking – Italy its trattorias, Singapore has its hawker centres, London has pubs. So does Krakow – they are called Bar Mleczny or Milk Bars which have been around since the 19th century. Originally, they served only milk (as you can imagine), but then started serving affordable but nutritious food to feed the masses.
The guide of our walking tour told us how during communist times, spoons and forks were chained to the tables to prevent reckless thievery. It is no longer the case (though I would have LOVED to eat from such cutlery), but it seems nothing else has changed – the interiors are very basic, the menu is in Polish, none of the staff speak English and the food is served canteen style. So if you are looking for some very authentic Polish food, leave out the many street lined cafes and restaurants and head to Bar Mlecnzy serving hot and freshly cooked fare
Peirogi. A staple of Polish food. A must have.
I had lots of it. I think I can have lots of it again. In fact, a couple of times, this was the only meal I had. Essentially pierogi are dumplings which come with different kinds of fillings, each one with its own name. To keep things simple, the one with potato filling is Ruskie, the one with meat is called Mieso. I think I liked them more than Chinese dumplings. Absolutely don’t miss gorging on pierogi, they may be dumplings but have their own distinct taste.
I am not a big fan of cooked cabbage, I almost despise it. But when a dish is as good as Gołąbki, you gobble it down, cooked cabbage included. Essentially Gołąbki is cabbage rolls filled with rice, vegetables and meat, cooked and served with a kind of tomato sauce. The best part though? The portion size is huge as is obvious in the photo below. Still, I managed to finish it under fifteen minutes.
Poland’s favourite street food perhaps? Essentially it is a mega baguette with a multitude of toppings to choose from and can be found at every corner in Krakow. But, apparently the best ones are to be had ONLY in Plac Nowy, the very popular square in Kazimierz, Krakow’s Jewish quarter. Here, hordes descend on weekend nights first to get sloshed at the many bars lining the square and then to feed their hungry selves with zapiekanki made fresh at the many hole-in-the-wall outlets at the centre of the square.
The ones we bought in Plac Nowy did not disappoint. But then I don’t really have a benchmark as I did not try these anywhere else. In any case, don’t miss out on this local street food. It’s massive value for money to fill yourself on the go.
Essentially, barszcz is beetroot soup with dumplings. Now I love soup, but never had a beetroot one before I tried one in Krakow. And what did I do after I returned home? Piled up on beetroot and even though I couldn’t get it to taste like the Polish barszcz, it did find its way in my staple recipes, just perfect for winter. There are other popular soup varieties as well, but I just did not bother with them after I tasted barszcz. Also writing this para I am realising how much fun writing barszcz is.
Now this is very similar to a Viennese schnitzel. Basically a piece of breaded pork. Not the best thing I had in Krakow, which is also reflected in its position in this list.
As I said earlier, ditch the old town’s trendy cafes and restaurants and hunt for some milk bars to discover real Polish food. I can absolutely swear by the ones I am listing below, do check them out when in Krakow.
Polakowski – It is located in Old town and serves up some very traditional polish fare at dirt cheap prices. I had the best Golabki here (pictured above)
Gospoda Koko – This place is a GEM. Not to be missed. Imagine this – 2 people had a very yum and freshly prepared 3 course meal in a total of €7. That’s it. Not saying anything else. Just go
Bar Mleczny Pod Temida – Another milk bar, more finger-licking food though with slightly higher prices because of its location right in the centre of the city
Poles are masters of vodka, so what is a trip to Krakow without trying out this beverage at the city’s many drinking holes? Unfortunately, I am no vodka drinker, and probably wouldn’t survive more than two drinks. BUT Krakow serves its vodka in shots, that too in a variety of flavours, which is right up my alley.
It is possible to sample different kinds of vodkas at the many vodka bars, and like everything else in the city, vodka is super cheap with shots coming in at a measly €1. Haven for drinkers, even though I mostly sipped my shots to stay in a condition to explore the city.
I found that most bars were either bare bones with minimal interiors (and maximum effect) or dressed in quirkiness. Either way, I think they add a distinctiveness to this amazing city and should definitely be explored. Am putting down some places I thoroughly enjoyed and would easily recommend for a night out.
Bania Luka – One of those stark bars with only bar tables and a counter to its name but that is the charm of this place. And the prices are to die for – a euro or 4 zloty for a shot and a couple of euros or 8 zloty for a plate of pierogi! I mean seriously, you can travel like a King in this city.
Bania Luka is by no means the only such bar, in fact you’ll find a similar ones scattered all over the city, but if you wanted to pick one by all means pick this one.
Wodka – A MUST VISIT. I had the most fun here. The variety in their vodka repository is to die for – from fig, grapefruit to hazelnut, chilli – they have every possible flavour perhaps. Even though the place is not cheap by Krakow’s standards, it is still cheap by usual standards and should not be missed
Pijalnia – Similar to Bania Luka but a little different in its treatment of interiors which is fun for a while. Its walls are covered edge to edge in newspaper style wallpaper displaying news and photographs from communist times. Go for cheap drinks and food and to stare at yourself and others in the large mirrors that cover some of the walls.
Propoganda bar – one of those dark and quirky bars with walls plastered with communist era scrap and posters. The nice thing is that it is away from Plac Nowy so more peaceful if that’s what one is looking for
- If you plan to go to Milk bars, make sure you are familiar with names of different Polish dishes as the menus will not be in English. Hopefully this article will be helpful
- Try to filter out the local establishments through the multitude of tourist serving modern restaurants, cocktail bars and cafes if you are looking for some pure Polish experience. You can save plenty of euros for guaranteed more fun.
I know this is true for any city, but Krakow is honestly a very unique city so all the more reason for this tip
- Krakow goes to Plac Nowy for its weekend fun so try to choose the bars with a presence there to really feel the city’s vibe. For instance Piljania is in old town as well as Plac Nowy so maybe choose the latter
Happy tummy feeding