What would my Krakowian great grandfather have thought? A long weekend in his hometown and no pierogi. Krakow’s nascent restaurant scene now has so many strings to its bow that there is far more on the menu than the eponymous dumplings that most travellers traditionally associate with Eastern European cuisine. A slew of restaurants have opened over the last three years, turning the destination into a must for adventurous gastronomes.
The classic ingredients still take the leading role but they have been given a modern twist. Pickled vegetables have always been synonymous with Polish dining with sauerkraut and dill and horseradish pickled cucumbers de rigeur way before Hoxton hipsters thought they’d invented fermentation. Likewise charcuterie including Lisiecka Liski and Krakowska sausage, a more acquired taste close to black pudding has found its way onto brunch menus. Rich hearty bigos stew, pork knuckle, schnitzel, stuffed cabbage and potato pancakes remain favourite dishes at more traditional milk bars and Cracow pretzels are still sold for a few zloty at stands on every street corner. Savoury pierogi now are mostly sold with mushroom and sauerkraut or potato and cheese: veganism is rampant in Krakow too.
More delicious still are sweet pierogi filled with wild blueberries (try at Przystanek Pierogarnes)and paczki, small doughnuts glazed with icing sugar and filled with wild plum and rose petal jam. A visit to the old covered food market Stary Kleparz is a must. Alongside small shops specialising in local charcuterie and baked goods, such as makowiec: pastry swirls with mashed sweet poppy seeds, raisins and nuts, there are grandmothers, still in their aprons, selling their own smoked cheeses, local honey and walnuts.
Whatever your culinary tastes, Krakow is sure to delight your palate. Here’s where to eat:
Brunch is still a relatively new phenomenon on the Krakow restaurant scene and Handelek, with its retro interior, is among the most hip. The owners, who tellingly run a marketing agency too, take their inspiration from the XIX century breakfast rooms within markets where customers ate post-shopping. The first Handelek opened in 1893 and became the place to meet among Cracow’s literati. Handelek have revived this tradition, taking recipes from old cookery books the owners have collected and showcasing local ingredients with immense pride. Much of the menu revolves around open sandwiches, known as Malopolska: chopped egg, herring, ricotta like cheese from Skala. earthy baked chopped liver with caramelised onion. Other house specialities include herring tartare and superlative trout mousse made with Ojcow river trout from celebrated mother and daughter Slow Food producers.
Handelek, św. Filipa 16
A good alternative for brunch or simple lunch is revamped Milkbar Tomasza. Dating back to 1896 these were Socialist state subsidised canteens, whose menu was often included in a worker’s wage. Find huge platters of boiled or fried pierogi, potato pancakes and slabs of Polish-style schnitzel served up in a small room with fresh green and blue walls and black and white chequered floors.
ul. Świętego, Tomasza 24
Hummus Amamamusi is the utterly joyful, cosy restaurant of Bert and Kasia, decorated with plants and vintage tableware. Seating is only around the counter and at a couple of high stool tables. There’s an enticing freshly, roasted cumin aroma of house z’atar, one of many variations on the house hummus. Both the horseradish and smoked plum hummus are especially flavourful served with warm Israeli style pitta and a generous, colourful bowl of crudites. There’s matzah brei (think archetypal Jewish comfort food meets French toast in the heart of Kazimierz, the Jewish quarter) served with sour cream and co-owner Kasia’s divine raspberry and vanilla jam.
Hummus, Amamausi, Beera Meiselsa 4
Karakter appropriately named for its adventurous flavour combinations and Bauhaus vibe. Tartares are a speciality, including, for more adventurous eaters, horsemeat. Purists may shudder at doughnuts with duck confit, orange, red cabbage: it’s actually a winning combination. The signature dessert is goat’s milk cheesecake with beetroot ice-cream. It’s a hub for natural wine enthusiasts too.
Brzozow 17 St
A meal on Krakow’s historic Rynek Glowny Square surrounded by charming pastel hued medieval and romanesque buildings is a must. A window table in the refined Szara Ges (Grey Goose) with views of St Mary’s Church, Cloth Hall and The Town Hall in all their splendour is a superb place to appreciate it. This is the place to splurge on impeccable goose foie gras, a refined take on zurek, the sour fermented rye soup with herring, duck with cherries and buckwheat, and a showy dessert of white chocolate egg in a chocolate nest with a passion fruit yolk. The historic interior with vaulted ceilings, carved bas reliefs and contemporary art adds to the treat of dining in what was formerly the Royal mint.
Szara Ges, Gynek Główny 17
Art is a defining feature of Filipa 18’s interiors around the corner from Old Kleparz market in Krakow. It is a forward-looking restaurant in a hotel showcasing Polish Slow Food products. A typical menu might include herring with dill, apples, chanterelles and rye or a lamb broth with caraway, potatoes and cream. Chef Marcin Soltys trained at The Paul Bocuse Institute and has cooked for the President of Poland .
Filipa 18, Świętego Filipa 18
Bunkier Cafe in the middle of the Planty Gardens is a gorgeous, fin de siecle style one-off with an enormous glassed terrace that goes roofless during the summer. It is connected to the contemporary art gallery Bunkier Sztuki. Besides being a hotspot for brunch, they serve the lightest of sernik, a local take on cheesecake.
Plac Szczepanski serves the first and only “maczanka” street food in Krakow. It’s a traditional recipe: pork meat marinated for two days, then baked slow and low. The meat is served on a hand-made roll and is a local favourite.
Pl. Szczepanski 3A