Krakow Gastro Capital
Warsaw may have the “Michelin” stars but Poland’s royal city now has the status.
Krakow is the European Capital of Gastronomic Culture 2019, beating off Lisbon for the honor conferred by honorris-based European Academy of Gastronomy.
Says Michal Sobieszuk, founder of “Eat Polska” which offers four hours, 1.5 miles, 10- stops escorted food crawls around the city which has been on the UNESCO World Heritage site since it began in 1978: “Krakow is great for restaurants. It’s relatively compact, very walkable and boasts one of the strongest street food scenes in Poland.”
Food tours are becoming popular in Poland, catering not only to tourists but Polish “jedling”- foodies.
All over Krakow, a new generation of foodies is Instagramming their goose blood soup and proudly Facebooking Charznice cabbage heads. The latest brains ( sweetbreads) are being posted and unforgettable regional sausages uploaded. Stale bread soup and tasteless pork cutlets are no longer Poland’s culinary celebrities.
After years of unrelieved fermented cabbage and pickled cucumbers, a wind of change is blowing through Polish haute cuisine -“ wykwintna kuchnia”.
And everyone is wishing each other “Smacznego!” – Wishing you tastiness.”
“The past is back. But is not bad. Hospitality is in our blood. We need to feed people,” says Karolina Milezanowska of haveabite.com – the city’s gastro portal which publishes a foodies’ map.
“Palates are getting more educated. More demanding and more curious.”
In 2013, Warsaw’s Wojceich Modest Amaro became the first Polish chef to be accorded a “Michelin” star. Now Krakow’s chefs de cuisines at luxury hotels are leading the fine dining experience with “degustacja” menus which represent the best value for haute cuisine anywhere in the world.
Once it was only the nobility who ate well. Now the people do. As well as tourists.
Michelin-recommended Marcin Filipkiewicz of the “Copernicus Hotel” has cooked for “rulers, prelates, artists, and actors”. His heroes include Alain Ducasse and culinary revolutionists, Peter Gilmore and Grant Achatz. He offers a 12-course taster menu (£80) including “duck with chicory boiled in red-orange and hibiscus.”
“While appreciating our cooking traditions, I’m trying to get away from stereotypes,” says the author of his country’s best- selling fine dining cookery book. “People don’t associate Poland with fine dining. That’s so wrong.
“The chef to Prince Alexander, Stanislaw Czerniecki produced our first cookbook in 1682 – “Compendium Ferculorum”. We have a rich gastronomic heritage and we are rediscovering it. And re-interpreting it.”
Events are planned throughout 2019. Adds Filipkiewicz : “ It’s not just the tourists we must cater to. We must focus on the Poles. Polish Chefs are hungry for success.”
The 29-room boutique “Copernicus” with its en-suite Romanesque murals in the former Polish capital’s first “Relais & Chateaux” property. Past guests include Prince Charles and ex-President George W. Bush.
Sister “Hotel Stary” is the only place in Krakow where you can breathe sea air. Its cellar spa has a Dead Sea salt wall. Its restaurant offers filet of rosefish and deer with pumpkin, passion fruit smoked chocolate and port wine chili sauce.
“Pod Roza” (Under The Roses), has played host to Russian Tzars. Chef Milosz Grabowski trained under Michelin 2 chef, Arnauld Bignon. Krakow has twenty-five Michelin-recommended restaurants.
Historic spaces are now restaurants. With its original leather and silver flake golden cordovans, coffered ceilings and ornate ceilings, the “Wierzynek” boasts an “attribute exceptional atmosphere”. A scene of a 20-day feast thrown in 1364 by King Casimir the Great for other monarchs, chef Michal Hajdu’s seasonal menu includes dumplings with hare (£12) and venison saddle.
Also in Europe’s largest market square, the thirteenth century Rynek Glowny, is “Szar Ges” (Grey Goose) with chef Michal Stezalski’s signature dessert, a milk chocolate goose egg with a mango mousse yolk. Goose is a specialty in November throughout Krakow.
Starters include a creamy foie gras, baked apple, and cider emulsion as well as beef tartare with lovage mayonnaise and spicy pickles. Mains include glazed goose leg and prunes.
Pod Aniolami” (Under The Angels), also close to the thirteenth-century main square- Europe’s largest, is in a thirteenth-century cellar and former goldsmith’s workshop. Its menu tempts you with wild boar steak in juniper marmalade.
Traditional dishes like “globaki” (cabbage rolls), “bigos” (big mess hunters’ stew), “ barszcz” ( Polish borsht), “pierogi” (small ear ravioli dumplings from Ukraine) and “sernik” cheesecake are still popular. But the end of austerity has brought elegant dining at relatively austere prices.
A budget destination now offers a hearty, haute cuisine which undercuts all others.
Some of the Soviet era egalitarian diners – “mclezny” milk bars – are still there and state-subsidized offering two courses for £3.
Polish cuisine’s early influences were Eastern. From the sixteenth century, Asian spices were used. Partitions and assimilation into the Russian, Prussian and Austrian empires have left their marks on tablecloths. Queens brought new recipes.
French and Indian restaurants appeared in 1990. But the post-Communist culinary revolution started with hamburgers at the now no more “Love Krowe” (“Love A Cow”). Then came Vietnamese immigrants. Swiss and Italian confectionaries returned and “decadent” pastry shops reappeared.
Damian Suraweic opened “Euskadi” over the Vistula river in Podgorze. Amongst many tapas dishes, he offers prawns from Venice, Basque tapas and a Campari sorbet. He believes food is a cultural force, providing identity. He is targeting locals.
“We are trying to build new eating behavior. Quality over quantity. But Polish food is still simple and uncomplicated.”
There are now cookery school and pierogi power workshops. And even a bagel museum where you can roll ( “Sulka”) and braid ( warcocz”) your own Kracovian bagel. Says curator Maria Krzyzek-Siudah. “ The obwarzanek symbolizes of the city.“t“Obwarzac means „to parboil”. This stops the yeast from growing and so obwarzanek can keep its shape and be soft inside and crispy on the outside.
In`1257 Boleslaw the Chaste granted “jatkiepiekanski” ( bagel makers) their own guild. And a tower to defend. Now 150000 are made and sold every day in Krakow.”
Near Wawel Castle, the seat of Polish kings for five hundred years, Pod Barinem’s owner/ chef Jan Barinem offers home cooking out. the traditional starter is wild mushroom soup served in a bread bowl. “ Our Sirloin a la Barbican harks back to medieval Poland. The bacon wrap defends the delicacy of the meat. We also have zurky sour rye soup with egg and sausage as well spare ribs wrapped in braised cabbage with cep sauce.”
At the 800-year-old Stary Klepatz, farmer’s market stalls sell dried forest mushrooms, rustic sausages and farmhouse cheeses like oscypek.
Just outside the city, the 28 hectares 2008 Srebrna Góra vineyard under the Camaldolese Hermit Monastery in Bielany is reviving tenth-century monastic viticulture.
Poland has come a long way from milk soup, dry crackers, jellied pork knuckle, CCCP inspired 100% fat “Smalec” lard spread, huge slabs of black rye “chleb” bread, watery broths, limp plastic sausages, and indigestible dumplings.