More sights and flavours of Krakow

Although my stay in Krakow was fairly brief, and seemed even more so with two trips out of   the city to visit the Wieliczka Salt Mine and Auschwitz-Birkenau, there was still time to get a good flavour of the city. There’s lots to see and plenty of good food in Krakow. You can read about our great night at the Copernicus by clicking here.

On our final night we headed to the city’s main square. Rynek Glowny dates back to the 13th century and covers over 9 acres, making it one of the largest medieval town squares in Europe. It’s surrounded by stylish townhouses and dominated by the Cloth Hall which was originally a hub of trading. You’ll also see the Town Hall Tower and two churches, including the beautiful Gothic towers of St Mary’s Basilica.

Krakow: Rynek Glowny

The towers dominate the skyline of this grand square

All commercial activity took place in this square and it was where regal ceremonies were held as well as public executions. Now it’s the place to head for that all-important souvenir shopping, to taste some local street food and to find a wide selection of bars and restaurants. It’s a stylish square and there’s plenty of entertainment on offer in the evenings with buskers and traditional dancers, as well as lots of traditional wares for sale.

After a pleasant meander, our final destination was the stylish Szara Ges. A modern space offering great views of the square’s grandeur and delicious contemporary Polish food.

As the logo hints at, their speciality is goose, so I couldn’t resist the foie gras. Not just any old foie gras though, ice cream made from foie gras and served with macerated figs and cherries and Tokaj grape jelly. Some wonderfully soft and sweet brioche completed the dish perfectly. I feel I’m going to be searching for foie gras ice cream for a long time now, trouble is I’m really not sure how many places I’m going to be able to find it in.

Krakow: Szara Ges

Inventive and tasty foie gras ice cream to start with

The second starter enjoyed by our group involved beetroot. Well, there would have to be a beetroot option, we are in Poland after all. My brother Frank (who I’ve mentioned before has always had a strong dislike of beetroot…until now) actually ordered it. So much has Poland made him fall in love with the humble beet! It was described as goat’s cheese, baked pepper marmalade and beet leaves in beet ash. Looks beautiful and he was still talking about how wonderful it tasted days later.

Krakow: Szara Ges

The vibrancy of beets and their ash

I ordered another starter as my main course – a handy trick when you’re on a eating holiday. The gravlax was macerated in salt and served with homemade creme fraiche and dill and topped with crisp, peppery radishes. A beautifully dense piece of fish packed with flavour and spiciness.

Krakow: Szara Ges

Sweet and spicy gravlax

The beef fillet was served with goose potato tagliatelle – more of that goose theme – with the crispy shreds of potatoes fried in that most delicious of all fat, and a green peppercorn sauce.

Krakow: Szara Ges

Beef fillet nestles under crispy potato

The cod fillet mignon was grilled and served with zucchini puree and crayfish. A delicate fish dish to savour.

Krakow: Szara Ges

Grilled cod with a delightful sauce

And of course, there would have to be a duck dish. The duck in Poland comes highly recommended by me! Served beautifully rare it came with cauliflower and liquified foie gras. Fabulous.

Krakow: Szara Ges

The tenderest of duck dishes with liquid foie gras

After dinner while we were pondering dessert we sampled a couple of vodkas on recommendation of our lovely waiter.

Krakow: Szara Ges

When in Poland…drink vodka

This dessert was called Copernicus. Nicolaus Copernicus was a Polish scholar who formulated a model of the universe that placed the sun at the centre of the universe rather than the sun – a somewhat radical theory at the time. His father was from Krakow. And this dish portrays the sun at the centre with the other planets orbiting around it.

Zsara Ges: dessert

The beautifully yellow and chocolate dessert

Eating at Szara Ges was a lovely experience. The service was welcoming and expert without being too overwhelming and it was perfect to be in the heart of all the night time activity.

Szarages is at Rynek Glowny 17, in Krakow’s main square.

Dining Squares

Rynek Glowny is lined with bars and restaurants on all sides serving a mix of Polish, Italian and eclectic dishes. I enjoyed this delicious duck breast with cherry sauce, apple and roast potatoes.

Krakow: Rynek Glowny

Duck is a Polish speciality

You’ll find plenty of Polish delicacies in the bustling market in the centre of the square.

Krakow: Rynek Glowny

Exotic-looking sheeps cheese

We loved these deliciously smoky cheese bites cooked on the grill with bacon. It’s called Oscypek and is made in the mountains where it’s cured in hot smoke for up to 14 days. It’s seriously smoky with a tasty, unique flavour.

Krakow: Rynek Glowny

Polish Oscypek – smoked mountain cheese

And then there’s the square in the Kazimierz, the Old Jewish Quarter, again offering a range of places to enjoy food and beverages. We tasted the delicious local dumplings (pierogi) served with a creamy sauce.

Krakow: Kazimierz

More dumpling delight – and a creamy sauce

If you want to do a tour of the city in what I would describe as a golf buggy, there are plenty available for hire in both squares. They all come with a recorded, informative commentary. It’s a fun way to see the three main historic areas – the Old Town, Kazimierz (the Old Jewish Quarter) and the Krakow Ghetto where Schindler’s factory is.

And another thing

You can’t go to Krakow and not visit the Wieliczka Salt Mines. Just half an hour’s drive away they are an absolute wonder. You climb down hundreds of stairs and meander through a world of salt – it needs to be seen to be believed. There’s a large ballroom area where the chandeliers are made of salt crystals, beautifully lit underground lakes, salt statues and an explanation of how everything worked in the days when salt was an expensive commodity and it was prestigious (and well paid) to work here. One of the best strangely unusual things I’ve ever done, if that makes any sense at all.

Krakow: Wuekuczja Salt Mine

Stunning salt chandeliers

Where to stay

We stayed at the Metropolitan Boutique Hotel which is a five minute walk from Kazimierz and less than 15 to Rynek Glowny. It’s a modern hotel with beautifully comfortable rooms, a cosy dining room where you have your delicious breakfast spread and a lovely little courtyard.

The dining room turns into their Fab Fusion restaurant at night where you can enjoy an interesting selection of dishes with a mix of Italian, Asian and Polish flavours.

We organised all our excursions through the hotel. The service was fantastic, helpful, efficient and friendly. Everyone really made an effort to make us feel immediately at home. Which we did!

Oh and there’s a Biedronka opposite (it means ladybird in Polish, they have the cutest logo) – and it’s a supermarket. Always handy.

The Metropolitan is at ul Berka Jaseluricza 19, Krakow

Travel: What to eat in Warsaw

Today I’m continuing my exploration of Poland by tasting the food of Warsaw. But first some history.

The area covered by modern Warsaw has been inhabited for at least 1,400 years. The city has had rather a tumultuous history from the Great Northern War of 1702 to occupation and uprising during World War II and a long period of communist rule.

After the Second World War, when the Nazis slaughtered hundreds of thousands of Warsaw Jews, they literally demolished the city. In 1945 most of Warsaw lay in ruins. The Soviets proclaimed the Polish People’s Republic and the city was rebuilt in a modern style.

All this means that Warsaw has an amazingly diverse architecture. From the charm and colour of the old town to the squareness and rather grand greyness of the Communist era – those communists certainly built things big!

Widespread anger and unrest hit Poland in the early 1980s with protests over food shortages and the prices of goods and the trade union Solidarity was established. By early 1989 an agreement was made to hold elections and an anti-communist government was established.

Poland entered the European Union in 2004 and is now in a period of prosperity. You can see this in Warsaw’s wide streets, bustling restaurant life and new, shiny financial district. It’s a great city to roam – with lots of green spaces, good shopping and a mind-boggling array of eateries in what is a relatively small area.

To help with the decision making, I decided to start my Polish culinary quest by joining Eat Polska for a food tour. A fabulous way to explore the city as well as tasting plenty of traditional dishes and learning their history. We visited four establishments and tasted a real variety of dishes. There was a good walk between most of the stops which was great as I really did discover more about the city while also walking off some of those calories.

Kaman Lwowska

Our first stop was a cosy, traditional Polish place – the sort of place I could see myself settling down for a lovely long lunch.

I’d seen this dish on several menus already in my short time in Warsaw but hadn’t had the courage to order it. It’s delicious! Bread served with lard and fermented gherkin and a chilled shot of local vodka which we were told to “scull”. This is a match made in heaven – nothing complicated but somehow sublimely tasty with a lovely mix of textures. My mouth’s actually watering remembering it.

Warsaw: lard

Lard and fermented gherkin

Warsaw: vodka

Perfectly chilled local vodka

Warsaw: lard

Spread and ready to eat

There’s a lot of soup enjoyed in Polish cuisine. We tasted the red borscht which is a clear, beautifully sweet beetroot soup served with uszko dumping. It’s traditionally served on Christmas Eve, its vibrant pinkness perfect for a celebration.

We also tasted the cucumber soup – made with grated sour pickled cucumbers and potato and served hot which was unexpected and also delicious.Warsaw: cucumber soup

Cucumber soup…and it’s served warm

Solec 44

Solec 44 is a trendy gastro-pub sort of place in an up-and-coming area of the city. I loved the modern, minimalist interior and the shelves containing huge bottles of pickled everything and a wide selection of board games.

We were there to sample a meat selection. Sausages are huge in Poland – actually, they’re normal size but there’s a massive range of them to try. And very good they all are too. Quality cheeses are more of a recent development and today we tucked into a great charcuterie board. We tried three types of sausage, smoked fatback and four types of cheese. All very tasty, especially the pieprzowka (black pepper sausage).

Warsaw: charcuterie

Gotta love a charcuterie board

Bibenda

Time for a meander back towards the centre of the city and Bibenda which serves a mix of traditional and modern polish dishes. Pork is very popular and served in many, many ways. Today’s tenderloin was cooked with a cinnamon mustard glaze, lemon fennel puree, carrot, coriander, orange zest, cinnamon popcorn and mint powder. The meat was so packed with flavour and all the elements perfectly complemented each other.

Warsaw: pork tenderloin

Exotically inventive pork tenderloin

And then there was this vegetarian dish made of broad beans, zucchini, tomato, onion, garlic, spicy mole sauce, avocado, Korycinski cheese and grilled spring onions. Sort of like an exotic kind of ratatouille topped with loads of creamy avo.

The place also has a fabulous cocktail list and serves a wide range of beers. You could certainly  linger.

Warsaw: vegetarian

An amazing vegetarian selection

Wedel

Wedel is a family business dating back to the 1890s and it sells chocolate in many shapes and forms. There’s literally chocolate in the air. And today we were sampling their legendary bittersweet drinking chocolate. Somewhere between milk chocolate and dark chocolate on the tasting scale, the luscious conception was thick, rich and sweet – one of the most indulgent drinks I’ve ever had. And what a beautiful shop – seriously, I challenge anyone to walk out without buying something.

Warsaw: hot chocolate

Lusciously rich hot chocolate

The Eat Polska Food Tour was a wonderful way to learn more about Polish food – something I had limited knowledge of – and find my bearings in the country’s capital. Our guide Eliza was so knowledgeable – not only about the food but also the complicated history of her country. A really fun and educational way to spend an afternoon. Oh, and tasty, too.

Where else to eat

I loved Warsaw’s Old Town with its colourful ancient buildings, cobbled streets and opportunities for al fresco drinking and dining. The beautiful main square has a couple of restaurants so on our first lunch we went in to Krolewski. I’m guessing this is one of the places all the tourists eat – something of an obvious choice. But we didn’t regret it, the food was lovely and the service great. And I did love sitting in the mains square.

The menu offers all those traditional Polish dishes that you’ve read about including a range of classic soups, duck, pork and beef dishes and those little Polish bundles – pierogi (dumplings). You can even get all of the meats on one plate called a Royal Platter – literally a tower of chops, steaks and sausages. The Poles are certainly somewhat carnivorous.

My first taste of pierogi were these Russian-style dumplings stuffed with cheese, potato and fried onion. Amazingly tasty little bundles. I’m going to have to find somewhere in London to get my pierogi fix.

Warsaw: pierogi

Satisfying pierogi stuffed with potato, onion and cheese

Duck is also a staple and we tucked into the Polish-style roasted duck with apples served in cherry sauce with potatoes and beetroot. I love beetroot but even if you don’t, a trip to Poland will convert you – they know how to do beetroot here. The duck was flavoursome and moist, and the cherry sauce surprisingly zesty, served with perfectly cooked potatoes. A hearty dish for sure. Like a lot of Polish cuisine – you’re not going to go hungry that’s for sure.

Warsaw: duck

Flavoursome duck with cherry sauce and beetroot

Warsaw: steak tartare

Design your own steak tartare

Just across the road from our hotel was a lovely little spot called Bohemia. The perfect choice for a late dinner after our evening tour of the city. Steak tartare crops up on many a Polish menu and as it’s one of my favourite dishes I had to go for it. Love the presentation and the addition of a fresh garlic clove and enjoyed mixing it up to create the right flavour just for me.

There’s plenty of beer to savour and Poland has a flourishing craft beer scene – there are around a hundred breweries in Poland. The three most popular local beers are Zywiec, Okoum and Tyskie. I became partial to a chilled Zywiec. There are plenty of options for beer tasting in the beautiful streets of the Old Town.

Warsaw: beer

Cheers from the Old Town

There are lemonade carts dotted around the city and fresh lemonade is sold all over. They look cute but the lemonade we tried from the cart was a little insipid with the juice of half a lemon, water and a spoonful of sugar. Shop-bought lemonade seemed to have more flavour with extra juice and fresh herbs added. All very refreshing either way.

Lemonade in the park

We also enjoyed coffee and a light breakfast at to Lubie cafe, again in the Old Town. My Local Breakfast included smoked cold meat, cheese, a tasty bowl of ham and egg spread and tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers served with bread rolls. They also had an extensive tea menu and lovely coffee.

A fresh and tasty breakfast with all my favourites

Where to stay

We stayed at the Westin Warsaw. It was situated about a 20-minute walk from the main sights but I do like a bit of a meander, so that suited me. The rooms were spacious and comfortable with good mini bar and tea and coffee facilities. And the service was fantastic with plenty of help organising tours and recommending the best options.

You can find out more about food tours in Warsaw at www.eatpolskacom