I have been seriously jonesing to travel again. Having been fully vaccinated and gone through enough paperwork to keep a small government department busy, I was eventually able to set off.
I had heard great things about Krakow from anyone who had visited before, but wasn’t sure exactly what to expect.
With this in mind my travelling companions and I booked a food and history tour of the Kazimierz or Jewish quarter. We placed ourselves in the very capable hands of George. A trained chef originally from Turkey, he gave us a great tour discussing the history of the district and it’s up and coming food culture.
Before the second world war about 25% of those living in the district were Jewish having originally been encouraged to settle on the city by King Kazimierz centuries earlier. The Jewish population was forced into a ghetto when Germany invaded and unfortunately we’re all aware of what followed. Auschwitz concentration camp is within travelling distance of Krakow. While I think it’s important that what happened at the camp shouldn’t be forgotten, honestly I’ve had a really tough year and just didn’t feel up to visiting.
The Jewish population of the district is now less than 1% but the district still maintains it’s Jewish identity and the oldest synagogue in Poland is still located there. In the main square there are lovely restaurants serving kosher food and drinks and offering traditional Jewish folk music at weekends.
After the war many of the buildings stood empty, so students and artists eventually moved in due to the low rents. The area now has a bohemian feel and is becoming gentrified.
With such a young population the area is full of great places to eat and drink. Our first stop was at a popular perogi shop. If you haven’t had these before, they are little dumplings. The most common filling is potato, cottage type cheese and fried onion (my personal favourite).
We also tried other versions including suarkraut and mushroom (traditionally eaten on Christmas Eve), spinach and cheese, and a sweet version made with blueberries and topped with sour cream. Perogis are really common with most restaurants offering several different kinds.
Small courtyards with little food trucks are popping up across the area, serving everything from traditional Polish pork dishes to Asian ramen bowls. It was at one of these courtyards we had excellent traditional pulled pork rolls with pickles and fantastic bread.
The new square has a central hub of red brick buildings selling a range of different street foods. It was here we tried the Polish version of a French bread pizza topped with spicy ketchup and lots of chopped chives. Apparently these were made my Mothers who couldn’t get theirs kids to come in from playing outside, to make sure the didn’t starve.
If you have sweet tooth, we also enjoyed excellent apple fritters at Kuchina Doroty. Rich with vanilla these probably had 1 million calories, but were worth every single one.
Krakow has great bars everywhere, these range from very dark but not unwelcoming local dive bars through to sophisticated cocktail bars. The most common beverages seem to be beer and vodka. Lots of bars are introducing small batch artisanal beers often brewed in people’s sheds (they are well worth trying). I’ve always had an aversion to vodka, (I think it tastes like hairspray). However, George our tour guide got us to try a shot of bison grass vodka which is popular in Poland, and it’s much more a agreeable than the normal stuff. If vodka is your thing there are several different tasting experiences available in the area.
To sum it up the area is well worth a visit, great food, lots of history and movie buffs can spot the different streets where Schindler’s List was filmed.