Anticipation verses reality
Some twenty years ago ….
When I mentioned I was going on a trip to Poland, my mum who lives in the UK and is not the most adventurous of travellers, told me to expect terrible food. This advice, was based on her first and last trip to Poland over twenty years ago. It turns out that she had gone on a package holiday, stayed in a hotel in Zakapana, at the foot of the Tatra mountains which is about two hours drive from Krakow. Her trip, was coach trip from the UK and based on the meals she told me about it seems that she had indeed had some terrible food experiences. The highlight of her trip food wise was a horse carriage ride in the mountains in heavy snow, where she had warmed up on hot sausages fried over an open fire and tea laced with booze! I’m not sure if the sausages were that good, actually, since she talks more about tea laced with booze to warm them up as it was freezing! With hindsight, I’m not sure she did any research at all before traveling. Knowing my mum she would have picked the trip based on the photos of the lovely location alone.
It would be easy, based on her experience to be put off and to expect only to eat carb heavy meals and lots of cabbage, which is mostly what mum described as the food available to them. She told me the food lacked flavor but was full of substance in terms of filling you up, but little else.
Prompted by her memories, stodgy pierogi, thick beetroot soups, fried potatoes, cabbage and sausages were in the front of my mind as I was doing my research for the trip. Whist I would be happy to taste these traditional Polish dishes as part of the overall Polish experience, I was hoping that the culinary scene would have moved on and developed since my mums’ trip.
You’ll be pleased to hear that things have indeed changed and just a quick read of our trip itinerary was enough to get my tastebuds drooping and to look forward to a new culinary experience.
A curated trip highlighting traditional and modern Polish food
We had been invited to Poland to explore Polish food, traditions and modern culinary experiences as part of a press trip. Over the course of our week in Poland we visited a range of restaurants, markets and food producers, each chosen to highlight a particular food experience. Our itinerary kept us busy literally from breakfast until after dinner and we experienced some unique From cheese made over open fires in shelters in National parks, wild trout smoked and served straight from the lake, cooking classes and market shopping, we enjoyed a carefully curated culinary journey which had been arranged by Monica Kucia a Polish food writer, culinary curator and perfomer of artistic events related to food.
Over the course of ten days I was really surprised at how the Polish food of my imagination, had become so much more than I had expected and to see how the chefs that we spoke to were able to translate dishes of Poland’s past into dishes for now and the future.
Below are some of the restaurants we visited which I particularly enjoyed.
Filipa 18 Food Wine Art (Indigo Hotel, Krakow)
Chef Marcin Soltys
Modern Polish cuisine which is really interesting and super tasty. The chefs use local seasonal ingredients bought at the oldest market in Krakow, Stary Kepartz, plus products sourced from within 100km from the restaurant. Everything is treated with reverence and the ingredients are transformed using modern cooking techniques and presented to showcase the product to its best. Beautiful interiors with plenty of art on the wall, plus the open kitchen where you can see the chefs at work completes the experience.
Morskie Oko Restaurant, Hotel Bokovino –
Chef Sylwester Lis
Chef Sylwester Lis treated us to a menu personally curated by him to showcase the ingredients that are local to the hotel (some from the hotel gardens) but also which represent the region in which the hotel is located. As well as locally sourced produce from small farms and businesses, where Sylwester knows the producers like friends, our dessert is finished with tiny sweet and juice raspberries which have been locally foraged by Chef Sylwester’s friend. Our sommelier is incredibly knowledgeable and proud to serve a wide range of Polish wines, some of which she tips as being future award winning wines. We also sampled Bear beer which has been made specially for the hotel.
Siwy Dym, Rabka
This is a traditional road side family restaurant perfect for a lunch stop when you are traveling. Large communal tables are perfect for ordering shared platters of hearty Polish food and we dined on pierogis, breaded chicken breast, fried potatoes, local veggies as well as bowls of rich creamy beetroot soup and a platter of grilled smoked cheese served with a simple fruit sauce. Sadly no room for dessert!
Willa Alta – A Ski Chalet Breakfast
We wanted to experience some local hospitality and so our trip included one night when our group took over a traditional wooden ski chalet called Alta in Bukowina Tatrzańska. Dinner was eaten outside at Hotel Bukowino, but in the morning we enjoyed a traditional Polish breakfast of cheese, breads, meat, pickles, yogurts and cereals along with jugs of hot coffee! Well needed after an evening sampling some (ok quite a lot) of the local flavored vodkas! The ground floor of the chalet is a cute dining room with a table heaving with breakfast items. The ingredients are sourced locally with the majority coming from within the village.
I’m already dreaming of a return trip! The chalet is a perfect base for skiing in the winter and walking in the summer. This is one place that I would love to visit again during the winter with a group of friends. I can imagine hearty dinners and social evenings with a glass of wine or two. Activities to. include board games, reading, singing and fun. This gorgeous chalet comes complete with log fires, comfortable sofas made for lounging on and an honesty bar. Great views of the Tatra mountains and outdoor terraces seal what deal!
Pstrag Ojcowski – Trout Farm
Escaping Krakow for a day we dined al fresco beside a trout lake in a National Park at this mother and daughter trout farm. The focus of the menu is the delicious trout which are farmed on site. Mother and daughter duo, Magna and Agnieszka Sendor are passionate about rearing the trout in a sustainable manner and treating them with reverence. We dined on a superb lunch of traditional homemade sauerkraut and pickled cucumbers plus crusty bread. The star of the show, without a doubt, were the delicate trout which are smoked or baked.
Polish food for the road
No road trip is complete without a snack or two along the way! We snacked on Pązcki which are Polish doughnuts filled with rose hip jam and topped with an iced glaze as well as Lody, traditional ice-cream made using seasonal fruit.
Dyletanci – Restaurant Wineshop Winebar
Chef Rafal Hreczaniuk
Gorgeous restaurant + wine bar + wineshop in Warsaw that’s well worth the visit for some modern, no fuss, seasonal food. Chef Rafal Hreczaniuk is incredibly relaxed and modest about the food which is super tasty, presented well and very affordable. We had lunch which had been paired with wine. Interestingly they had only paired one Polish wine for us, but that’s understandable since they sell a wide range of different wines in the shop and wine bar.
Felicja ’16, Dom Bliskowice 2016 – Polish dry white wine, unfiltered, organic. From House Bliskowice, Lesser Poland Gorge of the Vistula
Dinner nearby at newly opened Zoni is a must, particularly if you’ve visited the Vodka museum which is right next door. Zoni challenges preconceptions of Polish food with interesting menus. They even have tasting menus paired with vodka which is novel and should be fun. The restaurant is by Chef Aleksander Baron who is known as being Poland’s most maverick chef. We enjoyed an exquisite Tasting Menu with some dishes being a huge hit and a few a bit miss, five textures of cabbage was a miss for me, but definitely a conversation starter on the table. My personal highlights included the Polish caviar (Siberian sturgeon), borscht, local honeycomb, peat aged cheese and zander, a local fish.
Charlotte – Menorca
On my last morning in Warsaw we feasted on Challah (Jewish sweet bread) Blintzes (pancakes with cottage cheese, orange peek and rose water) and Babka (sweet bread stuffed with chocolate and raspberries) @charlotte.waw and learned about how Jewish culinary history is being shared with others through cookery classes and being curated from sources across the world by a small team based at at Menora Info Point (Menora Info Punkt) located in the Bakery. A perfect place to hangout, eat some gorgeous food and people watch. There are three Charlotte cafes in Warsaw and one in Krakow do check them out if you can.
A last morning in Warsaw and more Polish food.
Making the most of my last morning in Warsaw, I hustled around at speed to check out two traditional Polish ‘Food Institutions’ which I were on my list of places to visit.
Don’t be confused by the name, Milk Bars don’t actually sell milk, far from it. The first Milk bar was established in 1896 in Warsaw as a workers cafe providing simple affordable food. Milk bars provided the main source of food for workers during communist times, serving only vegetarian food as meat was strictly rationed. Today, you can still find plenty of Milk Bars around they’re full of a mix of customers from businessmen in suits, through to labourers and they’re worth a visit. Food is served canteen style with little fuss. Read the menu, order at the counter and then collect your food, cutlery etc when it’s ready for a simple no fuss and inexpensive traditional Polish meal.
Pierogi (pronounced pih-ROH-ghee) are dumplings which are filled with sweet or savory filings and cooked in boiling water. The dough is an unleavened dough made with four simple ingredients. You can find Pierogi in most restaurants and during our trip we ate rustic versions with traditional fillings, through to refined versions stuffed with local cheese and herbs. If your dining focus is purely on pierogi, then Poland has its own dedicated pierogi restaurants called “Pierogarnia.” You can see them on many street corners
I popped into Zapiecek in Warsaw, a cute family style restaurant where the focus is on traditional, hearty Polish food. The serving ladies wear traditional Polish costume and the menu offers plenty of Pierogi choice as well as some other classic Polish dishes. Take an appetite, the portions looked huge. PS – the tables outside are a perfect spot for some people watching.
You can read more about Pierogis’ over on my last post which you can find >> HERE
Specialty Coffee and people watching
Two of my favorite pastimes which always pair well together!
The Specialty Coffee scene in Poland is growing quite rapidly and you don’t have to hunt to hard to find Speciality Coffee shops and roasters. The European Coffee Trip Guide lists 18 Specialty Coffee places in Warsaw and 9 in Krakow plus an additional 15 in Poznan and 8 in Wroclaw, both are located in Western Poland
In Krakow I came across Bike Coffee and Dobra Coffee (Dobra Palarnia Kawy). Bike Coffee were operating from a small pop up station at Saturday market called Targ Pietruszkowy whilst Dobra were at Cracovian Picnic at Park Bednarskiego (just behind Targ Pietruszkowy). Both offer Specialty Coffee.
Dobra which means Good in Polish started in 2017 when three coffee loving friends decided they wanted to get into Speciality Coffee and brew some good coffee. The team is small but hey have their own roastery in Małopolska and are regulars at some of the outdoor events in Krakow. You can also find them in their mini-cafe at Przemysłowa 12 – which I’m told is more of a ‘grab and go’ concept than a sit in cafe. The team are passionate and make some really great coffee.
Where to drink Specialty Coffee
Places to have Speciality Coffee in Krakow
Karma was the first Speciality Coffee Shop opening in 2010 so surely deserves a visit. Wesola is based in a two room basement with a neon sign “Lepiej Pić Kawę Niż Nie – It’s better to drink coffee, than not to” which is always great advice! Java Coffee Showroom which is part showroom, part coffee cafe gives you plenty of opportunity to chat with the Barista’s. Blossom marries traditional design inspired by classic coffee houses of old time. Coffeece is small in size but delivers as a neighborhood cafe. There are others I’m sure, but these are some of the popular ones that pop up on social media searches. Finally, I must mention Tektura which was on the list to visit but was closed for a refurbishment when we were there. Apparently this is a great place to enjoy Specialty coffee and high speed WiFi perfect for those work days.
Places to have Speciality Coffee in Warsaw
Cophi described as small but run by people with small hearts this has to be worth checking out. Relax Coffee Bar – one of the oldest Specialty cafes in Warsaw. Czytelnia a space all about coffee with a gorgeous brew bar. Stor instaworthy interiors with lots of cupping events and home-brewing workshops. Forum Coffee – central brew bar, coffee tasting sets makes this an interesting place to visit. Filtry a social neighborhood hub. eMeSeN coffee next to the art museum with arty interiors. Ministerstwo Kawy – light, bright and airy interiors.
For more details, locations and up-to-date information on the Specialty Coffee scene in Poland (and the rest of Europe) do check out European Coffee Trip website. Also check out the newly released book Coffee Spots Polska (in Polish for now).
The 2018 World Barista Champion comes from Poland
Big shout out to Agnieszka Rojewska, winner of the World Barista Championship 2018 – who has really raised the profile of Poland’s Specialty Coffee scene. Agnieszka started work as a barista in a coffee chain, then had her own coffee shop before becoming a coffee trainer and winning the championship in Amsterdam.
Final Reflections on Poland
I left Warsaw with a smile on my face and a heavy heart! My brief trip to Krakow and Warsaw was one which was full of new experiences and adventures. I found so much more than I expected and in such a positive way. Sure there are grey buildings and reminders of the fairly recent Communist past. But there are also there are constant reminders of progress and innovation. We met some amazing people, passionate about preserving heritage and history of the past and recent past, but also about celebrating Poland as it is now by creating traditional dishes with a modern twist. There’s a reverence to ingredients, terroir, seasonality and foraging. We had complex dishes and simple dishes, each had their own charm. There’s a tonne of creativity, inspiration and passion in Polish food which left me leaving and wanting to return to experience more. Until next time Poland. With much love x
Disclaimer: I was a guest of Krajowy Osderek Wsparcia Rolnictwa (the National Support Centre for Agriculture in Poland), Poland Tastes Good and the Krakow Municipality with the mission to learn and share about Poland and its food, cuisine, culture and culinary traditions. This compilation has been drawn from their experiences – some of them hosted and some self-paid. www.kowr.gov.pl