Polish food is wonderful, especially in winter. It’s rustic, hearty, comfort food that is intended to keep you warm and happy.
If you’re trudging through snow every day or heading to Zakopane for some snow-sports, you’ll appreciate the carbs; if you’re here in summer, you’ll probably want to reduce the number of courses, eat fewer portions, and always have a salad with your meal.
While the food varies from the very simple, home-style dishes of the dirt-cheap milk bars (bar mleczny) to the more refined, over-priced restaurants with Michelin stickers on their windows, it’s the category of restaurant in between that we prefer in Kraków and Zakopane.
The food at these places is tastier, not compromised for foreign visitors tastes, and reasonably priced, and the atmosphere, which is much more local, is a lot more fun. They’re so good that it’s generally hard to go wrong, but we follow a few rules:
* Eat only where locals eat – look for the places that are popular with locals; this can be easier to judge at lunch time, when almost everyone who works in the old city seems to be in a restaurant; restaurants that are frantic at lunch time might be quiet at night, but this doesn’t mean they’re not good.
* Avoid eating on the main square – this rule doesn’t just apply to Kraków, it applies everywhere, but in Kraków the restaurants on the main square are probably the least satisfying when it comes to Polish food, and they’re the least popular with the locals – for a reason.
* Avoid restaurants bearing foreign guidebook stickers – while the food might be fine, do you really want to be sitting in a restaurant listening to loud English-language voices all night? In our experience these are 90% full of foreigners.
Here are just a few of our favourites:
ul św Jana 3
Charming Chlopskie Jadlo is a local favourite (and it’s mine too), doing some of the most scrumptious pierogi in the city. Their lard, with chunks of crispy pork, is sublime, and the four small soup starters are a must if you haven’t tried many of the local soups before. Intended to resemble a traditional home, the rustic décor comes complete with bunches of onion, garlic and paprika hanging from a kitchen-like nook and a table in the backroom that resembles a bed.
Polskie Jadło Compendium Culinarum
ul św Jana 30
This is where I had my pierogi-making lesson, and the pierogi here is delicious, but so are the soups and the meats. The pork – especially the restaurant’s specialty, the melt-in-your-mouth, fall-off-the-bone pork knuckle – is sublime and wins awards. The interior is delightful too, in a similar rustic style to Chlopskie Jadlo.
ul Kanonicza 15
This is the kind of food my Baboushka used to make – delicious, hearty, traditional Ukrainian cuisine served up in a 16th century cellar. The restaurant is small but it’s nearly always full of locals who know the menu off by heart.
ul Grodzka 40
If for some reason you absolutely must eat in one of Kraków’s restaurants that are in the Michelin guide, you could try this one – despite the fact that it bewilderingly has pizza on the menu. The food is pretty good, though the high prices (for Kraków) aren’t justified. Curiously, the other restaurants owned by the same company are also in the Michelin guide.