Our trip to Krakow, Poland was motivated by pierogies.
I want to say it was motivated by history, culture, or medieval architecture— all of the things we loved discovering when we did our walking tour of Krakow— but the truth is our inspirations were much more superficial than that. We wanted to eat delicious Polish food. We wanted kielbasa and vodka. And even though we were fresh off an incredible experience in Morocco, we were ready to diversify from tagine and couscous. On our first full day in Poland, we made eating our focus.
We booked a food tour with Delicious Poland, a small business owned by the charming Kamila and Göksel. Kamila is a Polish native who met her partner Göksel in Turkey, his homeland. Together they decided to go into business together, and Delicious Poland was born. We’ve written pretty extensively about our love of food tours as a way to explore a city, and while we felt confident that we would have a sixth sense for locating pierogies, we were happy to have a couple of Krakow locals who could immediately introduce us to some of the best!
Not surprisingly, Krakow’s food scene is so much more than the dumplings and sausages you may expect to find. As our introduction to Polish food unfolded, we found unexpected flavors presented to us through fifteen—yes, fifteen!—different samples. If you have ever wondered just what there is to eat in Poland, here are the foods we tried and loved that we know you’ll enjoy as well!
PierogiesWe believed the first stop we made would be the pinnacle of our Polish culinary adventure: pierogies at Przystanek Pierogarnia. The pierogi shop is tiny— so tiny that our group of eight had to stand outside to enjoy our snack— but we were nothing short of delighted by the pierogies we tried.
I’m a bit of a pierogi aficionado (I went to college in Pittsburgh, where pierogies and Polish cuisine are a big part of the culinary scene), and I have a strong, nostalgic relationship with the delicious filled dumplings. We each sampled three varieties: potato and cheese, spinach, and sauerkraut and mushroom. All three are traditional fillings found on many menus throughout Poland. Adam liked the potato and cheese pierogi the most, but I thought sauerkraut was even better. Served piping hot, both of us savored each bite, thankful that the dumplings lived up to our expectations.
When everyone had finished their pierogies, Göksel delivered a surprise to us: cherry pierogies! I had never tried a dessert pierogi before, but I was hooked after the first bite. They were loaded with sour cherries and full of juicy, tart flavor. We both could have eaten a dozen of them. If Przystanek Pierogarnia hadn’t been our first stop of the night, we might have tried!
More Information: Przystanek-Pierogarnia.pl
VodkaI have enjoyed plenty of vodka in my time, but I don’t typically drink it unless it’s part of a mixed drink. The Polish vodkas we tried didn’t require any kind of mixer; in fact, they were best enjoyed one sip at a time.
We sampled four different vodkas in Krakow: caramel vanilla, elderberry, walnut, and rye. While we both liked the rye vodka (it was very strong but very smooth and easy to drink), the flavored vodkas were much better. I thought the elderflower version was the most dangerous of all of them, as it was sweet and floral. The caramel vanilla and walnut flavors could easily have been served as an after dinner drink; they both were sweet and more sugary than the elderflower vodka. Flavored vodka is popular in Krakow, and it’s common to find in bars, so even if vodka isn’t usually your liquor of choice you may find a flavored vodka will hit the spot.
KielbasaPolish kielbasa is one of Adam’s favorite foods, so trying it in Poland was a must. We could smell the sausages cooking before we saw even saw them as we approached Plac Nowy, the heart of Krakow’s Kazimierz neighborhood. A handful of stands and stalls sell tasty street food, and we wasted no time grabbing a few seats in front of a woman who was grilling sausages, onions, and other snacks over a large grill.
Our kielbasa was served with a piece of bread, grilled onions, and a pickle with a few dipping sauces on the side, but I left the sauces alone. The kielbasa was so juicy and flavorful that sauces would only detract from the experience. Each bite started with a crunchy snap of the kielbasa’s casing and was punctuated with a smoky taste imparted by the grill. I wasn’t surprised when I saw more than one person close their eyes and smile a bit as they savored their kielbasa—locals included!
OscypekPoland is known for pierogies and kielbasa, but it is not known for its cheese. That’s why we were surprised to find oscypek, a smoked sheep’s milk cheese. Oscypek is a bit of a delicacy. It is produced in the Tatra Mountains through traditional processes, and farmers only make it in the summer. After October, you won’t find it on menus again until the following spring.
The oscypek we tried was lightly fried and served with a side of jam, which created an experience similar to eating baked brie. I’m not usually much of a cheese eater, but I really liked the small sample served to me—and Adam was disappointed that I didn’t have a leftover bite or two to share with him!
If you are looking for street food in Poland, zapiekanka will almost certainly wind up in your hands. Kamila and Göksel described zapiekanka as an open-faced sandwich, but I thought it more closely resembled a French bread pizza. Zapiekanka starts with a long piece of bread, usually a baguette that is cut in half length-wise. We saw some that looked to be around two feet long, although smaller portions seemed to be available. Most commonly zapiekanka is topped with mushrooms and cheese before being cooked until the bread has toasted and the cheese melts. Ours also had a generous sprinkling of scallions on top, which added another tasty, crunchy layer.
Although zapiekanka makes for a filling snack—or even a meal—during the evening, it’s most popular with the locals when they leave nightclubs and bars on the weekends. After a night of drinking and dancing, a portable open-faced sandwich is the perfect snack for the walk home.
BigosI am a huge fan of comfort food, and that extends to the comfort foods that are popular around the world. Bigos fits that bill; it’s a stew made from cabbage and meat (kielbasa and pork being two commonly found in the dish). Served piping hot, bigos quickly became a favorite of mine.
Traditionally, travellers would make and take it with them on journeys, as the stew tastes great when it is first prepared but gets better as the days pass, which makes it a great meal to pack. Bigos is also a popular dish to serve for holidays in Poland including Christmas and Easter, as it can be prepared in advance but served to a large crowd after a simple reheating.
I devoured the sample I served myself and wasn’t shy about going back for a second helping. The cabbage is prepared as sauerkraut, and with the addition of sausage it was filling and delicious.
SoupWe went to Krakow for pierogies; we did not go for soup. That’s why I was caught completely off guard when a duo of soups left me just as satisfied as the dumplings had only twenty minutes before.
The first soup we tried was so good I vowed to figure out how to make it on my own. Zalewajka is a traditional soup made from sourdough bread starter—you either purchase or make the yeast, water, flour, and sugar concoction that is used to make bread. Combined with vegetables, the soup is hearty and flavorful, certainly exhibiting some of the same flavor profiles you would recognize if you had sourdough bread.
Our second soup was barszcz, a warm beet soup that is not unlike borscht but differs from the Russian varieties I have had in that it is served warm and is broth-based. While I am much more used to enjoying thick, creamy, cold borscht, the Polish variety was very tasty, and I made a note that it, too, should become a future culinary experiment in my kitchen.
BeerKrakow boasts a pretty active craft beer scene, so we were happy to find a local brewery on our food tour itinerary. We tried a couple of beers at Ursa Maior, including an IPA and a golden ale, and we found both of them to be refreshing and well-made. IPAs and golden ales are popular in the United States, and both samples reminded us of what we would expect from the same beers back home.
Ursa Maior prides itself on innovative brewing processes, which today includes using renewable energy. We both agreed that the beer provided a great alternative to vodka (we like vodka, but it’s not for everyone!), and we liked the experience of trying familiar beer styles from a great brewery.
More Information: UrsaMaior.pl
Potato PancakesSome of the best Polish food I tried was placki ziemniaczane, or potato pancakes. The potato pancakes in Krakow were very similar to those I grew up eating; they were lightly fried and served with sour cream.
Potato pancakes have a pretty significant history in Krakow, which once boasted one of the largest Jewish populations in the world. Placki ziemniaczane were also a staple in previous centuries, particularly when people salvaged lesser quality potato crops by converting them into pancakes to keep them from expiring too quickly. I used to eat potato pancakes almost weekly as a child, and I was happy that the pancakes I tried in Krakow were very similar to the ones I all but inhaled many years ago.
Polish beet salad is exactly what it sounds like—it’s a side dish of cooked beets mixed with seasonings and balsamic vinegar and served warm. I really like beets—after all, the borscht we tried was one of my favorite meals in Poland—and this salad did not disappoint. Known as buraczki, it’s a popular dish and a simple one to make, and it’s worth trying alongside a main dish.
Cabbage RollsOne of the biggest culinary surprises we both enjoyed was Golabki, or cabbage rolls. Cabbage rolls are commonly found throughout eastern Europe, including the Balkan countries, and they are often stuffed with pork or beef as well as rice. Golabki translates to “little pigeons,” a nickname they take because of the shape they form when prepared and cooked. Golabki is often served with a tomato-based sauce, and the dish is very commonly served at special occasions like weddings.
I really loved a story I heard about golabki’s role during the Polish–Lithuanian–Teutonic War. Legend had it that the army ate cabbage rolls before winning a critical battle—one we learned about during our Krakow city tour—which in a way brought Polish history to life for me as I chewed and thought about people eating a similar meal many, many centuries before me.
We had a chance to try kompot, which is a very sweet, fruit-based drink served either warm or cold depending on the season. It’s certainly an acquired taste; I found I liked it more and more as I sipped it despite how I thought it was too sugary and a bit tart after my first taste. The kompot I tried had a lot of sour cherries in it, which explained the tartness, but it quickly grew on me. Adam’s kompot had peaches in it and was much sweeter.
Kompot first grew in popularity during times when fruit was scarce and needed to be rationed. Today, rationing isn’t a necessity, but the drink is firmly rooted in Poland’s culture and remains on beverage menus around the country.
PaczkiAdam spotted what looked like a donut shop while we were waiting for a pierogi restaurant to open, and little did we know that he had also stumbled upon a piece of Polish culture. Paczki are similar to filled donuts, but they are a bit lighter and fluffier than their more fried and oily cousins across the pond thanks to a small amount of grain alcohol added to the dough that prevents oil from being absorbed when it is cooked. The taste is exactly the same, though; Adam’s was glazed and filled with raspberry jam. Paczki are consumed during holidays, but they also make a great everyday snack.
When we visited Budapest a few years ago I discovered Hungarian goulash, so I wasn’t surprised that just a few country borders away a similar but equally delicious version is on many of Krakow’s menus.
Polish goulash, or gulasz, is seasoned, slow-cooked meat, and while it is often served alongside pasta we opted to try ours on its own. While it wasn’t spicy, there were definitely notes of paprika in the sauce in which the meat simmered, which made the dish both rich and filling.
RacuchyWe went to Poland for the pierogies, but we stayed for the racuchy.
Racuchy is an apple pancake, and it’s one of the best desserts I have ever tried—even though many people eat it for a snack or dinner instead of dessert. It’s a pancake, stuffed with cooked apples, pan fried, and covered in powdered sugar. We also enjoyed some berry jam with a few bites, although the racuchy really didn’t need any help when it came to flavors. Sweet, warm, and gooey, if our hotel would have had a refrigerator and a microwave there would have been no stopping us from asking if doggy bags are an option in Polish restaurants!
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Take a Food Tour in Poland!
Finding a good meal can be a little daunting when you visit a new city or country, but it’s easy to find delicious, filling food in Poland. Our Polish food tour provided a great introduction to the history, flavors, and traditions that are ingrained into Krakow’s food scene. By all means, set your sights on some delicious pierogies like we did—but don’t be surprised when a few other meals give them some serious competition!
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* From time to time, our travels are directly impacted by a service or company. In this case, we booked a food tour with Delicious Poland, and this post includes our candid review of our experience. We selected Delicious Poland based on our own research and travel needs; we were not offered and did not receive compensation of any kind from them or any other party in exchange for our review. Learn more about our travel philosophy here.