For generations this square was referred to by locals as Plac Żydowski, not only because it was the primary bucher marketplace (kosher) of the Jewish quarter, but the rotunda served as a ritual slaughterhouse for poultry right up until Nazi occupation. Today butcher shops still occupy the interior, but the real activity is outside where hungry locals line-up in front of the dozen or so hole-in-the-wall food hatches that operate around the rotunda, eager to taste arguably the best 'zapiekanki' in Poland. Essentially a French bread pizza with the toppings of your choice, you’ll find everyone from police blokes ignoring emergency calls on their walkie-talkies to stick-thin party girls getting their week's worth of calories waiting outside the rotunda for this legendary Krakowian street food. Visiting Krakow without eating a Plac Nowy zapiekanka would be like visiting Dublin without having a Guinness.

Alchemia club.

Alchemia club.

Plac Nowy.

Plac Nowy.

Plac Nowy is Krakow’s premier pub crawl circuit. Full of shambolic charm, veteran boozers Singer (took its name from the old Singer saw machines, which are used as serving tables) and Alchemia put Plac Nowy on the map for punters, and remain two of the square's best bets for candlelit, pre-war mystique.

While in the square we only visited the very impressive Alchemia club, a very distinctively decorated music venue, where you can enjoy your coffee or drink (order and pay for your drink at the bar). 

 In recent years the area has begun to diversify with glammy pre-club places, but the fact of the matter remains that this bohemian outpost is one of Krakow's most interesting and exciting nightlife destinations.

Singer bar.

Singer bar.

Zapiekanka

The Polish word zapiekanka comes from the verb zapiekać, which means "to bake a dish so that its ingredients combine, and a crispy, browned crust forms on top".

A typical zapiekanka is made from one half of a baguette, or any other long roll of white bread, cut lengthwise, as for a submarine sandwich. It may be up to 50 cm long. The bread is topped with sliced, sautéed white mushrooms and grated cheese to form an open-face sandwich, which is then toasted until the bread becomes crisp and the cheese melts. Hard, mature yellow cheese with high fat content that melts well in heat, such as Gouda, Edam, Emmental, Tilsit or Cheddar, is best for this purpose; Polish smoked sheep milk cheese, such as oscypek, is also a popular choice. A zapiekanka is best served hot. The typical garnish is tomato ketchup, usually splattered on the cheese in a generous amount.

Me enjoying a zapiekanka at Plac Nowy.

Me enjoying a zapiekanka at Plac Nowy.

Queue for a zapinkanka at Plac Nowy.

Queue for a zapinkanka at Plac Nowy.

Zapiekanki first appeared in the streets of Polish towns in the 1970s. Under Edward Gierek's leadership of the Polish United Workers' Party, Poland's Communist authorities allowed a degree of private enterprise in the catering industry. This move led to quick proliferation of small family-owned foodservice establishments, known in Polish as mała gastronomia, or "small gastronomy". Their spread continued during the food shortages of the following decade. They usually took the form of stands or travel trailers turned food trucks serving zapiekanki along with simple dishes of Polish cuisine, such as kiełbasa sausage, boiled ham hock or tripe soup, and American fast food staples, like hot dogs, hamburgers and French fries. The American journalist Anne Applebaum, who first came to Poland in 1988, described the zapiekanka of that time as "a pizzalike substance" and "a poor relative of its distant Italian cousin", "a mushy white sandwich roll" with "a few overcooked mushrooms" beneath "melted cheese and a squeeze of ketchup", which she ate nonetheless because little else was available.

 Demand for zapiekanki fell with the reintroduction of market economy in the 1990s, but remained on the menus of some of those "small gastronomy" outlets that survived the competition with large fast food chains. Some zapiekanka stands even attained cult following, such as those located in Plac Nowy.

This is zapiekanka!

This is zapiekanka!

The entrance to Meiselsa street (top). Inside Meiselsa street (bottom).

The entrance to Meiselsa street (top). Inside Meiselsa street (bottom).

Meiselsa Street

To continue your tour head west out of the square down Meiselsa Street to find what many regard as Krakow’s most picturesque passageway on your left, which should be immediately recognisable to many as the backdrop of dramatic scenes from Spielberg’s "Schindler’s List".  To me, it seemed a bit neglected and I did not find much charm on it.  But, again we are all willing to visit places we see in films: colorless, boring, even ugly places, which become tourist attractions after appearing in a famous film.

Just next to the passageway is arguably the neighborhood’s best beer garden (Mleczarnia), if you’re here during the summer season. 

Mleczarnia, neighborhood’s best beer garden.

Mleczarnia, neighborhood’s best beer garden.

The Liquidation of the Krakow Ghetto from "Schindler's List" filmed at Meiselsa Street.

Ethnographic Museum

The only museum I visited in Krakow was the "Ethnographic Museum".  I am very fond of this kind of museums (together with history museums), because they give you a real view of local people's life, unlike most museums which narrate the life of the Kings, the nobles, the priesthood and the rich ones. Furthermore, people who travel a lot, like myself, at some point lose their interest in art museums as they all seem the same after some point. If for example you are in Europe you have seen so much of western art that eventually it gets very boring.  How many Da Vinci, Picasso, Van Gogh, Caravaggio, Rembrandt or Renoir paintings you can digest in your life, and how many Greco-Roman sculptures you can admire?!

Krakowska Street and the Ethnographic Museum entrance (top). The Wolnica square side of the museum (bottom).

Krakowska Street and the Ethnographic Museum entrance (top). The Wolnica square side of the museum (bottom).

Comments

03.11.2019 04:15

Rob

What a great adventure.

15.10.2018 08:50

Jane

The first time I read such an interesting review on Krakow.