The Crown Treasury situated in the historic Gothic rooms which were used from the 15th century on for storing the Polish coronation insignia and Crown Jewels, feature on display priceless objects from the former Treasury that survived plunder, among them the memorabilia of Polish monarchs including members of their families and eminent personages, like the hat and sword given to John III Sobieski by the pope after the Battle of Vienna, as well as the coronation sword Szczerbiec.
If there is one thing I loved most in Krakow, this is Pączki (singular: pączek). Pączki are filled doughnuts which are typical for Polish cuisine. Pączki are deep-fried pieces of dough shaped into flattened spheres and filled with confiture or other sweet filling. A small amount of grain alcohol (traditionally, Spiritus) is added to the dough before cooking; as it evaporates, it prevents the absorption of oil deep into the dough. The common opinion is that the ideal pączek is fluffy and at the same time a bit collapsed, with a bright stripe around – it is supposed to guarantee that the dough was fried in fresh oil.
Although they look like German berliners, North American bismarcks or jelly doughnuts, pączki are made from especially rich dough containing eggs, butter, sugar, yeast and sometimes milk. They feature a variety of fruit and creme fillings and are usually covered with powdered sugar, icing, glaze or bits of dried orange or lemon zest. Powidła (stewed plum jam) and wild rose hip jam are traditional fillings, but many others are used as well, including strawberry, Bavarian cream, blueberry, custard, raspberry, and apple.
Pączki have been known in Poland at least since the Middle Ages. The Polish historian and diarist, Jędrzej Kitowicz, wrote that during the reign of August III, under the influence of French cooks who came to Poland, pączki dough was improved, so that pączki became lighter, spongier, and more resilient.
How do you pronounce the word "paczki" so you don't sound like a total “amerykanski” when you're ordering one at a bakery? Try pronounce it like this "POONCH-key” or "POUNCH-key"… but chances are, unless you speak the language, you'll end up butchering it. Who cares? I always tend to point with my finger towards what I want.
In Krakow you will find this sweet treat almost everywhere. I had the best pączki at “Gorące Pączki” in Old Town (in Szewska str, just between other two of must visit places: the 'Nakielny Café' and 'Pierogarnia Krakowiacy') and at “Stara Pączkarnia” in Stradomska street, which is the street that connects Wawel Hill with Kazimierz.
Read more about doughnuts, in my NYC page by following this link:
There is no way to be in Krakow and not taste Pierogi. Pierogi (singular: pieróg) are filled dumplings, which can be found everywhere in central and eastern European countries. This tasty delicacy is made by wrapping unleavened dough around a savory or sweet filling and cooking in boiling water. Pierogi are associated mainly with the Polish and Slovakian kitchen where they are considered national dishes. The variant called varenyky are popular in Ukranian and Russian cuisine. The last years fried pierogi are getting very popular and are served mainly as street food.
The origins of pierogi are disputed. Some legends say that pierogi came from China through Italy from Marco Polo's expeditions.
In Poland, pączki are eaten especially on Fat Thursday (Tłusty Czwartek), the last Thursday prior to Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent. The traditional reason for making pączki was to use up all the lard, sugar, eggs and fruit in the house, because their consumption was forbidden by Christian fasting practices during the season of Lent.
Pączki are very popular also in the United States due to the big polish communitiesthat exists there. Urban centers with large Polish and Polish-American populations like Detroit and Chicago have been bracing themselves for Fat Thursday, aka Paczki Day, a celebration of the delectable fried treat in preparation for the coming Lenten traditions.
This legend is based in the fact that similar dishes exists in China and the rest of the Far East till today. Others contend that pierogi were brought to Poland by Saint Hyacinth of Poland, who brought them back from Kiev (the center of “Kievan Rus”). On July 13, 1238, Saint Hyacinth visited Kościelec, and on his visit, a storm destroyed all crops; Hyacinth told everyone to pray and by the next day, crops rose back up. As a sign of gratitude, people made pierogi from those crops for Saint Hyacinth. Another legend states that Saint Hyacinth fed the people with pierogi during a famine caused by an invasion by the Tatars in 1241. Yet another legend says that pierogi were brought to Poland by the Tatars to the West from the former Russian Empire, in the 13th century. None of these legends is supported by the etymological origin of the root pirŭ- from the proto-Slavic for "feast".
Traditionally considered peasant food, pierogi eventually gained popularity and spread throughout all social classes including nobles.
Some cookbooks from the 17th century describe how during that era, the pierogi were considered a staple of the Polish diet, and each holiday had its own special kind of pierogi created. Different shapes and fillings were made for holidays such as Christmas and Easter. Important events like weddings had their own special type of pierogi kurniki – filled with chicken. Also, pierogi were made especially for mourning or wakes, and some for caroling season in January.
Pierogi are an important part of Polish culture and cuisine today. They are served in a variety of forms and tastes and play an important role as a cultural dish. In Krakow every year they celebrate the Pierogi Day.
Polish pierogi are often filled with fresh quark, mashed potatoes and fried onions. This type is called in Polish “pierogi ruskie”, which literally means "Ruthenian pierogi" (sometimes being mistranslated as “Russian pierogi”). The most popular in Poland are pierogi filled with sauerkraut, minced meat, mushrooms, cheese and cabbage, or for dessert with an assortment of berries (with strawberries or blueberries the most common). Sweet pierogi are usually served with sour cream mixed with sugar, and savory pierogi with sour cream (smetana), bacon fat, bacon bits or fried onions.
There is no polish restaurant which does not serve pierogi. But most of them cater for tourists and food is not fulfilling, to say the least. Nevertheless, there is one shop that makes really delicious and super fresh pierogi. It is called “Pierogarnia Krakowiacy” and is located just two blocks west of Main Market Square (23, Szewska St). It is a small shop, nicely decorated, that serves mainly pierogi and a couple of other traditional polish dishes. The shop gets crowded and you may have to wait till a table is available. Do not wait to find a table of your own…you can share the table with other pierogi fans. The restaurant is self-serviced: you order, pay at the cash desk, take a number and when your order is ready they call your number. Weather permitted, you can be sited outside at one of the 3-4 tables they have on the sidewalk in front of the restaurant. There is another “Pierogarnia Krakowiacy”, much bigger than the first one, located just outside the western perimeter of the Old Town (15 Westerplatte St).
A walk in Kazimierz
Besides the Old Town and Wawel Hill, the only other district of an interest to tourists is Kazimierz. Kazimierz is the district south of the Old Town between Vistula River and Dietla Str. Since its inception in the 14th century to the early 19th century, Kazimierz has been an independent city, a royal city of the Crown of the Polish Kingdom. The boundaries of Kazimierz are defined by an old island in the Vistula. The northern branch of the river (Stara Wisła–Old Vistula) was filled-in at the end of the 19th century and became Dietla Str, while Stradomska Str extended to become Krakowska Str connecting Kazimierz district with Old Town.
Kazimierz has, since then, rebounded and is today Krakow’s most exciting district – a bustling, bohemian neighborhood packed with historical sites, atmospheric cafes and art galleries. Well-known for its associations with Schindler, traces of Kazimierz’s Jewish history have not only survived, but literally abound in the form of the district’s numerous synagogues and Jewish cemeteries.
The fact that it’s one of the year’s biggest parties proves that there’s more to Kazimierz than sepia photographs and old synagogues. Here you’ll find the heart of Kraków’s artistic, bohemian character behind the wooden shutters of dozens of antique shops and art galleries. Peeling façades and obscure courtyards hide dozens of bars and cafes, many affecting an air of pre-war timelessness. Centered on Plac Nowy (New Square), Kazimierz has emerged as the city’s best destination for cafe culture and nightlife. Alternative, edgy and packed with oddities, Kazimierz is an essential point of interest to any visitor.
Kazimierz was the center of Jewish life in Krakow for over 500 years, before it was systematically destroyed during World War II.
In the communist era it became one of Krakow’s dodgiest districts while gradually falling into disrepair.
Rediscovered in the 1990s, thanks to the worldwide exposure through the lens of Steven Spielberg and his movie "Schindler's List", which used many filming locations in the area.
In fact, no other place in Europe conveys a sense of pre-war Jewish culture on the continent better than Kazimierz. As a result, the district has become a major tourist draw and pilgrimage site for Jews, which has led to the return of contemporary Jewish culture in the area. Each summer since 1988 the massively popular Jewish Culture Festival has filled Kazimierz’s streets and cafes with music, while educating Krakow’s residents and guests about the city’s pre-war Jewish history and celebrating modern Jewish culture.
Today, there are 5 synagogues in the area, of which the Old Synagogue (Stara Synagoga) is the most important of them and can be visited as it currently operates as a museum. It is a Division of the Historical Museum of Krakow, with particular focus on Krakow's Jews. The exhibits are divided into themes dealing with birth, prayer rituals, diet, divorce and death. The Synagogue was built in the 15th century and rebuilt in 1570 under the watchful eye of an Italian architect Mateo Gucci. The Old synagogue is a rare, surviving example of a Polish Fortress synagogue. The synagogue was completely devastated and ransacked by the Germans during World War II.
Admission Fee: PLN 11 (reduced: PLN 9).
North of the Old Synagogue starts a short, but wide, street, ulica Szeroka (Szeroka street). In fact, Szeroka originally served as the centre a small 12th-century village known as Bawół, which was absorbed into Kazimierz in 1340, a few years after the latter was awarded its charter. In the late 15th century Jews banished from Kraków started settling in the area, giving it a permanent place in local Jewish history. More a square than an actual street, Szeroka conveys the sense of a medieval marketplace; indeed, it was here that Kazimierz’s first Jewish merchants settled, and the square is bookended by two of the city’s most important synagogues - the Old Synagogue and the Remuh Synagogue, whose historic cemetery covers almost all the area on the west of Szeroka.
Restaurant Ariel. The main entrance (top left), the patio (top right), one of the rooms (2nd row left), Stuffed cabbage leafes with buckwheat served with tomato sauce (2nd row, right), statue souvenir made of wood (3rd row left), Breast of chicken sauteed in plum and mushroom sauce, served with latkes (3rd row right), Grilled chicken fillets served with cheese and spinach sauce served with latkes (bottom left) and Turkey fillet with almonds and raisins sauce served with latkes (bottom right).
Next to Ariel stands “Synagoga Poperra”, an old synagogue turned into a beautiful bookshop.
At the north end of Szeroka the visitor will find “Dawno Temu Na Kazimierzu” ('Once Upon a Time in Kazimierz') restaurant, with its row of faux Jewish shop fronts and next door you’ll find “Hamsa” restaurant.
Next to the entrance of Remuh Synagogue stands the monument of Jan Karski - 'Righteous Among the Nations' for his efforts to alert the Western Allies of the Nazi genocide during WWII. Today Szeroka’s picturesque cobbled lanes are primarily lined with businesses and restaurants aimed at tourists, including “Rubinstein” – so named because the ‘Queen of Cosmetics’ was born next door, and “Ariel”, probably the most famous Jewish restaurant in Krakow.
You’ll hear mixed reports about Ariel; while our visit was underwhelming, many extol the virtues of this veteran restaurant's varied Jewish cuisine. It is supposed that Steven Spielberg spoke highly of it when he ate here during his stay for the filming of Schindler's List… I very much doubt! The setting is typical of the district, with antiques and heirlooms alluding to the Kazimierz of yesteryear, and a set of rooms decorated in a charmingly cluttered style. There is also a souvenir shop on site.
Inside Synagoga Poperra bookshop.
"Dawno Temu Na Kazimierzu" restaurant.
Hamsa is more than just a restaurant; it is a venue to taste modern Israeli cuisine and get into touch with eastern Mediterranean culture! In a district whose dining establishments still treat Jewishness as a faded sepia part of the past, here's a restaurant free of nostalgic pre-war décor and wooden roof fiddlers, where ‘Jewish cuisine’ doesn’t mean traditional East European fare. Making a bold impression simply by being bright, modern and free of clutter, Hamsa offers a range of authentic Middle Eastern specialties in a casual environment. The mezze sets are perfect for sharing, and not only give you a chance to sample delicious starters like the humus, babaganoush, labnah and muhammarah, but are also beautifully presented in hand-painted dish ware. There's plenty of room, and in spring/summer this restaurant expands to ul. Miodowa in a beautiful garden. Here I had a not-that-special piece of kunefe pastry.
The motto of the restaurant is “Make Humus not war”. The name of this venue was derived from a good luck amulet, which is well-known throughout the Middle East. It brings you luck and protects your household from evil curses, such as the evil eye. Hamsa is also called the Hand of Fatima, the symbol which is commonly known in both Jewish and Islamic culture.
On the other side of the cemetery, starts Warszauera Street with its 17th century Kupa Synagogue, whose northern wall was flush with the medieval Kazimierz defensive walls which can still be seen from the other side on Miodowa Street. It's a short walk down Warszauera street from there to Plac Nowy (New Square), formerly known as ‘Plac Żydowski' (Jewish Square) and still today the district’s bustling epicenter, lined with bars, cafes and street food stalls.
Quench your thirst with a cold "Oranzada" at one of Plac Nowy bars.
An odd legend is tied to the small patch of green at the northern end of Szeroka, which was walled off sometime during the ages for no reason apparent to early-20th century locals. According to a story perpetuated before WWII, an insubordinate wedding party took place there late one Friday, with revelers ignoring the rabbi’s requests to part as the Sabbath approached; feeling scorned, the rabbi cast a curse plunging the wedding venue underground and wiping out the newlyweds and all their guests. Ask a historian, however, and they’re more likely to tell you that the plot of land was probably a small cemetery used to bury those who perished from the plague. Today it has been fashioned into a memorial and “Place of meditation upon the martyrdom of 65,000 Polish citizens of Jewish nationality from Cracow” as a large stone monument explains.
Plac Nowy scene.
The square has a very relaxed atmosphere and people look different that those frequenting other Krakow neighborhoods: more relaxed I would say. Plac Nowy has established itself as the spiritual centre of Kracowian subculture. Lacking the splendour of the Old Town, Plac Nowy is actually something of an eyesore – a concrete square lined with cars and filled with food hatches, metal market stalls and rat-like pigeons. If you want something completely different from the Old Town, however, here it is. Incorporated into the Jewish quarter in the late 17th century, Plac Nowy didn't really begin assuming its shape until the early 19th century, with its central landmark, the Okrąglak (rotunda), added as late as 1900.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Liquidation of the Krakow Ghetto from "Schindler's List" filmed at Meiselsa Street.
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?!
Ethnological Museum exhibition artifacts.
Inside the Ethnographic Museum.
The Wolnica Plac (Wolnica Square), on one side of which stands the museum, is a very pleasant open space surrounded by beautiful buildings, cafés and restaurants. Here, on the opposite side of the museum, there is a small ice-cream shop, which is supposed to make the best ice-cream in town. It is called “GoodLood” (lody means ice-cream in Polish). When I visited there was a long queue in front of the shop with lots of young ice-cream aficionados, so I decided not to wait. Most probably, the long queues as well as the big numbers of young couples siting around the square slurping on ice-cream cones mean something…but again, we know how these things work: good advertisement, good PR and here comes the best of the best!
Next day, I realized that there is not only one “GoodLood”, but many… actually, GoodLood is the fastest-growing food start up in Kracow, they told me. They produce ice cream, using only local dairy products, fresh fruit, and the best quality herbs and nuts (but, aren’t them all say so?).
GoodLood Logo and a "classic flavor": Pistachio.
This beautiful museum founded in 1911 by the teacher and folklore enthusiast Seweryn Udziela and is located inside Kazimierz’s former Town Hall (on Wolnica Square). This cultural highlight often gets overlooked by tourists, but offers wonderful and charming insight into Polish folk culture and rural traditions, including beautiful recreations of 19th-century peasant interiors, folk costumes and instruments, and extraordinary examples of local nativity cribs ('szopki').
The permanent exhibition is currently being modernised, with new exhibits called 'Od-nowa' (Anew) - focussed on rural rituals of spring in Poland (painted Easter eggs and palms), and 'Unattainable Earth' - which guides visitors through hundreds of works of folk art via the words of Czeslaw Milosz's anthology of poems and thoughts called "Unattainable Earth". With exhibits sufficiently explained in English, those that visit here will be happily rewarded.
Admission fee is PLN 13 (Discounted admission PLN 7). On Sundays, the admission is free.
The Wolnica Square. People queue outside GoodLood ice-cream shop and then enjoy it outside under the sun.
Each day, apart from their classic offer, GoodLood introduces 2 “flavors of the day”. These flavors are announced on their Facebook page each day at 8:00pm of the previous day. So, people know what they will have tomorrow, and usually each new flavor quickly becomes a must-eat, a real blockbuster of the ice cream world. Now you understand what I said earlier about PR and clever marketing ideas, and also why all the people I saw queuing were of very young age.
Polish people are very fond of ice-cream, so there are hundreds of these kind of shops in the city.
Polish people love ice cream (Lody). There are ice cream shops everywhere.
A bar mleczny—literally "milk bar" in Polish—is a Polish form of cafeteria. The first typical milk bar "Mleczarnia Nadświdrzańska" was established in 1896 in Warsaw by Stanisław Dłużewski, a member of Polish landed gentry. Although the typical bar mleczny had a menu based on dairy items, these establishments generally also served other, non-dairy traditional Polish dishes as well.
The commercial success of the first milk bars encouraged other businessmen to copy this type of restaurant. As Poland regained her independence after World War I, milk bars appeared in most of the country. They offered relatively cheap but nourishing food, and as such achieved even more prominence during the economic depression in the 1930s.
The role of cheap restaurants carried through World War II. After the fall of German Nazi regime, the majority of the population was poor and expensive restaurants were out of reach. Most restaurants were nationalized and then closed down by the communist authorities. In the mid-1960s milk bars were common as a means of offering cheap meals to people working in companies that had no official canteen. They still served mostly dairy-based and vegetarian meals, especially during the period of martial law in the early 1980s, when meat was rationed.
The prevalent idea at that time was to provide all people with cheap meals at the place of their work. The meals served in the workplace canteens were free, however, there was also a large number of people working in smaller firms that had no canteen at their disposal. Because of this, during the tenure of Władysław Gomułka, the authorities created a network of small self-service eateries. The meals, subsidized by the state, were cheap and easily available to anyone.
Yummy Irish breakfast at Tomasza Milkbar.
Inside Tomasza Milkbar.
Apart from raw or processed dairy products, milk bars also served eggs, cereal or pierogi. After the fall of the communist system and the end of closed economy, the majority of milk bars went bankrupt as they were superseded by regular restaurants. However, some of them were preserved as part of the relics of the welfare state so as to support the poorer members of the Polish society.
In early 2010 milk bars were seen to make a comeback. They became small, inexpensive restaurants that took advantage of welfare state nostalgia, while providing good quality food and customer service.
Some people prefer milk bars over fast-food restaurants because of the homemade-style food and low prices. Currently every city neighborhood has at least one "milk bar". They are popular among the elderly, students, tourists and working class. Besides, capitalism has not favored working class much, has it? They are generally looked down upon by other social classes, but as they become fashionable, more “posh” milk bars appear.
While in Krakow, we were lucky to have a milk bar, “Milkbar Tomasza”, next to our hotel and we had breakfast there quite often. The place is very popular among locals and tourists and if you want to find a seat (rather than a table) you better go there early. A couple of times, it happened to us not to find a table for breakfast. This is a self-service place and serves the best “Irish breakfast” (English breakfast?). Coffee is also good as well as the omelets.