Krakow Dining

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Krakow Dining
From traditional Polish dishes to the finest modern European cuisine and a surprisingly well-served sushi scene, Krakow offers a wide variety of food at a great value.
Photo by age fotostock
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    Obwarzanki—Krakow's Famous Pretzels
    Very much a local favorite, obwarzanki are doughy pretzels that are freshly baked and sold from carts around the city, especially on the road between the railway station and the main square. The name obwarzanek has been trademarked and under European Union law can only be used for breads made in Krakow. One piece costs only a couple of złoty (less than $1) and makes a good snack between meals, with different varieties containing sesame and poppy seeds.
    Photo by age fotostock
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    Traditional Polish Dishes
    Perhaps Poland's best-known culinary export is pierogi, a pastry dumpling stuffed with a variety of fillings like minced meat, cabbage, mushrooms, and even blueberries. Order a plate of 10 and they'll serve as a filling meal at any time of the day. Bigos is a cabbage-based stew that's almost obligatory at any social gathering, while gołąbki (the word means pigeons, but the food is cabbage rolls stuffed with pork and rice) are a favorite of many Poles. Traditional restaurants still thrive among the pizza and fast-food joints and most will have English translations; if not, take a look at what others are eating and don't be shy about pointing and asking for the same.
    Photo by Rua Castilho/age fotostock
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    Polish Dining, Communist Style
    Soon after the fall of communism, Poland's entrepreneurs saw the opportunity to take advantage of the lingering interest in that era. In the subsequent decades, a number of places have opened in Krakow that serve up nostalgia as a quirky side order to the main culinary offering. Nowhere does this better than Kogel Mogel, where large plates of classic Polish dishes are served with a generous helping of irony. The menu resembles a communist-era newspaper and offers advice from "the Party" on which dishes to choose. Diners are invited to address the waiters as "Comrade" (not many do). Heavy velvet curtains and a distinctly 1970s feel complement the mood. With or without the nostalgic theme, the food alone is worth a visit.
    Photo courtesy of the Polish National Tourist Office
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    Old-School Polish Milk Bars
    During the communist era, milk bars could be found in every Polish city. These were canteen-style restaurants where workers could come and eat decent, inexpensive portions of simple food in a no-nonsense setting. Despite their popularity in the 1970s and 1980s, most of the milk bars died away as the Polish restaurant scene was rapidly modernized; however, the few that survived are now increasingly treasured as an important part of Poland's cultural heritage. U Stasi is well-known for its friendly service (something that milk bars traditionally lacked) while Bar Mleczny Górnik (Miners' Bar) is basic to the core in all ways except the food, which is consistently good and outrageously cheap.
    Photo courtesy of the Polish National Tourist Office
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    Contemporary Polish Cuisine
    While Krakow excels in traditional Polish offerings, a growing number of restaurants are serving modern European cuisine with a Polish twist. These new upmarket restaurants are offering a dining experience that would sit easily alongside the fancy restaurants of London or Paris, yet carry a fraction of the price tag. Aperitif near the main square is a case in point, offering an adventurous seven-course tasting menu for less than the price of a main course in other European cities. Other good options for high-end, contemporary Polish food include the sophisticated Pod Roza and the iconic Wierzynek.
    Photo courtesy of the Polish National Tourist Office
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    Traditional Jewish Cuisine
    Alongside the revival of Jewish culture that has taken place in Krakow in the last two decades, the number of restaurants serving traditional Jewish cuisine has grown. Several places fight for business in Ulica Szeroka, near the Old Synagogue. The majority of dishes will be familiar to those with European Jewish ancestry, and despite a heavy dose of kitsch, restaurants such as Ariel and Klezmer-Hois do a reasonable job in promoting nostalgia for traditional Jewish cuisine. For kosher dining, the Hotel Eden in Kazimierz imports certified kosher meals from London and is Poland's only fully kosher hotel.
    Photo courtesy of Ariel
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    Fine Dining with a View
    The Summer Restaurant in the Hotel Stary offers top quality food with a bird's eye view over the market square (just be sure to ask for a table with an OId Town view). A short walk away from the center of the Old Town is the four-star Hotel Kossak; its rooftop Cafe Oranżeria has a fabulous panoramic view over the Wawel royal complex, the Vistula river, and the Old Town. It's easy to spend an evening in the Oranżeria and barely notice the food, so spectacular is the view. Fortunately the quality of the cuisine is also first-class and it is rightly considered one of Krakow's best restaurants.
    Photo courtesy of Hotel Stary
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    Always Leave Room for Dessert
    A love of homemade cakes runs deep in Polish culture and you're unlikely to see too many Polish diners getting up from a meal without enjoying a dessert; those that do are probably heading off to their favorite cafe for their sweet course. Cakes come in many varieties in Krakow; be sure to try the sernik, a sublime Polish cheesecake that quite literally melts in the mouth, or a szarlotka, a hugely popular apple pie which often comes with a crumbly topping and added fruits or almonds. For a distinctly Polish treat ask for a slice of makowiec, a poppy seed pastry made of a heavy dough that goes perfectly with a warm after-dinner drink.
    Photo by age fotostock
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    Enjoy Delicious Polish Sushi
    Head to one of Krakow's many up-and-coming sushi spots for a break from traditional Polish cuisine. The old Polish city is not usually associated with high-quality Japanese food, but the last decade has brought a boom in sushi restaurants. As a result, a visitor to Krakow with a hankering for Asian food can expect to be delighted with the variety and quality of the cuisine on offer. Youmiko is a hugely popular venue with Krakovians, rated highly for the quality of its fresh fish and the mind-blowing wasabi. EDO SUSHI BAR and Genji Premium Sushi are similarly well-reviewed restaurants that provide a traditional Japanese dining experience in the midst of modern Poland.
    Photo by Andy Jarosz
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    Late-Night Street Food
    After a night of barhopping, it's only natural to develop an appetite. Visit Plac Nowy in Kazimierz for zapiekanki, a Polish pizza-style snack of baked bread with a topping of tomato sauce, cheese, ham, and garlic sauce. There are a few stalls in Plac Nowy serving zapiekanki late into the night, but only Endzior has a constant line of loyal customers. Another Krakow institution is the sausage stand outside Plac Targowy where men in white coats serve an eager line of customers with delicious sausages smoked over their wood-burning stove and delivered in a bread roll with mustard. This makeshift stall has been on this spot every day between 10:00 p.m. and 3:00 a.m. for longer than most of their customers care to remember.
    Photo by Sam Stowell/age fotostock