To get to know Krakow properly, you really have to try the traditional local cuisine. The most popular and well-known Polish dishes are pierogi, żurek, barszcz and schnitzels, and these can be found on menus all over Poland. But Krakow also has its own delicacies that, once you try them, are sure to become one of your favourite holiday memories.
Everyone has heard of them – they have become a symbol of the city just as important as Wawel Castle and the dragon. It’s a characteristic ring-shaped bread made from twisted strands of wheat dough, with a golden crust topped with salt and sesame or poppy seeds.
Astonishingly, the earliest references to the obwarzanek can be found as far back as 1394, when it appeared in the accounts of the royal court of King Władysław Jagiełło and Queen Jadwiga!
Initially, the obwarzanek could only be baked during Lent by bakers assigned to that specific task by the bakers’ guild. This system remained in place until 1802, when the privilege of baking them was turned into a lottery whereby the authorised bakers would be selected by the drawing of lots. It appears that this way of choosing the bakers ceased after 1849, from which time any baker could bake the obwarzanek – with no restrictions. Nowadays, they are sold mainly from street carts.
The obwarzanek is registered by the European Commission as a protected foodstuff, with PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) and PGI (Protected Geographical Indication) status.
Another protected local Krakow product is Prądnicki bread, which is a dark bread made of rye flour, with a crispy and cracked crust. The original bread can be identified by the PGI symbol on the label, along with the annotation "Protected Geographical Indication".
Although at first sight it may look like a pulled pork sandwich, and it does share a few similarities, there are actually many differences between the two. Preparing maczanka takes a long time, as the pork neck or loin first has to be marinated in special spices for two days, and then the meat is slow-roasted at a low temperature and stewed with onion until tender. The dedicated sauce – made from mustard and pickles – is prepared much earlier using veal bones in a roast broth with red wine.
Maczanka has been called the great-grandmother of the burger. A quick and filling meal that could easily be grabbed on the go, it quickly became popular among students and cab drivers back in the 19th century. And it’s even been speculated that a similar dish existed back in the 17th century! Unfortunately, the 19th century was not the best time to promote innovations in Poland (especially in view of the fact that Poland didn’t even exist on maps at that time), so maczanka didn’t become a particularly popular dish in the rest of the country or around the world. And in Krakow, even though everyone has heard about it, not everyone has tried it. But it really is well worth it, especially if you are a fan of meat. Traditionally prepared maczanka can be found in several places, but the food trucks in the Kazimierz district are among the best.
This Polish fast food is popular all around the country, but it’s usually associated with Krakow. It became so popular in the 1970s that the then First Secretary of the PZPR, Edward Gierek, bought a patent for Poland to bake these special baguettes. The spots in the Okrąglak in Plac Nowy (New Square) are widely regarded as being the best, but that place actually became popular years before due to the schnitzels sold there. After the owner, Endzior, died, they started to sell zapiekanka there and although the quality wasn’t as good as before, the legend stayed alive. We recommend trying them in some of the less touristy places, such as the restaurant Zapiekanki od 1980 roku at 3 Sienna Street, or the bar in the Korona sports club.
Bagels from the Jewish District
This world-famous cousin of the obwarzanek is believed to come from Krakow, specifically from the Jewish community. The first reference to a "bun with a hole" appears in a 1610 document that mentions bagels being given as gifts to women after childbirth. The taste of the bagel stands out from other pastries too; its secret lies in the parboiling of the raw buns in water with baking soda. Bagels became very popular in the USA when Jewish immigrants moved to Manhattan in New York City in the 1900s and took their recipes with them.
Wines from Srebrna Góra
Deviating slightly from the topic of snacks, we should also mention the subject of wine! When we think about this drink, associations with the sunny slopes of Italy or Portugal usually spring to mind. But did you know that Krakow also has a long tradition of winemaking? One of the largest Polish vineyards is located on Srebrna Góra (in the Bielany district), at the foot of the Camaldolese monastery. And although that vineyard was only established in 2008, the history of winemaking in the area actually dates back much longer – from the 10th century, when there was a vineyard near Wawel, through the golden age of the 14th-16th centuries, when Poland played an important role in the wine industry, then a slow decline from the 17th century before it was finally reborn almost four hundred years later. Wines from Srebrna Góra can be bought in a number of specialist wine stores in the vicinity of the Old Town, and it is well worth trying some and taking them home from Krakow as a souvenir.
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