When in Poland, there are three absolute must-eats.
The first is obvious: pierogi. Thick dough wrapped around fillings like cabbage and onion, steak, potato and cheese, spinach, dried plum and apricot… then boiled or fried. Growing up we used to buy them in the frozen food section, pan-fry them with sliced kielbasa and onions, then top them with sour cream and maple syrup (!!! trust me, it’s nothing short of amazing).
But in Krakow, every local restaurant has the real deal: pillowy dumplings lighter and fresher than you thought possible. It’s easy to polish off a Polish plate of 12 without taking a breath or feeling much guilt. So go ahead, order every flavor!! At roughly 40 cents a dumpling, it’s hard to go wrong.
Krakow, with its Jewish quarter and culinary traditions, is also a great place for potato pancakes – latkes. Here they’re grated thickly and formed into non-uniform, plump cakes the size of a fist with plenty of stick-out potato bits just perfect for frying into crisp edges (the best part). Throw on a dollop of sour cream – Poland’s dairy is famous, and justifiably so – and you’re ready to face the cold winter.
And finally, a revelation. I had never tried zurek, and nor would it particularly appeal to me if reading about it on a menu: sour rye soup with bacon and eggs. But on the advice of our Polish producer Anna, it’s been my choice at every meal. Fermented cereal soups are common in the Slavic countries and here in Poland the base is made of zakwas, a fermented paste of rye flour and water that’s a distant relative of sourdough. To that broth is added smoked bacon or sausage, a handful of hard-boiled eggs and some chunks of potato. It’s peasant food at it’s finest: salty, sour, sweet, smoky, creamy, hearty, and just finger-licking good.