Tuesday, November 27, 2007
Eating All of Cracow
Having returned from our visit to the Jewish quarter of Kazimierz in the Polish City of Cracow (excellent on-line walking tour website here!) I am already getting packed to ship back to New York on Saturday. Walking around Cracow in the winter is hungry business, and if you really want to appreciate Polish cuisine, then the best time to visit is in the dead of winter. Polish food is high on the international Stodge Index, with thick soups and starchy dumplings making it the perfect carbo-load fuel to get one through a cold Baltic winter.Żurek is one of our favorites - a nice hot bowl of zurek is often our idea of breakfast when we arrive at some train station or don't know what to oreder in some highway trucker's roadhouse cafe. Żurek is based on soured rye flour, much like the Romanian cibere soups, to which potato and kolbasz sausages are added. Another train station breakfast standard is Bigos, by gosh, which is a good old fashioned stick-to-the-ribs semi-soup of beef and sour cabbage.This is the stuff hat keeps Polish construction crews operating all around the world, building the future on bowls of bigos. For those of us who really appreciate the Polish Hungary Man meal options, there is golonka, a massive chunk of pig knuckle. This one came with mustard and horseradish, and made me realize that life is to short to be eating vegetables.For very obvious reasons, this is one item that never translated well into Polish jewish cooking, and dang, we missed out on this big time. Nothing beats a cold winter evening as well as a plate of pork knuckle as big as your head with some plum sauce and mashed potatoes.Pierogis are everywhere. Pierogis in Poland are just possibly better than they are in the Ukraine, if that is possible.Polish Pierogi restaurants can be upscale or down-home worker's lunch joints left over from the Communist era, but in general they are cheap and good and I never met a pierogi that I didn't like.Pierogis bring out the irrepressible cuteness that pervades Polish graphic art. Poles have a highly developed tradition of graphic arts - Polish poster art has a habit of winning international awards, and that sense of graphic tastefullness seeps out into the city's streets and advertising culture.Smoked cheese -oscypek - for sale in the streets. This is made in the Goral highland regions near Zakopane and is the same stuff we get throughout Slovakia as parenyica cheese.Cracow is a great cafe city - maybe one of Europe's top five cafe cities (Paris, Budapest, Istanbul, and Milan come to mind.) Walk two blocks, and there is yet another cafe offering a sit down and respite from the cold outside. And pastries. Most are exquisite. Especially the cream cakes, but Fumie had to have the Cracow napoleon cake - a garish pink cherry foam pastry. Poles drink some of the world's best vodka. So why not invite a few friends over tonight and share a... kalishnikov of vodka?