Krakow is Poland’s culinary travel ground zero and this must-visit central European country’s favorite city to eat, drink and make merry.
The whole of Poland has seen a culinary renaissance. It goes far beyond the legendary soups, sauces, venison, ubiquitous pierogi (dumplings) and seasonal dishes, especially those made with forest-foraged mushrooms and wild and cultivated berries.
It’s all been happening, chefs you meet will tell you, since the restrictive post-World War II Soviet/communist regime with it’s prohibitions ended a short 25 years ago.
“People are becoming interested again in food. Good food. Culinary traditions that got lost are being revived. I’d say this is coming back to the ‘normal’ situation,” says Chef Adam Chrząstowski.
We’re sitting in his restaurant, Ed Red, one of the many great eateries in old-town Krakow close to the market square. It is “a meat restaurant” he will tell you unapologetically. It had been open for 18 months as of October 2015 and was the first restaurant in Poland to dry-age its beef.
The fridge for dry-aging is positioned just inside the restaurant’s front door at Sławkowska 3 Street. “We use only local Polish beef. And from no more than 100km away,” he says of the fresh and local food philosophy of the restaurant, recognized by Slow Food Poland.
“We try to respect the whole animal. Our restaurant is dedicated to meat. Our logo shows an athletic man. ‘Like to meat you’ is the slogan. We are for the protein lover,” he laughs warmly.
“The process forces us to control the meat not only when the driver brings it in, but from the start… How it was farmed, slaughtered. In the dry aging you can feel all these things.”
Dry-aging wouldn’t work for beef “fed” with chemicals, he says. In the same vein, “If you fed fish meal to the animal, the steak would smell of fish. If the animal is stressed when slaughtered, you’d know from the ammonia produced in the meat.”
He knows all the farms, the farmers — their animals. He can show you pictures of some of them on his cellphone.
“People typically, traditionally, used the whole animal here in Poland,” he says. Good economics plus part of the circle of life. Sustainable; good for the environment.
I say I’d like to try something local; traditional.
Be careful what you wish for comes to mind when the waitress puts down a plate and Chef Adam tells me the five items I’m about to eat are all from a young calf (veal):
- There’s brain “made the Polish way, cleaned in water and vinegar then roasted with egg and parsley. It was a classic bar snack (served with vodka) before World War II that we’re reviving,” he says;
- There’s cheek with grated horseradish served on pumpernickel bread;
- There’s sweetbread (thymus), prepared with parsley and mayo;
- There’s tongue, with radish and chives on rye bread;
- And then there’s liver, with pear, on brioche.
Eating the “offal” is in part traditional and in part “respecting the whole animal,” he explains.
“Some of these recipes are classic — my grandmother always served tongue with horseradish and rye bread.”
Traditionally, he says, you have liver with fruit. The sweet and sour taste. Hence his liver with pear and onion. “The sweetbread, I keep light with parsley.
“In the cities after WWII we had these (joints) — tania jadka — like cheap bars where you could buy dishes like ears of pig, kidneys, the cheaper parts. Now many guys say, I’m not going to a restaurant to eat cheap cuts! I love that I can play in the kitchen, revive these traditions that date back to way before WWII; that we’re educating people.”
Verdict? Well, the idea of the brains threw me. But surprisingly, I’d eat Chef Adam’s brains again and the sweetmeats, in terms of flavor and texture, are a hard act to follow.
But we do, with a juicy dry aged steak followed by an Ed Red oatmeal crumble, which proves they can do more than meat the challenge. Blackberries they preserve themselves; a steamed cheesecake comprising egg yolk, egg white, vanilla, quark and sugar. Served in a glass.
Read more about Chef Adam Chrząstowski and his philosophy as a chef here.
See Travel to Poland: Na zdrowie from Krakow.
For more information on culinary Poland and for Poland Culinary Travel itineraries, contact Florida-based Sarna Rose, president of Poland Culinary Vacations.
For more on Krakow and surrounds contact the Malopolska Tourist Organisation in Krakow.
Google flights from SFO to Poland for good deals.
© Story and photos Wanda Hennig, 2015