From the pizza-bread zapiekanka sold on the main square of Kazimierz district to the pretzel stalls of the Main Square, this guide to Krakow food will run through all the dishes you need to know about when it comes to chowing down in this historic city. It’s got tips on the things you simply HAVE to try while holidaying here, along with some suggestions on where to go to get the best of them. So, there’s nothing for it but a big old smacznego (that’s bon appetite in Polska, my friends!) and let’s begin…
This is just one part of our complete guide to dining and eating in Krakow
Most locals, if pushed, would say the zapiekanki is the most iconic street food in Krakow. Its roots are thought to be in the Communist era, when some creative Polish chefs aimed to create a dish that could be made despite the food shortages brought on from being behind the Iron Curtain. Cue this baked bread, a sort of pizza, baguette mashup that can be topped with pretty much anything you please.
The only place to try them is in the district of Kazimierz. Head for Plac Nowy, the heart of the area, where the old fish market has now been converted into a veritable merry-go-round of zapiekanka stalls. The ones with the largest queues are something of a cult hit but we think they’re all just as good. Expect to find menus touting all sorts, from feta-topped Greek zapiekankis to hearty Polish-themed ones with blood sausage.
You’ll see the obwarzanek stalls dotting all corners of the Krakow Old Town. They’re pretty distinct – look out for the blue-tinted metal kiosks, usually staffed by a bent-over Polish babushka or geriatric man (often not smiling). What they’re selling is what we’re here to sample: Woven pretzels that are made from heavy flour dough. The thing that makes them unique is the cooking method, because the bread is boiled before baking, leading to a thick exterior crust that leads to a dense middle.
Obwarzanek Krakowski are often associated with the Austrian rule of the city in the 1900s. However, historians now think the dish originates long before that, sometime in the 14th century, when they were cooked for members of the royal household. Either way, they cost just a couple of zloties and are best picked up fresh in the morning.
Oscypek isn’t so much a mainstay of Krakow food as it is a mainstay of Zakopane’s food. But that lovely winter capital of the country is only two hours away from the city of kings, so you can still bag yourself a sample of the real thing. The thing in question here is a smoked sheep’s cheese, often sold in curious shapes at roadside stalls or even at shacks within the shopping malls of Krakow.
Oscypek has a rich, smoky flavour and a very chewy texture. The freshest cheeses are on offer in the summer and autumn months, when the sheep’s cheese can be harvested directly. However, we’d say the top time to munch down on one of these is when the winter is in full swing, while wandering a festive Christmas market on the Main Square. They are typically warmed up over open coals and served with a generous dollop of cranberry sauce on the side. Mhmm.
Placki ziemniaki translates to potato pancakes. Tempted? We thought you would be. And why not? These are basically a glorified hash brown. It’s grated potato strips mixed with onions and then sizzled in a pan with a light touch of oil until crispy, brown, and crunchy to the taste. Some restaurants serve placki with right morel mushroom sauces, while other places dollop on a pile of crème fraiche and leave it at that.
Personally, we see these guys as the perfect casual street food. There are outlets that do them on Grodzka Street and on the Main Square, charging about 10zl for an on-the-go pancake. You will also encounter oodles of placki zemniaki stalls in nearby Zakopane, as they’re a favourite of the winter sports crowd. You know, good for refuelling after a session on the ski slopes.
We know, we know, pierogi is an all-round Polish dish. In fact, it’s probably the most iconic dish of the country. As far as we’re concerned that means that no guide to Krakow food could possibly be complete without a mention of it, especially since there are so many taste-bud tingling pierogi taverns waiting to be tried within the town.
From the legendary but hard to find joint of U Pani Stasi on Mikołajska Street to the casual chain bar of Gospoda Koko, there are some lovely places to dig into a plate of classic PL dumplings. You can choose between ruskie (made with cheese, potato and onion) or mieso (meat dumplings), which are both served with either a topping of fried onions or pork scratchings. Alternatively, sweet-toothed diners could order a plate of slodki (sweet) pierogi – the raspberry ones are particularly fantastic!
There’s nothing like a sour zurek soup to warm the bones in the middle of a Krakow winter. A hearty mix of fermented rye broth with herbs, cut up sausage meat, boiled eggs, and loads of marjoram on top for good measure, it was traditionally thought of as food for the poor folk. However, that’s changed, and zurek is now a household regular, especially around the holidays and Easter.
There are lots of great places to sample this in Krakow. However, we’d say the highland-themed restaurant of Morskie Oko in the Old Town offers some of the very best. It’s served there in dramatic style, in a carved-out sourdough bread with the top chopped off. That’s one you’ll remember.
Bigos is one for the carnivores out there. Known as hunter’s stew in English, it’s a very traditional dish that originates in the highlands and woods of far eastern and south-eastern Poland. The whole thing is slow cooked in a huge cauldron pot. Cooks throw in shredded cabbage, fermented sauerkraut, all manner of wild herbs, potatoes, root veg, and a medley of meats, then whack the top on and let the coals or oven work its magic.
It’s the meat that gives bigos it’s hefty umami hit. Most recipes include a variation of beef, chicken, goose, or pork, but it’s pretty much anything goes here. Some places might add in a bit of tomato paste for good measure, while others will serve it in the Silesian style with little boiled dumpling dough on the side.
This guide to Krakow food outlines just seven of the must-try dishes on offer in the Polish city of kings. If you can think of any more, be sure to drop your suggestions in the comments below…