Zakopane is the home of what’s known as the Gorale culture in Poland. That roughly translates to Highlander in English, and it’s something that effects everything in the small mountain town, from the architecture of the hotels to the language to the traditional dress. And then, of course, there’s Zakopane food. Drawing on the hearty cooking of the Tatra region, fusing that with age-old Polish recipes, and adding in a few unique ingredients from the farms that surround Zakopane, it’s a tasty bout of cheese, meat, and – of course – plenty of potatoes that we think every traveler should sample when they’re in town.
This guide to Zakopane food will run through five key dishes that hail from the winter capital. It’s mouthwatering stuff if we do say so ourselves, replete with smoky cheese and tummy-filling knuckles of meat that are just about perfect after a long day on the ski slopes. Let’s begin…
This is just one part of our complete travel guide to Zakopane
What will you find in this guide to Zakopane food?
We literally count down the days until we can eat an oscypek in Zakopane. It’s one of the great joys of a winter trip to the highland town if you ask us. There are sellers offering the dairy straight off crackling charcoal BBQ grills right up and down Krupowki Street, the main drag. It’s usually sold on a piece of cardboard with a toothpick and a dollop of cranberry sauce on the side. <3
Oscypek is a chewy, almost rubbery type of sheep’s cheese that’s made using age-old techniques unique to the Polish mountains. First, the raw sheep’s milk is salted and blended with just the right amount of cow’s or goat’s milk. That’s processed into curd and then shaped into decorative shapes that look like Christmas baubles. The whole thing is soaked in salty brine and finally smoked on the top of a Zakopane hut for up to 14 days! You’ll taste that last part – finished oscypek’s are tangy and heavily smoked, which fits perfectly with that hit of sweet cranberry.
From one cheese to another, bundz actually has a lot of similarities to the smoky oscypek that gets our taste buds tingling every winter on Krupowki Street. At least, that’s case in the early phases of the production. See…this one is also made from salted sheep’s milk that’s unpasteurized, and is formed into a sort of cottage curd before the final touches. But that’s where bundz takes a tack of its own. Later, the cheese is mixed with rennet to break down the proteins within and make for an altogether softer, sweeter product.
The finished thing is a bouncy, bobbly mass of dairy that looks a bit like an overgrown Italian panna cotta. The taste is generally light and milky, but can sour over time when matured. Bundz is often served as part of a Polish charcuterie, alongside hard rye bread and dried fruit.
Next up: One of our all-time favorite Polish dishes, the potato pancake. These guys are made using a mix of grated potato, flour, and egg, all very well salted and then whacked into a sizzling pan of hot oil. The whole lot is fried while being regularly flipped over to ensure both sides go golden brown and the edges harden, leaving the middle fluffy and soft.
Placki ziemniaczane aren’t unique to Zakopane and southern Poland. They are actually made all over the country, from salt-washed Gdansk in the north to the inner-city streets of Krakow. But there’s one twist to the potato tale here, because the Podhale (that’s the mountain region where Zakopane makes its home) version of the dish is often topped with a rich sauce of chantarelle or forest mushrooms when they’re available in the summer. And it is ridiculously, ridiculously nice.
The most dedicated meat-eaters out there with a hankering for a truly large meal could do a whole load worse than the pork knuckle. This is one of the most filling and carnivore-friendly delights of the Zakopane food scene, capable of remedying whatever hunger you might have worked up while skiing the slopes of Kasprowy or hiking in the Tatra National Park.
What is it? Well…thankfully they aren’t actually the knuckles of the pig but rather the very meaty and lean upper leg of the animal. That’s all marinated in a mix of herbs, doused in salt, and massaged with a dark beer jus before being whacked onto an open grill to slowcook for hours – and we really do mean hours – on end. Pork knuckles are served in almost all of the traditional mountain cabin eateries up and down Krupowki, usually alongside potatoes and sauerkraut.
If you’re determined to seek out the best Polish food in Zakopane then there’s a good chance you’re on the hunt for pierogi dumplings. Of course, these cheese-packed dough balls aren’t a mountain treat per se. They are actually served up in taverns and Polish kitchens up and down the length of the country. But there are some unique aspects to the ones of the Podhale. Let’s take a look…
First off, the mainstay ruskie pierogi dumplings, the most common type that have cream cheese and potato in the middle, are swapped out here for plain sheep’s cheese ones. Second, the dumplings of the mountains tend to have a topping of grisly pork meat and crackling, not the usual chives and sauteed onions. (You’ll have to make sure you request the latter if you’re veggie in Zakopane).