Fancy having a tasty meal while wandering around the city? The streets of Cracow have always been full of spots offering delicious fare. No wonder – eating out must have something in it, if Cracovians are to leave their comfy kitchens! What’s the secret of street food in Cracow? What satisfies the hunger of tourists looking for delicacies and the local atmosphere?
Tempted by the springlike weather and led by our empty stomachs – we left our editor’s office. The craving for real experiences made us follow our instincts, and they did not let us down. Thinking about You, we’ve created a map of Cracow’s street food gems.
Let us start from the beginning.
Obwarzanek krakowski, a local pride
The one and only obwarzanek krakowski has been the pride and joy of Lesser Poland. Entered in the EU register of protected designations of origin and protected geographical indications (PGI), the obwarzanek has alleviated the hunger of many generations of Cracovians and tourists. Though originally served with salt, this specialty has evolved with changing times and trends. Today, it’s available in a whole range of varieties: with caraway, cheese, pepper, poppy and oriental sesame seeds. It’s iconic shape – almost an unofficial symbol of the city – has remained unchanged since the Jagiellonian Era.
The EU certificate specifies the obwarzanek’s weight, shape and production process. The dough is made of wheaten flour (up to 30% of rye flour is allowed), fat, sugar, yeast, salt and water. Then, it’s left to grow in order to be rolled later and divided into smaller parts – the so-called sulki – of specific weight, shape and thickness. Next, two sulki are curled up to form a ring. After some growing, obwarzanki undergo the process of obwarzanie – they are dipped in boiling water for a few seconds. (so that they have a crispy crust once they’re baked). After dipping, bakers decorate obwarzanki with either poppy or sesame seeds, salt or cheese and bake them. At the crack of dawn, rolling carts with obwarzanki enter city streets to the satisfaction of Cracovians going to work on an empty stomach.
Zapiekanka* and kebab – the murky times
As years passed, the streets of Cracow witnessed the emergence of stands with zapiekanki and kebab that overshadowed little rolling carts with obwarzanki. The decade of the culinary murkiness began. A nauseating smell of burnt meat, vertical grills dripping with chicken grease (though the traditional meat for kebab is lamb…), Chinese cabbage salads with mayonnaise and clay-like rolls of bread topped with cheese and mushrooms seized Cracovians’ stomachs. Fortunately, the first food truck was about to appear on a street corner.
The blue Nyska with sausages – a remedy for the murky times?
Every resident of Cracow knows its location. The well-worn blue Nyska with a small table in front of it and a roasting spit heated with wood (not charcoal!). It feeds thousands of Cracovians fed up with the night life. To this day, the one small table gathers celebrities, artists, policemen, politicians, students and the homeless. Long-life friendships strike up here; it’s also the place of fervent discussions on every subject. There’s no menu because everyone wants to get one thing: a grilled sausage with a roll and mustard. And it’s been like that for the last 22 years – the ancestor of the Cracovian food truck stands near Hala Targowa and is doing great despite the turbulent times.
The beginnings of street food
An army of runaways from corporations, lousy liquor stores and shoddy restaurants has taken over the streets and grabbed steering wheels of trucks! Their stories are very much alike – they were weary of the way their lives looked like – tedious office jobs, moody bosses and unsatisfying tasks. They did away with it and started doing what they love – cooking food they’ve always wanted to cook, feeding people the way they’ve always dreamt of: with love and care. This is how contemporary street food in Cracow was born – street food for which you wait in lines and can watch how it’s being made in front of your eyes.
Burgertata – the veteran of Cracow’s street food
Some people say that Burgertata gave rise to everything else…but, to tell the truth, at the beginning there were two hamburger food trucks – like dad and son. One of them is now gone; though, it offered delicious food including hand-made vegetable pickles. So far, “dad” has been doing great. Michał Rusin, guru of burger eaters from Cracow, came back to Poland, after living in England for 10 years, to make his dream come true and serve good food. An old school Mercedes 308, tenderly referred to as “kaczka” (“the duck”), was redesigned by Michał into a restaurant on wheels. Today, there’s one more truck apart from the Mercedes (one of them changes locations every day) and two stands. The menu offers 10 types of burgers (in two sizes!), Belgian fries and unusual toppings: Jack Daniels sauce or banana ketchup from the Caribbean.
Hindus Indian Food – curry in rubber boots
The very name of the city district is already discouraging – Zabłocie (a Polish word that reminds of mud). However, even in this culinary desert, among post-Communist factories made of concrete – something very interesting is located. Next to the Schindler’s Factory and the Museum of Modern Art MOCAK, stands a tiny food truck with a large black inscription HINDUS. Its originality is underlined by its logo: a pictogram of a face in turban. A tasty smell of curry welcomes everyone who enters the street. Food is simple, served in small paper boxes. A menu is not extensive, clients do not complain and the queue is never too long. For little money, you can get quite a portion of filling, hot and aromatic food – it’s invaluable when you live in the country with the six-month long winter. The menu offers classics of Indian cuisine: chicken tikka masala, butter chicken, chicken korma, rajma masala, chicken palak, chana masala, and curry vegetables.
Street Slow Food – the REAL Polish burger
If any of food trucks was to be called iconic, only Street Slow Food would be worth it. Started in July 2013, SSF took by storm not only the hearts of burger lovers. Unusual burger toppings that change with seasons are the trademark of this place. They are bought from local producers and eco-farms. Rumor has it that members of the SSF team grow vegetables on their own. They really practice the idea of slow food by supporting small-scale producers of local food. Some of the extraordinary burger toppings are cranberries, beets, pumpkin, radishes and eggplants. Burger masters bake bread rolls and make chutney, sauces and spreads. Their efforts were appreciated by the organizers of the first edition of the Terra Madre festival who invited the SSF team to chair a panel devoted to burgers. The seasonalness of the SSF menu is delightful and unknown in the food truck industry. So far, it’s been possible to eat e.g. a burger with thymus and gooseberry chutney or a roast pork shoulder stuffed with three kinds of peppers and coated with lemon parsley cream. At times, food truckers play with conventions and serve food of other origins: Baja Shrimp Cocktail from the Bahamas or the Croatian cevapi. Now, the menu offers delightful specialties such as “Rumburak” with grilled beets and Victorian chutney; “Pumpkin” with roast pumpkin, rosemary, honey and radishes marinated in curry; “Batataj!” with sweet potatoes, spicy pickles and mango chutney.
Krako Slow Grill: The Caucasus, wine and singing
No wine lover would resist going to Zabłocie (the vicinities of the Schindler’s Factory) in order to drink an exquisite Hungarian or Armenian beverage in the Krako Slow Wine wine bar. Since recently, alcoholic beverages have been accompanied by Armenian or Georgian grilled food. The food truck, under the name Krako Slow Grill Kaukaz on 6F Lipowa Street, is run by Armenian owner Pavel Portoyan. The menu offers classics of his native cuisine: khachapuri, lahmajoun, lyulya-kebab in lavash, roast eggplant, khinkali, kharcho – that is beef in tomato sauce, odzahuri. Sometimes, Pavel serves mutton and fish dishes to the sounds of Georgian folk songs sung live.
Big Red Restaurant – the love between London and Cracow
Not so long ago, a red double-decker bus with an inscription “Big Red Restaurant” was driving through the streets of Cracow (not London!). There would have been nothing surprising about it – just another live advert – if it hadn’t been for a rumor that a place with real English cod fish & chips was to be opened in the city. The bus, called Lorcia, makes this English classic food and green pea puree taste even better. It’s a beautiful, red bus, already past its prime as it was produced in 1962 by Leyland in East Yorkshire (the same year the Rolling Stones was formed!). Lorcia served the British nation by driving approx. 20 miles every day; however, it never drove further than 50 miles from its base. After the double-decker retired, it was brought to Cracow and underwent renovation. Since then, it’s been operating as a one-of-a-kind restaurant on wheels. Once inside, you have to go to the upper deck via spiral staircase. The interior is astonishing! While being elegant and unpretentious, it draws on the trends of the 60s. There’s plenty of stylish gadgets, old posters and newspapers from the owner’s private collection, leather armchairs, comfy sofas and the view! From this height you can see what others have on their plates – there may be pork chops with apples and fries, fish soup, grilled vegetables and the Lithuanian barrel kvass.
I love pancakes! Sweets on wheels
Food trucks with desserts are extremely rare. Is it because street food lovers don’t like a bite of chocolate? We’ve found the first of the “sweet” food trucks! Located near the shopping mall Galeria Kazimierz, it’s small but certainly noticeable. The English truck in black and white has given shelter to French pancakes. Mr. Piotr is the owner and the risk-taker who had hard time bringing the truck to Poland and used to be a layman when it came to cooking. His decision to bring the sweet food truck to life was brilliant. Now, the truck has no equal! Seasonally, pancakes are stuffed with spinach or beef with pickles. Even though you have to wait a while until you get your order, it’s so worth it! While waiting, you can experience the pleasure of watching these specialties being made in front of your eyes! What counts here is intuition and precision. The smell of vanilla and caramel pervades the air… One of the desserts – Aksamitna Rozpusta (cottage cheese, blueberries, nutella) – has become exceptionally popular. The menu changes constantly – fresh fruits in the summer are replaced with preserves and jams in the winter. A real marvel!
Our culinary journey is coming to an end but we are glad beyond measure. Our senses are satisfied, calories burnt - cameras and journalists’ notebooks full to the brim. Street food is not only making our culinary landscape more diverse – it is giving us the opportunity to meet people who are always happy to talk about how they turned passion into action.
While walking through the streets of Cracow – have your mouths and ears wide open! ☺
* an open-face sandwich made of half of a baguette topped with white mushrooms, cheese and optionally other ingredients, and toasted until the cheese melts