Like most of its Eastern European counterparts, Poland's cuisine is often assumed to be limited to its traditional, hearty dishes – dumplings, soups, cabbage and yes, of course, a lot of meat. Although a lot of these plates still form a big part of the Polish food culinary scene, it would be a mistake to discount the delicious offerings that Poland has to offer. Modern takes on the traditional, happening brunch spots and hipster street food hangouts: Krakow's has more than enough to keep hard-to-please foodies more than satisfied for days, if not weeks. Here are my Top 5 places to try during a first solo visit:
1.MILK BAR TOMASZA
Highlight: slow food for a more than fair price
Milk bars are an integral part Poland's culinary heritage, and they're most certainly making their comeback (actually, if we're being correct, they made their comeback several years ago, but tourists are only starting to discover them now). To put it simply, Milk Bars are Poland's form of the local cafeteria – serving up cheap, simple, homemade dishes just like mama used to make and man, are they good. They are also the perfect place to dine solo, as they are were pretty much designed for this purpose (initially for workers to pop in and grab a cheap and hearty meal to keep them going). Krakow has many a milk bar to dive into and grab a dish, but by far one of the best is Milk Bar Tomasza in the old town, hidden away in a street just behind the main square. Tomasza is a trendy modern take on the traditional milk bar, with slightly slicker surroundings than the classic kind. The food still remains no-frills though, and it's fantastic – grab yourself a plate Pierogi (polish dumplings), dig in and enjoy.
Highlight: vegan burgers at their best
With meat often adorning the menus in Eastern Europe, vegetarian and vegans have every reason to be concerned about whether they are going to be able to find something suitable to eat during their stay in Krakow. However, I'm here to firmly put those fears to rest – Krakow is on the cusp of a culinary explosion and as such, has a varied and exciting foodie scene which is catering more and more to specific dietary requirements. Krowarzywa – a vegan burger joint in the centre of town – is the perfect example of these changing attitudes, or rather, changing menus. They state 'We use no frozen foods, preservatives, canned food, monosodium glutamate or other flavour enhancing substances. We have neither microwave ovens nor GMOs.' Sound good? Well the result is pretty good too – a veritable array of inventive and mouthwatering burger options await intrepid vegans and veggies. And the surroundings are pretty minimalist cool too, so it's win win.
3. Alchemia Od Kuchni
Highlight: breakfast for egg aficionados with Krakow's artsy crowd
Jewish Districts have become the place to hang out in many cities, and Krakow is no different. Due to their history and cheap rent, these areas became a haven for budding artists and as a result, have become the home of cool. In Krakow, it's Kazimierz, and it's here that foodies can really indulge. Alchemia Od Kuchni states that 'Our breakfast menu is based on eggs, which we serve in many different ways' – which is immediately music to any egg aficionado's ears. This brunch hangout is a sister property of the neighbouring landmark bar, but there's no 'dive bar' feeling here, just minimalist design, cool colours and shiny brick walls adorned with Alchemia's futuristic logo. In fact, with this design, you can be forgiven for thinking you've stepped into a trendy urban spot in Scandinavia or Brooklyn – except that the reasonable prices are a quick giveaway that you're still in Krakow (and long may it stay that way, please!) I opted for the homemade granola with fresh fruit puree and yoghurt and, of course, eggs florentine. The eggs were perfectly poached and I was therefore perfectly pleased. What makes this place truly special though is its staff – they encourage a relaxed atmosphere and don't rush, so you can happily breakfast solo here over a book for while without being disturbed.
4. Pracownia Cukiernicza Stanisław Sarga
Highlight: THE ice cream spot in the city
It may come as a surprise, but after Italy, I'd say that Poland has some of the best ice cream (or 'Lody' as it's known locally) in the world. Seriously. In summer in Krakow you won't be hard pressed to find a cone – there's Lody on almost every corner. However, although you won't go far wrong even if grabbing one in the touristic old town, for a truly special scoop ice cream enthusiasts should head to Pracownia Cukiernicza Stanisław Sarga. This unassuming ice cream shop on the outskirts of Kazimerz may not look up to much, but its truly a treat for the tongue. The forest fruit flavours are clearly a speciality of this Lody spot and must not be missed. In summer expect a long line – as soon as the sun comes out, the locals head here. And it is truly local – the ladies working here speak little or no English, which personally, I always find to be a good sign. Oh and if it's just too busy then head over to Delikatesowo Kraków, where you can find some pretty delicious homemade scoops too.
5. Karczma Smil'y
Highlight: a truly local hangout where you cook your own
The best places are often those you accidentally stumble across, and Karczma Smil'y is one of those places. Located on a busy road along the river, if you happen to be in the area then this is a great place to satisfy your appetite with a sausage and a cold beer. In essence, this place is nothing special, but it's exactly for that reason that it is – it's full of locals, has a relaxed atmosphere and it's easy for a solo to pull up a stool and people watch. It's pretty novel too, as you are responsible for cooking your sausage of choice yourself over a roaring open fire (note: no campfire songs are sung here, so don't even start....) Have fun navigating your way around the unspoken local rules of whose turn it is to have the sausage thongs and avoiding nudging anyone else's sausage while adjusting your own. Dinner well earned!