So you find yourself in Krakow, the charming second largest city in Poland, and you wonder what it has to offer in terms of food. Krakow is very international and you can really find it all. From sushi to Mexican, from Italian to Ukrainian, Hungarian or even an American bakery, Krakow has it all. And it does not disappoint either when it comes to the local cuisine. You can find many options in town where you can sample authentic Polish food in Krakow, and in this post I am presenting an overview of some such eateries. These are all trusted places where I used to eat when I was an expat in Krakow, and love to recommend.
Krakow has been skyrocketing in popularity as a tourism destination over the past decade. Krakow is a city with an exciting international vibe and numerous exchange students and expats call it home. I have lived in Krakow myself for over 2 years, and visited countless of times because of my family ties there. While I am one of the lucky ones who used to get real Polish food made by a real Polish grandma, even visitors that don’t have a Babcia ready to fill their plates will have many opportunities to eat Polish food in Krakow.
As a former expat there I have thoroughly enjoyed Krakow’s foodie scene and amazing restaurants and cafeterias. I have already written about my personal favourite eateries in town as well as an overview of its captivating hipster foodie scene. This time I am covering the restaurants that offer Polish cuisine, so where to eat Polish food in Krakow.
Polish food basics: where to get cheap pierogi ($)
Let’s start from the cheaper options. There are two eateries that I recommend when you want to try Polish food on a budget. While dining prices in Poland are comparatively lower than those of Western Europe, you may still want to keep the food budget as low as possible. In that case you should head to U Babci Maliny (ul. Szpitalna 38; or ul. Sławkowska 17) or Gospoda Koko (ul. Gołębia 8). Both restaurants are small, informal and cheap. U Babci Maliny has an extensive menu offer, while Gospoda Koko’s forte is the deal of the day, where you can have a full meal for as little as 15 PLN (about 3,5€).
While their menu offer does not only include pierogi, that’s what I always end up eating because they’re such a classic. (And cheap, did I already say that?). Pierogi are the most famous item of the Polish cuisine, also thanks to Polish immigrants, who have been produly exporting pierogi all over the world. If pierogi have never crossed your path, what you need to know is that they’re a type of dumplings. The filling can feature various ingredients including cheese and potatoes (pierogi ruskie), cabbage and mushrooms (pierogi z kapustą i grzybami), meat (pierogi z mięsem), or even blueberries (pierogi z jagodami). The great thing about pierogi is that they are very easy to find as nearly every restaurant has them on offer.
While it can be hard to fully enjoy traditional Polish cuisine as a vegetarian, there are a few meatless options and pierogi ruskie is one of these. The filling is made with cheese and potatoes, and they’re generally served boiled, with a topping of melted butter. A common addition is skwarki, or small dices of fried pork rind. While I think that that crunch is the best part, if you don’t eat meat you should mention that you don’t want this type of condiment and that you’ll be happy with melted butter alone, otherwise your “vegetarian” choice will come not so very vegetarian.
Traditional Polish cuisine in a folkloristic setting ($$)
If you have a medium budget and want to experience Polish eating in a fun environment and with a bit of a folkloristic feel, I cannot recommend enough the restaurants of the “Kompania Kuflowa” group: Pod Wawelem (ul. Świętej Gertrudy 26-29) and Restauracja Sukiennice (Rynek Główny 3). Don’t let the location of either drive you into thinking that these restaurants are tourist traps. While well-equipped to cater for tourists, both have an excellent reputation also among locals. And both locations are just great. I mean, enjoying a beer right in the heart of the most beautiful square in Poland? Yes, please! (Call me biased, Krakow’s Rynek Główny is the prettiest square in Poland to me.)
As much as I need to recommend these restaurants, I also need to recommend that you go there for the meat! Traditional Polish cuisine is very meat-oriented and if you eat meat this is an aspect of this food culture you may really appreciate. Particularly if you like pork, these restaurants will keep you very happy. Their Wiener schnitzel is epic (so large!), and so is the roasted pork knuckle, traditionally served with mustard and freshly grated horseradish. Accompany these full flavours with a pint or three of delicious Polish beer and you’ll leave really happy.
Another restaurant that has a lovely folkloristic feel and offers excellent Polish food in a very reasonable price range is Morskie Oko (Plac Szczepański, 8). Named after a lake in the Tatra Mountains, the restaurant’s décor is inspired by the folklore of the highlands. Carved wooden forniture, tablecloths in the traditional mountain floral patterns, and the hearty food offer will make you feel like you are somewhere around Zakopane (a lovely mountain town that makes for a great day-trip from Krakow). This is the perfect place to sample the traditional mountain-style grilled smoked cheese with cranberry jam (ser „Gazdowski” z żurawiną) or one of the traditional soups. Their pierogi are really notable too, the meat ones probably being my favourite in all of the city!
Feast like a king from three centuries ago ($$$)
If budget is not an issue and you feel like splurging on food during your Krakow trip, then you have to head to Ogniem i Mieczem (pl. Serkowskiego 7). This restaurant prides itself offering traditional cuisine from the 17th century, a time when the kindgom of Poland reached out as far as present-day Lithuania and Ukraine. If you’ve been spending your Krakow holiday learning about the Kings that ruled these lands a few centuries ago, now it is time to step back in time and feast like one.
Expect to find pierogi, potatoes, various cuts of meat – all of the finest possible quality. Among my favourite dishes there is the duck breast with garlic sauce, or the half metre of pork ribs. While not a big fan of ribs, Ogniem i Mieczem takes the credits for being the restaurant that serves my favourite. The last time I visited they were recommending their cooked ham. We were a party of 4 and shared a portion of ham and a half metre of ribs. We also indulged on baked potatoes and a large serving of mixed pierogi of various fillings. The act of sharing the food with your tablemates had quite a medieval feeling indeed.
This restaurant is a bit over the average price range of restaurants in town, but the food is really excellent and the ambience, including the location of the restaurant in the charming district of Podgórze, make the experience really wirth it if you are looking for a more upscale place to eat during your stay in Krakow.
Polish street food you have to try
If you prefer to grab something to eat on the go rather than sit in a restaurant, Krakow’s got you covered. Among the street food in town there are two food items that are truly important in Krakow. One is the obwarzanek krakowski (which some, including me, call precel). It is a ring-shaped bread that is quite similar to a bagel, but with a larger diameter and larger hole.
Traditionally obwarzanek comes in three variants: with salt, poppy seeds or sesame seeds (here listed by personal preference, salt is my number 1! But for the photo I chose poppy seeds because I’m incoherent). This bread snack is deeply rooted in the city of Krakow, where it has the status of regional food with protected geographical indication. You can buy those from street carts found all around the city. The price is really low, averaging at 2 PLN (0,5€) and the vendors only take cash. It is my favourite thing to munch on when I’m roaming the city centre and I want to have something to eat in between meals. Bunkier Café (pl. Szczepański 3a) is one of the first places in town that started serving obwarzanek in a sit-down way: toasted and filled. I strongly recommend the vegetarian one, filled with spinach, baba ghanoush, mozzarella and salsa.
The other signature food that you can buy from stalls and eat out in the street is zapiekanka. Zapiekanka is a toasted open sandwich made on baguette bread. The basic version features button mushrooms and cheese, with a generous splash of ketchup on top. Just like pizza, you can find many other toppings to choose from if you fancy something with more flavour.
The place to go to for your zapiekanka fix is undoubtedly Plac Nowy in the Jewish quarter Kazimierz. There are several stalls to choose from, and the general rule of thumb is that the one with the longest queue usually has the best zapiekanka. So if you are not on the run you can choose according to this rule. I have eaten from stalls with a shorter line (I’m a rebel) and was never disappointed. In the end there is not much wrong you can do with bread, mushrooms and cheese.
Polish bakeries and the Pope’s favourite dessert
While Poland might not be very famous for its desserts, there are two items of the Polish confectionery tradition that I absolutely must recommend. Do not forget that Krakow has been part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the same that introduced Sachertorte to the world, as well as the coffee culture in Europe (more about it here). So my first recommendation for you is pączek z różą.
Pączek z różą is a doughnut (krapfen) filled with rose petal jam (here’s my recipe for rose petal preserve) and a light sugar glaze on top. The one pictured here also features bits of candied orange peel on top. Traditionally eaten on Fat Thursday all over Poland, you can find them year round in most bakeries. On the street where my family lives there is a shop from the bakery chain Buczek that sells my favourite doughnuts with rose filling. Being a chain, Buczek bakeries are found all over the city, including a pretty big one on the lowest level of the shopping mall Galeria Krakowska.
Even if you think you want to pass on the rose-flavoured pastry, do yourself a favour and visit a Polish bakery anyway. You’ll find something else to satisfy your cravings for sure, plus most bakeries offer breakfast deals with a bread roll and coffee for very little money. Back to desserts, my sweet recommendation number two is also something you can find at a Buczek bakery, or you can head to a pastry shop to get it. It’s called kremówka.
Kremówka is a cream pie made of two layers of puff pastry filled with a layer of vanilla custard cream (the basic version) as well as a layer of whipped cream (the best version, humbly according to me). The pastry shop where I tried my first kremówka at age 7 was Cukiernia Czarodziej on ul. Karmelicka 15 (all locations here). Although I really like the one from Buczek – as I already said it’s so close to my grandparents’ house it’s the fastest way to fix my cravings – I guess nothing tastes better than the first one, right? So go visit the sorcerer (that’s what czarodziej means in Polish) and try this divine food. Hey, if even a Pope claimed it to be his favourite dessert, it truly must have a godly quality!
I have recently learned that this kind of cream pie is quite popular all over Eastern Europe; and I was raised to believe this was a Polish-only thing. Other countries have their own kremówka too, like I learned when reading an article on Slovenia’s kremna rezina (in Italian, here). I actually promised the author of that article I would “soon” write about the Polish version of this dessert, so here I am! Next time my mom visits, maybe we could even try to make it at home, then the recipe will also follow. Doesn’t this sound sweet?
This post does not feature any soup at all. I am not a big fan of soups, especially when I visit in the summer. Loyal to my habits, I did not order any soup in any of the restaurants I visited. Got offered it at home, meh. If soups are your thing, or you visit at a time of the year when a hot bowl of soup is actually a very good idea, you’ll find a soup section in the menu of every Polish restaurant. I hope this post has inspired you to visit Krakow, a city that has a restaurant for all tastes, including some fine places where to sample real Polish cuisine.
Pin my Polish food recommendations for your future foodie trip to Krakow.