A culinary tour is always a highlight of anywhere we go (when they are available), and the Crakow Free Tours Polish Food Tour we took definitely cemented Krakow in my mind as an incredible city to visit. In about 3 hours, we visited 5 different shops, restaurants and a food market, and sampled foods at 4 of those. The tour itself was free, and the food we purchased to sample was very inexpensive, and tipping the guide at the end was strictly voluntary (though we tipped him generously, because he was an excellent guide).
Our tour began, as all tours given by both the Crakow Free Tours group and the similarly-named Free Walking Tours do, in front of St. Mary’s Basilica in the northeast corner of Rynek Glowny, Krakow’s main square. After meeting our guide Augustin and waiting a few extra minutes to make sure everyone had arrived, we had our first sampling right in the square itself. Augustin introduced us to a Krakow specialty, Obwarzanki (singular is Obwarzanek), a sort of pretzel/bagel hybrid.
There was a cart offering Obwarzanki only a few steps from where we had met. Augustin taught us how to order food, to say “poprosze obwarzanki” (which means “I would like obwarzanki”). While “prosze” means “please”, when you add the “po” onto the beginning of it, it then means sort of “I’d like to order.” He challenged us to give it a try if we wanted to. I said it and found it much easier to say than the complicated phrase meaning “I would like” that I learned from my Pimsleur Polish cds!
I shared an obwazanek with Therese, one with poppy seeds, and I am glad that I didn’t try to eat a whole one myself. Not that I would’ve minded! This twisted circular bready snack was delicious – like a bagel, it was nice and crusty on the outside, chewy on the inside. But it was also very filling, and I know from having done many other culinary tours to pace myself.
For our next stop, we walked a couple blocks away from the square to Ambasada Sledzia.
This is a small bar that offers a very typical Polish combination: vodka and herring. We got shots of a very flavorful vodka – I am not big on slamming back shots of liquor, but this tasted nice and fruity and smooth. The two ways herring is offered is either pickled in cream or white wine and vinegar – of course I went for the latter. I picked up a love of pickled herring at a young age from my dad (one of the few remnants we retain of our Scandinavian ethnicity). So a nice shot of vodka and a couple bites of herring with onion tasted mighty good to me.
Now that we had eaten a couple of light snacks, it was time for our main event, a sit-down lunch at Chlopskie Jadlo. This is another restaurant very close to Rynek Glowny, a place that is devoted to rustic old-fashioned Polish specialties.
We all sat down on a couple of backed-benches surrounding a fairly large table, and were treated to a sequence of small but very hearty dishes. It all started with farmer’s bread, which came with pickles and a couple of spreads for the bread, one of which was cream-based, while the other was a pork fat spread. Oh man, that was rich yummy stuff. And have I mentioned before how good the pickles were in both Vienna and Krakow? Well, this was a good example of that, a dill pickle that was neither too sour nor too sweet.
For our main course, we had a plate of two different pierogies and some hunter’s stew.
One of the pierogies had cheese in it, so I traded that one with Therese for one of the others, which was meat and sauerkraut. The hunter’s stew was sauerkraut stewed with kielbasa. It was just the right amount of food, satisfying (and very filling considering it was a small plate) but leaving me with a little space for dessert.
For dessert, we walked back to the northwest corner of Rynek Glowny and visited the Wawel Candy Store. Surprisingly, this has no connection to the Wawel Castle. It is a 100 year old shop and sells all sorts of chocolate bars and other sorts of candies.
I looked through their various offerings, and determined the best dairy free option for me was a bar of chocolate with lemon filling.
And wow, did I choose well! This was incredibly creamy smooth (not bitter) dark chocolate, and the lemon was not bitter either, just bright and lemony and sweet enough. This bar didn’t last to see the next day. I was very bad to eat all that chocolate, but wow, was it ever good.
Dessert was not the end of the tour! As promised, Augustin took us to one of the last open markets near the Old Town, Stary Kleparz, where we could see local produce and other specialties for sale. It was straight north, just beyond the Florian Gate.
I enjoyed seeing the basil and sunflower heads and polish sausage and freshly-picked grapes. Augustin’s main idea for bringing us there was to introduce us to the freshly handmade cheese sold there. And while the cheese was very attractive, shaped in molds with pretty designs on them, there were no takers. I guess we were all full already.
Truth be told, I thought the amount of food offered was just right. I have been on other food tours where you are so full by the time you’re done that the rest of the day is a blur. We had lots more to do that day, so I was happy to be, well, just happily full of good food. In many other ways as well this was a near perfect tour. Unlike the Free Walking Tour we had taken a couple days earlier, this one was done in a relaxed pace. And our guide Augustin was very informative. We were very content to reward him with a large tip at the end. And then we were on to our shopping and the rest of our day in Krakow!