Culinary traditions of Kraków and the Małopolska region

Culinary traditions of Kraków and the Małopolska region

By Mat Barski

Kraków has a rich culinary scene characterized by a diverse culinary heritage, a strong regional identity, and a growing focus on innovation and fine dining. Of course, the local culinary specialties are rooted in the general Polish traditions. However, some dishes or recipe variations are specific to the Małopolska region or the city of Kraków, and we will focus on those a bit later.

Kraków is well known for its vibrant cafe culture, with numerous small and cozy places throughout the city. At the same time, the city has a growing fine dining scene. Many restaurants offer innovative and modern takes on traditional Polish cuisine. The majority of these places use high-quality, locally-sourced ingredients and feature creative, artfully presented dishes.

Another feature of Kraków is its Jewish culinary heritage. Many traditional Jewish dishes are often served in the city's restaurants and cafes. These include dishes such as gefilte fish, matzo ball soup, and challah bread. All of them and more you can try when visiting the Jewish district, Kazimierz, which has the most colorful and diverse culinary landscape in the whole city. The best-known snack of Jewish origin is “obwarzanek Krakowski”- traditional Polish bagel with a characteristic twisted or knotted shape with a shiny, golden-brown crust and sprinkled with salt or sesame seeds.

We prepared this article for you as a guide to some of the most traditional Polish dishes and their variations specific to the city of Krakow and the Małopolska region in general.

Traditional Polish dishes

  • "Pierogi" are a type of dumplings that can be filled with a variety of ingredients, including meat, cheese, sauerkraut, mushrooms, and fruit. They are often served with sour cream and fried onions. “Pierogi krakowskie” or Kraków-style pierogi are different from other types of pierogis because they are smaller in size and typically filled with a mixture of boiled and mashed potatoes, sautéed onions; they often include a small amount of cooked bacon or ham for additional flavor. The filling is seasoned with salt, pepper, and marjoram. The Polish pierogi are usually fried or sometimes boiled and often served with butter, fried onions, and sour cream.
  • "Bigos" is a traditional Polish stew made with sauerkraut, various types of meat, such as pork or beef, and often sausage. It is usually seasoned with caraway seeds and bay leaves; served with rye bread or boiled potatoes.
  • “Gołąbki” are stuffed cabbage rolls that are a traditional Polish dish. In Kraków, they are often filled with a mixture of ground beef and boiled rice.
  • “Żurek” is a traditional Polish soup made with sour rye flour and meat, such as sausage or ham. It is often served with a boiled egg and is a popular dish during Easter. “Makowiec” is a traditional Polish poppy seed cake that is often served during Christmas and Easter. It is made with a sweet dough and filled with a mixture of ground poppy seeds, honey, and nuts.
  • “Naleśniki” are Polish-style crepes that are typically filled with sweetened cheese, fruit, or jam. They are often served for breakfast or dessert.
  • “Zapiekanka” is a popular Polish street food that is essentially a type of open-faced sandwich. It is made with a halved baguette that is toasted and then topped with melted cheese, mushrooms, and often other toppings such as ham, sausage, or vegetables. It is then drizzled with ketchup or garlic sauce and served hot.

Kraków local culinary specialties

  • “Obwarzanek Krakowski” or Kraków bagel is a type of ring-shaped bread that is boiled and then baked. It has a chewy texture and is often sprinkled with salt, poppy seeds, or sesame seeds. It is a popular snack in Kraków and can be found at street vendors throughout the city.
  • “Oscypek”is a traditional smoked cheese made from sheep's milk, a savoury snack from Podhale region. It is typically served grilled or fried and often with cranberry jam. Oscypek was entered on the list of protected products of the European Union. 
  • “Maczanka krakowska” is a traditional dish from Kraków that consists of slow-cooked pork neck or shoulder that is marinated in a flavorful mixture of herbs, spices, and sometimes beer or wine. The meat is then shredded and served on a bread bun, often topped with sauerkraut, pickles, mustard, or horseradish sauce.  The dish is said to have originated in the city's Kazimierz district. It has been known since the 17th century and could be considered a great-grandmother of the burger.
  • “Kiełbasa krakowska” is a type of Polish sausage made from coarsely ground pork seasoned with salt, pepper, and garlic. It is known for its firm texture and rich, meaty flavor. Also commonly flavored with marjoram, caraway seeds, and allspice. The sausage is mostly used for sandwiches but can also be grilled or fried, and is often served with horseradish, mustard, or sauerkraut.
  • “Kapuśniak” is a hearty soup made with sauerkraut, potatoes, and various meats (such as pork, sausage, and bacon) and often flavored with caraway seeds and marjoram. The soup is typically served with a dollop of sour cream or smetana. “Kapuśniak” has been a popular dish for centuries and is often enjoyed as a warming meal during the colder months. It is a great representation of the region's cuisine, which is known for its hearty and flavorful dishes that incorporate local ingredients.
  • Kraków-style borscht or “barszcz” is a variant of the traditional Polish borscht soup but with some unique ingredients and preparation methods that give it a distinct flavor. The soup is typically made with beef or pork broth, beets, carrots, onions, and a variety of seasonings such as garlic, bay leaves, allspice, marjoram and often enriched with the addition of sauerkraut or mushrooms, which give it a tangy and slightly sour flavor. The soup is usually served with boiled potatoes and is often accompanied by a dollop of sour cream or smetana. The recipe for “barszcz” can vary from family to family and from restaurant to restaurant, but it is generally considered to be a flavorful and satisfying soup that is perfect for cold weather. It is also a great representation of the regional cuisine of Kraków, which is known for its hearty and flavorful dishes that use local ingredients.