We at TravelGumbo encourage participating in food tours as an excellent way to learn about the traditions and cultures of a destination, meet new people, and have a delicious experience. We don't just preach this, we often sign up for food tours ourselves.
One of the best food tours I've been on was in Krakow, Poland. The tour was thoughtful in its choice of restaurants and food vendors, the assortment of food we ate, and in making us walk through so much of this amazing historic city as part of the experience.
The food tour was run by Eat Polska Food and Vodka tours, which also operates similar tours in Warsaw and Gdansk. They have tours that focus on vodka tasting (the Poles swear they, not the Russians, invented vodka), but I am not a hard drinker and wanted to focus on the food, which we did.
Our tour started at Plac Nowy a busy vibrant residential area of the city where we tasted a zapiekanka – an open-faced sandwich made with cheese, mushrooms and tomato sauce -- a popular Polish street food. During the Communist years, people had little discretionary money and these sandwiches were an inexpensive way to get a warm and filling meal. Zapiekanka are available with a variety of optional toppings, as you can see on the menu below.
Our second stop was exceptional, even though it was just for soup. Zalewajka is a modern and attractive restaurant where we tried two types of soup. The first was zalewajka (from which the restaurant derived its name), a sour rye soup which was delicious. Zalewajka is a white borscht made of potatoes, meat and sour cream, and has a fermented flavor. It is typically served for Easter Sunday Brunch with hard-boiled eggs and sausage.
A very attractive and delicious dish was barszcz z pierogiem, beetroot borscht made with fermented beets, meat stock and small dumplings (perogie). It is a traditional Christmas Eve soup. I really love good soup, so for me this stop was to be the highlight of tour. But we were just getting started.
After polishing off our soup, we began to walk the streets. In Krakow you often see street vendors selling ring-shaped breads known as Obwarzanek Krakowski. The are quite similar to a bagel and may have a similar origin, and they are a traditional and popular snack in Krakow. You frequently see vendors selling them everywhere pedestrians walk in the city. They have a variety of toppings, such as poppy or sesame seeds. Our guide bought us each one which after a bite I packed into my backpack for later. They were good and tasted very much like a fresh bagel.
Our next stop was at the farmer's market at Hala Targowa, where we explored the displays and bought a delicious apple for a snack. I am a big fan of visiting local markets, and this was a great one.
Our walk continued into Krakow's Old Town where we crossed the massive and popular Main Square and made our way to a modern restaurant called Ed Red. We were already quite full before arriving at Ed Red, but were tempted with and made room to enjoy the following dishes:
(Cured pig knuckle served with potato dumplings, leeks, prunes, holy grass and apple sauce)
Everything was delicious and we left Ed Red's feeling stuffed like the proverbial goose, but our food tour was far from our. Our next stop was a place that served traditional Polish cuisine known as Gościnna Chata, which was nicely displayed with harvest decorations.
By now we were all friends so it was appropriate that we have our shot of Vodka here:
We enjoyed sampling Polish cheeses, including an assortment of sheep and cow cheeses....
A cold-cut platter including head cheese, ham, Polish bacon, pork loin stuffed with prunes...
Pickles, which the Poles are masters of ....
Bread which you could dress with either butter or a lard dish (the latter tastes much better than it sounds but I'm sure each bite goes directly to your coronary arteries)...
You might have thought that this was our last stop, but alas we were dragged kicking and screaming to a bakery/cafe, Cukiernia Jagiellońska where we had a delicious slice of cream cake. Apparently this particular style of cake was a favorite of local hero, Pope John Paul II.
I normally skip breakfast before a food tour because I want to save my appetite, but there would have been no amount of fasting that would have freed up enough space in your stomach to consume the entirety of the wonderful feast we were served on Eat Polska's tour. My thanks to everyone -- especially the wonderful restaurants who were so good to us -- for a most memorable experience.
Note: This tour was not a freebie. I paid my own way, as I usually do, anonymously participating as an average tourist rather than a blogger.