Our holiday visit didn’t stop in Vienna. The Krakow Christmas Market in Poland was equally as exciting with one of a kind food experiences!
As I stand in the town center of Krakow, I wonder why a visit to Poland had not been higher on my travel list. It was always there, but tucked beneath what I thought were more intriguing destinations.
I take my first steps into the market and I see a stand selling pierogi. No surprise there. I am in Poland after all.
To my right, a barrel shaped building large enough for the two people inside serving mulled wine (grzaniec). Impressive to see, and something I had read about prior to the trip.
But what is that over there? A slice of bread with a spread and toppings? Wait, is that lard? Why yes, that is lard.
It finally sets in that I have entered what many might call a whole, traditional foods heaven in the heart of a culture I didn’t realize I wanted to explore until this very moment.
I take a closer look and watch as the men and women behind a long table slice large pieces from a huge loaf of fresh baked country bread. Then they scoop their spatulas into the large crocks next to them and spread the bread with lard and garlic butter. Once the bread has a thick coating, it’s topped with bacon, onions and pickles. Or whatever combination of these ingredients that you wish to have.
We got the works.
What is more amazing to me than the lard-covered bread itself is the number of people in line to order. I think of everyone back home who would turn his or her nose up at this delicious creation, but here, this was a special treat, a highlight of attending the Krakow Christmas Market in Old Town.
As you’ve probably guessed, our adventures last December didn’t stop in Vienna. We find it impossible to visit just one place when we go to Europe, so after reading about Krakow’s Christmas Market we decided it would be a perfect second destination for our trip.
The main market here is in Old Town in the central square. It runs from late November to just after Christmas Day. Not only is it a beautiful setting at night as the market lights up, but it is absolutely breathtaking at dusk.
And dusk begins about 2 to 3 pm here during the winter. The sun begins to set and reflects off the buildings casting a golden glow. It was my favorite time each day we spent there.
I can’t express enough how that country bread merely scratched the surface of unique foods we encountered in Krakow. Exploring new foods is one of my favorite parts of travel and there were no shortage of them here.
When we checked into our hotel, the clerk gave us a flier in English that mentioned some highlights of the local Christmas Market. My eyes found it in the text right away, a local specialty – Oscypek z żurawiną.
It’s smoked sheep’s milk cheese, warmed on the grilled and covered in cranberry sauce. This dish sailed to the top of my list of all time favorite foods. Even as I remember it now, I can think of few things that are as delicious. The cheese, slightly tough on the outside, but warm and tender inside. The sweet cranberry sauce that balanced the smoky flavor of the cheese. Perfection.
It turns out that these little disks of sheep’s cheese were just a sample of what was available to take home. Oscypek is molded into all of these different shapes before it is smoked to create that golden exterior.
After watching a long line of people ordering lángos (a Hungarian fry bread), we had to get one. The last time we ate this treat was in Budapest several years ago. This version was topped cheeses and it turned out to be our most adventurous ordering experience.
There was very little English spoken at this market and little on the signs, so as we watched people order I tried to gather what each topping was called so we could get what we wanted.
I botched it up pretty badly which led to me waving my hands, pointing to this and that and shaking my head yes and no. One of the great pleasures of traveling and communicating in an unfamiliar language. I wouldn’t change those experiences for the world.
The fry bread was spread with a creamy cheese, like the requeijão we used to get in Brazil. Then, it was topped with shredded cheese. Delicious deep fried goodness.
In addition to all these snacks, another thing that made Krakow’s market stand out is that you could design your own plated meal to enjoy at the shared picnic tables in the center of the square. There were a number of booths with pan after pan of meats, vegetables and krauts.
Finally, we had a Chimney Cake, or Kürtöskalács. I loved watching these in production. Dough is wrapped around the mold and they bake in a rotating oven. Then they are finished with cinnamon and sugar. You end up with a delicate, tender interior with a slightly crunchy exterior. Fun to watch and fun to eat!
The clerk at our hotel told us about a smaller Christmas Market on the outside of the town center, so we set out to explore this area one afternoon and I’m so glad we did. The journey to find it took us on a stroll that some might find gloomy, but to me it was magical with the cobblestone streets and beautiful buildings on a wet winter day.
There were only a few vendors, but it was next to a pretty tree and small ice skating rink outside the shopping mall, which was connected to the train station. Despite the size there were so many food and drink options.
We had one of these Oliebollen – a Dutch pastry similar to a donut. We went with the cream filled option.
There was more of that amazing oscypek z żurawiną.
This is also where we tried our first obwarzanek – a bagel-like street food that is sold by numerous vendors around the town.
As you can probably tell, the food was more of a highlight of the visit than the drinks. The mulled wines were delicious, but I had a harder time translating all the different varieties.
One exception in the drink category we found outside the market at area restaurants. After watching others repeatedly order hot beer drinks, I had to have one!
I wish I would have gotten a better picture of the menus, but these were warm beers with citrus and spiced with cinnamon and cloves. They were so tasty and especially good for taking a break from the cold weather and warming up.
With only two markets to see, I wasn’t expecting to be as blown away by the festivities in Krakow. But what they lacked in number, they made up for in unique offerings. I experienced foods and drinks there that I had never read about or seen before.
If you plan to explore Christmas Markets, don’t pass up Krakow.
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