My entire life I’ve dreamed about visiting Poland. My obsession stems with my Canadian-ness as so many Ukrainian and Polish people have immigrated to my country and their plump pierogi are pretty much a national standard. I mean Swiss Chalet serves pierogi deep fried and Toronto hosts it’s very own annual festival in Roncesvalles, which has every Polish person in the city beaming with pride as they wolf down disposable plates of pierogi topped with a mountain of sour cream while perched on the curb.
On a recent trip to Krakow I finally fulfilled my Polish fantasy, eating my way through the city’s most popular pierogi restaurants, from no frills Soviet-era Milk Bars to posh dining rooms in luxurious hotels.
No trip to Poland is complete unless you’ve enjoyed lunch at a traditional Milk Bar. These ex-Socialist era workers canteen’s still serve government subsidized Polish eats. Krakow has the distinction of being the birthplace of the Milk Bar, with its first opening in Market Square on May 30th, 1948. Run by the government, this was the Party’s ‘clever’ attempt at popularizing milk-drinking (as opposed to moonshine), inspired by Poland’s large surplus of dairy products. As restaurants were nationalized by communist authorities, more and more Milk Bars appeared with the Party concept being to provide cheap, dairy-based meals to the masses. In addition to milk, yoghurt, cottage cheese and other dairy concoctions, Milk Bars offered omelettes as well as flour-based foods like pierogi and fresh cheese stuffed crepes.
Today Milk Bars are frequented by every slice of society, from the homeless to retirees, students and bankers. While prices are the lowest in town (you’ll pay USD $1 for ten pierogi), the food served here will satisfy your comfort food cravings as everything is made lovingly by Polish babcias.
In just four short days I ate my weight in plump pierogi, and it’s perhaps not shocking that my most memorable experience was wolfing down two plates at a Milk Bar in Nowa Huta. They were the most delicious pierogi’s I’d ever eaten, and for just USD $2 I ate twenty. They arrived perfectly boiled on two plates: a classic cheese and potato rendition (which locals refer to as “in the Russian style”), which arrived covered in fried bacon fat, and a sublime fresh cheese stuffed platter topped with sweet melted butter and dusted with icing sugar.
Visit some of Krakow’s celebrated restaurants and you’ll find chef’s being creative as they take riffs on the classic comfort food. I enjoyed a parade of pierogi perfection with highlights including veal stuffed dumplings served with a petite ramekin filled with caramelized onions, a steaming bowl of sauerkraut and mushroom pierogi topped with fried kielbasa and finely chopped chives, and a more avant-garde interpretation where oversized pierogi arrived stuffed with braised goat, swimming in veal jus and topped with crunchy parsnip and carrot chips.
Whether you’re an ardent minimalist preferring to stick to tradition or keen to eat your way outside the box, a trip to Krakow offers serious satisfaction to the pierogi pilgrim.
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