Cheap and filling, it’s often hard to separate the Polish pierog from hard times under the Communist hammer. But with exotic fillings now en vogue the dumpling is reinventing itself as a decidedly bourgeois treat says Simon Taylor.
There’s no denying that the Poles love their pierogi (dumplings). Found in cheap and cheerful cafeterias, upmarket restaurants and hospitable households throughout the country, these doughy delights are an essential part of any visit to Poland. Perhaps somewhat stodgy for non-natives, pierogi are one of the mainstays of traditional Polish cuisine. Baked, boiled or fried and usually served smothered with lard, sour cream, butter or onions, pierogi come in a variety of sweet and savoury fillings. Pierogi ruskie (cottage cheese, potato and onion), pierogi z kapusta i grzybami (with cabbage and mushrooms) and pierogi z miesem (with meat) form the holy trinity but those with a sweet tooth will be happy to know that sweet cheese and fruit varieties are also popular. Seen by some as a drab reminder of Poland’s somewhat austere past, pierogi are currently enjoying something of a revival. The classics still prevail, but they can often now be found alongside more contemporary takes on this quintessential Polish dish such as venison with bacon or chicken with Mexican chili beans. Sharpen your forks and forewarn your stomaches as we take in the best five ‘pierogarnias’ in Krakow…
Zapiecek Polskie Pierogarnia
First up is Zapieciek, located on Sławkowska, one of the many streets connected to Krakow’s charming main market square. Specialising in all things pierogi, Zapieciek is a self-service affair (samoobsluga), meaning that you will need to queue up at the counter to place your order. Trade is brisk and the place attracts a mix of students, grannies and other hungry locals throughout the day. The menu is short and simple, making Zapieciek a good choice for newbies keen to ease themselves into the rich world of dumplings. Zapieciek is open twenty-four hours a day, so worry not should a craving creep up on you in the small hours.
ul. Sławkowska 32, www.zapiecek.eu
Pierożki u Vincenta
Pierożki u Vincenta is a popular choice located in Kazimierz, Krakow’s former Jewish quarter. This bright, airy spot on Bozego Ciala has table service, making it ideal for the cautious tourist wishing to avoid any blushes whilst trying to pronounce ‘kapusta i grzybami’ in a busy queue. The extensive menu features the traditional savoury or sweet favourites alongside more adventurous fillings like the Emporer’s Pierogi with lamb, rosemary and thyme, and Napoleon’s Pierogi with liver and apple. The mixed portions are a good option if a decision is hard to make. All dishes come with a choice of toppings and sauces. The meat and mushroom, and Mexican pierogi are highly recommended. Vincent’s Pierogi are often in demand, so you may have to wait your turn for a table.
ul. Bożego Ciała 12, www.pierozkiuvincenta.pl
U Babci Maliny
A hit with locals and tourists alike, the venerable U Babci Maliny has two establishments within the old town. While both are decked out with a faux folksy charm, it is the larger branch on Sławkowska that stands out with its fish tank and slightly curious nursery vibe. Portions here are large, filling and good value for money; those wishing to walk on the wild side can even try their dumplings fried. The pierogi ruskie are the best in town. Those looking for some liquid refreshment to accompany their meal will be pleased to know that the smaller branch on Szpitalna serves beer.
ul. Sławkowska 17 and ul. Szpitalna 38, www.kuchniaubabcimaliny.pl
U Pani Stasi
U Pani Stasi, tucked away in a courtyard off Mikołajska, is must for anyone looking for a typically Polish dining experience. This family-run establishment has been feeding hungry locals for over 80 years now. Join the queue and be prepared to sit elbow to elbow with diners enthusiastically devouring the home-cooked dishes on offer. U Pani Stasi gets busy at peak times and often closes in the afternoon, so it’s best to get here early.
ul. Mikołajska 16
Occupying a sunny spot on the bustling ulica Szeroka in Kazimierz, Awiw Restauracja is a good choice for those wishing to indulge. Located towards the pricier end of the pierogi spectrum, Awiw offers a tantalising range of dumplings to tempt all tastes. Fillings range from mushroom with cabbage to the more regal venison with bacon and veal with chanterelles. When the weather is good, Awiw’s outside seating is a real bonus. Look out for the daily happy hour, which sees all pierogi reduced by around 20%.
ul. Szeroka 13, www.awiw.pl
If you simply can’t enough of the little doughy pockets then be sure to time your visit to Krakow with the city’s Pierogi Festival, in August. Krakow’s Festival Bureau should have the exact dates. And whenever you’re flying to the Poland’s culture capital don’t forget to check out our Long Weekend guide for more food and restaurant tips, and much much more.