This is how Małopolska tastes. Discover centuries-old traditions, cult dishes and new trends
Who stole maczanka?
Kraków, because no one has been caught by the hand and no one has been charged with appropriation or culinary plagiarism. However, it is enough to look at Kraków maczanka to eliminate any doubts. The cut bun, poured over with meat drippings, with a slice of roast pork inside dressed with caraway seeds, is the great-grandmother of the burger. Before Louis Lassen borrowed the recipe from New Haven, Kraków maczanka had already been eaten in 1892 at Kosh and Wybierał's restaurant on the corner of Grodzka and Poselska Streets. Moreover, as connoisseurs of Kraków, Mieczysław Czuma and Leszek Mazan can attest, it was poetry compared to the American version. However, it did not have a marketing flair, so today, instead of a global career, it is considered a cult dish, on the menu of respected restaurateurs in Kraków and food trucks in Kazimierz.
What is our Małopolska cuisine like?
It draws inspiration from Austrian, Jewish, German, Czech and Hungarian traditions, but never forgets the tastes of its ancestors. It has a style that cannot be imitated, a strong character and products that cannot be forgotten. Kraków obwarzanek, although relatively inconspicuous, has its own Museum; oscypek, which over the years have made its way from the Tatra Mountains to England, France, the United States and Canada, is considered a luxury product, and dry Kraków sausage, which has been ineptly imitated in various parts of the world, used to be worth its weight in gold.
Therefore, if you are looking for a beautiful culinary tradition, tasty legends and restaurants that feed on the heart, Małopolska is the ideal place. Here, everyone is hosted royally, as this is our tradition - An obligation that is a throw-back to the famous party organised at the king's request near the royal castle by the town councillors and merchant Mikołaj Wierzynek for European monarchs in 1364. According to the Polish chronicler, Jan Długosz, the foreign guests were enchanted by the abundance of flavours, spices and dishes, and Kraków and Małopolska still try to live up to this tasty tale - and do so superbly.
Oscypek and other delicacies
It is like mountains, sacred and immortal. Oscypek, made in Podhale according to a recipe passed down from generation to generation, is the most popular product of southern Poland. In the past, sheep's cheese was made once a week on Sundays for weddings and holidays, and women were not allowed to touch it. Nowadays, these cheeses, which have all the possible EU certificates, are made from May to September, every day, and more and more shepherd-women are being allowed to produce them - however, only those who know that real oscypek must have the colour of the sun, and when cut, it should show an elastic structure and tiny eyeholes (you can tell a master or a failure by the size of the eyeholes). Oscypek must also smell of fire and wood and weigh between 60 and 80 decagrams. The greatest gourmets can immediately tell in which shepherd's hut it was made. Although the EU directive is strict, the heart and character of the highlanders cannot be cut from a ruler. The cheeses vary in creaminess and length (from 17 to 23 cm), as well as decoration that depends on the imagination of whoever holds the oscypiorka, i.e. the mould to shape the cheese. They also vary in colour. Oscypek cheese is made from sheep's milk or mixed milk, 60 per cent sheep's milk and 40 per cent cow's milk - any other kind is not allowed to be sold.
A tasty list smelling of Małopolska
Oscypek has its well-deserved place on the List of Traditional Products (LPT), of which Małopolska has the most significant number in Poland. They make up the tastiest possible culinary map where you can wander through regions, towns and villages and get to know them from the inside. The map features products made according to traditional recipes and production methods, and constitutes an inseparable cultural element of the region. What can be found on it? Among others, four and a half kilogramme Prądnik bread (Prądnik is a district of Kraków) is tasty, dark, and made with rye sourdough. There is also the afore-mentioned Kraków sausage, which owes its success to the several-week-long process of maturing beef and pork meat in cold and damp conditions and drying it. Moreover, there are Lisiecka and Podhale sausages…
Nevertheless, Małopolska does not smell of sausage alone. A trip to Charsznica is enough to see the natural green gold. It is cabbage, and its pickling process has been mastered to perfection in this region. Pickled cabbage has been made here for centuries, and care has been taken to ensure that it retains the right creamy-yellow colour and sour taste. The locals are careful not to mess around with the pickling process. Therefore, only carrots, dill seeds, cherry and oak twigs, peppercorns, horseradish leaves, juniper berries and wine apples are added. Simple in flavour and ideal for the tables of both lords and peasants - it has been so since the Middle Ages.
The Zator carp also has a similar past. It is recognised by its scales and is considered the King of the Ponds, especially in the run-up to Christmas. It is still a popular dish on Christmas Eve tables, and no wonder, as tradition is tradition. The best thing to accompany carp on Christmas Eve is plum compote. We have no shortage of these. The real star among them is suska sechlońska, produced in the traditional way in the following communes: Czchów, Gnojnik, Iwkowa, Łososina Dolna, Gródek nad Dunajcem, Lipnica Murowana and Laskowa - pure health – pure taste!
The list of accompaniments also includes "fasola piękny Jaś" from the Dunajec Valley, the sourish "Łąckie apples" from the Łącko Basin and "Kraków obwarzanek", Does the last need any introduction, or is it already internationally famous? It is the only baked product in the world that must be scalded with boiling water before being placed in the oven. This is how it achieves its excellent taste, which has given it its rightful place in the culinary history of Kraków. The bakers who, by a privilege, could sell it in the past belonged to the city's elite. No wonder, after all, it was Queen Jadwiga's favourite snack and a salve for the knights who ate it before the Battle of Grunwald (legends say that King Władysław Jagiełło ordered 16 carts of the pretzels to set out for feast following the battle with the Teutonic Knights). It seems trivial because it only needs love apart from flour, salted water and yeast. But can love be trivial?
From bryndza to rye - a list of regional products
The list of traditional and regional products from Małopolska already includes nearly 200 dishes. These are liquors, honey, oils and bakery products. Both simple and more complex, they all have one thing in common: their quality and unique characteristics derive from traditional production methods and form part of the cultural heritage of the region where they are made.
Małopolska cannot afford poor quality food and products. Since the Middle Ages, the rich tradition of feeding, hosting and cooking has been alive. The already mentioned feast at Wierzynek, which went down in history as an event attended by the most influential monarchs of 14th-century Europe, set the course for centuries. At that time, on the invitation of King Casimir the Great, guests who came to Wawel included Emperor Charles IV and his son Wenceslas, King Louis of Hungary, King Peter de Lusignan of Cyprus, Duke Bolko II of Świdnica and Jawor, Duke Siemowit of Masovia, Władysław Opolczyk, Margrave of Moravia Jan, Margrave Otto Wittelsbach of Brandenburg, and Papal Nuncio John. According to tradition, the feast was held in the tenement house of merchant and banker Mikołaj Wierzynek, and all the best was served - many types of bread, wine, fowl, fish and all kinds of meat.
It was also in Małopolska that the first two cookery books were written. "Cookery" (Kuchmistrzostwo), as the first collection of culinary recipes was called, was published around 1540, or perhaps 1550, and then sank into obscurity for centuries. The recipes, which testify to the richness and diversity of Polish cuisine, have been found quite recently in the collection of the National Library of Ukraine in Kiyv. The second item is "Compendium ferculorum or a collection of dishes" by Stanisław Czerniecki, published in Kraków in 1682. The book was written at the court of the Kraków voivode, Aleksander Michał Lubomirski, at the castle of the Kmita and the Lubomirski in Wiśnicz. Chef Czerniecki created a work full of flavours and aromas, in which the broth is prepared in sixteen ways. Such a tradition should not be forgotten.
I would like to suggest culinary journeys that will introduce you to the culture and tradition of the region in a tasty way. I recommend the "Kraków maczanka" - near Wawel and the "kwaśnica" with ribs - in the mountains - to warm up the body and the senses. Those with a strong head can try slivovitz from Łącko, a beverage for the hardened, and those that don't can direct their steps to Wadowice, where you can buy papal cream cakes - Pope John Paul II's favourites. Ice cream routes invite you to Nowy Targ and Nowy Sącz and wine routes direct you to the vineyards located in the most beautiful corners of the region. Here you can taste wine that carries the scent of the Małopolska countryside, while enjoying the view of the Gorce Mountains, the Tatra Mountains, Kraków and the Vistula River. Nothing tastes better anywhere - not even in France.
Good news when they are bringing food
The Małopolska Tourist Organisation knows that the heart is reached through the stomach. Hence, the idea of creating a culinary trail where you can get to know the region from the kitchen. The inns form the so-called Gourmet Trail. You can eat kołacz zbójnicki, Małopolska-style duck, kwaśnica with smoked ribs or lamb shank.