cukiernia sowa, gdańsk

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cosy cafe in downtown gdańsk. this was our last eatery int he city, and we also needed a place to sit down after we had to check out.

it wasn’t that different from pellowski, really. this place did have cosier sitting where we stayed for nearly two to three hours, and we had cups of coffee and tea.

it’s very difficult to be a curious foodie when you’re in a country that doesn’t really speak the languages you know – so usually I just end up ordering based on “hmm I haven’t seen this before” which this time landed me with a chocolate cake topped with bits of marzipan, another crumbly cheesecake, and what I think is rugelach filled with a sort of fig-or-some-other-fruit filling.

the confectionaries in poland have so far proven to be on the dry, crumbly side and I think that’s because it’s often eaten as part of tea, and not so much like dessert. very pleasant and not overtly-sweet, but also a bit disappointing when you want those things.

then again, maybe it’s just because I had no idea what to order.

bistro kos, gdańsk

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fantastic food in gdańsk. I haven’t been so impressed by a restaurant in a long time, not even here in london – but then I haven’t been going out as much recently – but this place is spectacular for both price and quantity and quality of food.

I had done some research (tripadvisor, anyone?) on this recommendation from the receptionist at the hostel, and so I knew we were going to get big portions. beyond that, we weren’t too sure hat to expect.

when we arrived at 8pm for dinner, the small space was packed out with people either  eating or waiting to get their takeaways. this is a semi-self-service establishment, where your food is brought to you but you go up to order and to pay, and you damn well get your own table in the place. the demographic of people here was wide-ranging, from young groups of teenages to working men to old couples. I fancy this must be the hangout in gdańsk.

for dinner, we got two main courses of fish – one of halibut and one of sole. the large battered fillets were fried golden (perfect!) and served alongside your choice of fries or boiled potatoes, as well as three vegetable side dishes. the fish was marvellous; the batter was not thick and yet substantial enough, the fish was sweet and flaky, and my boiled potatoes were heaven (let me tell you that if you have never tasted the beauty of a well-boiled tasty spud sprinkled with the merest scattering of salt, you have not lived). the three ‘salads’ was a grated carrot salad (the best one), a horseradish-dressed cabbage one, as well as a beetroot salad. they were so good even my salad-averse partner finished most of it up. I ordered a side dish of boiled vegetables – it is called something like sports salad or something equally ingenious – which really was a plate of overboiled carrots, broccoli and cauliflower. I didn’t actually mind it too much though.

the best thing about this meal? two huge main courses (we couldn’t finish the potato or the salads), 1 pint of paulaner and a side dish came up to the equivalent of 9 pounds. HOW RIDICULOUS IS THAT.

we liked it so much we returned the next morning. they have a dedicated breakfast menu on top of the regular one available at lunch and dinner. I opted for a smoked salmon salad (I had lots of envy for a large plate of salad the night before) and my partner had scrambled eggs with bacon, as well as a plate of white sausages.

the salad was lovely – there was a raspberry vinaigrette on very crunchy salad leaves; the smoked salmon was generously draped over the the leaves and it was all topped with a perfectly-fried yolk. I love eggs, and one with a liquid yolk that unctuously (yes this is my attempt at a nigella impersonation) drapes over the rest of my meal is a very good thing.

the eggs kept my partner very happy, and he decided to up the (cholesterol) ante by matching the white sausages and the eggs on a roll – but that was too much even for him. these white sausages aren’t the ones we expected – we were thinking of the bavarian ones – but this was very good though a tad too salty.

this place is a must-go. I’m hungry just thinking of the perfect fish we had.

jewish quarter zapiekanka, krakow

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mega-overloaded snack in the jewish quarter.

I imagine many people reading this and thinking just when is she going to finish with her polish trip?! and I promise you that there are only two more to come after this.  I hope this information becomes useful to someone out there – I am an incredibly OCD foodie in that I try and search for the most well-known restaurants in places,  especially from blogs, but there was barely any information to be had on gdańsk! the best resource was tripadvisor – which is a good website and all, but still I would have liked to have read more blogs.

in any case, we took up the free walking tour in the jewish quarter in krakow, and we escaped part way from an overtly enthusiastic not-funny-but-thinks-he’s-funny guide who punctuated all his jokes with a sleazy wink. it was a painful experience to listen to that many bad jokes in such a short interval – and we escaped to preserve our holiday mood.

it was just as well that we were in (what I think is) the market square of the jewish quarter at plac nowy. there were fruit stores around (see photos here) and a central building that housed lots of food stores. I think store might be an over-statement since they were basically windows where you ordered.

before escaping from the guide he had told us about these ‘snacks’. I insert them in quotes because these were nearly 1.5 foot long – who eats this for a snack?! however, the rich food in poland probably explains how this could be relegated to snack status.

they are essentially halved crusty loaves topped with ingredients of your choice. we got the standard – which was cheese and mushroom – because we weren’t really sure what it was like. it came topped with ketchup, and  didn’t really taste of much. it was mildly cheesy and savoury, but it was hot and that was all we needed.

my partner became incredibly jealous when we saw that another customer had ordered a version stacked with salami and ham and sorts of man ingredients so I would say go adventurous (and greedy) since it really is just a hot sandwich!

cukiernia pellowski, gdańsk

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decent cafe in the old town centre of gdańsk. the word cukiernia refers to – I think – pastry shops and confectionaries, so try to pop into one of these while you’re in poland – they are traditional cafes as you get in europe, with rows of bread behind the counter, and cakes laid out in glass counters and biscuits sold by weight. they are a large draw for travelling in europe – for me at least.

we happened across this cafe and came here for breakfast – and I imagine it must get very crowded in summer as even on an off-peak period (April), the cafe was rather crowded. as an avid baker and owner of a sweet tooth, nothing gets me more excited than trying pastries and cakes in new countries. this is rather my version of sightseeing.

we bought three types of bread here, as well as a slice of cheesecake and cups of coffee and tea. the first was a bread glazed over with icing and filled with a poppy-seed filling. the filling also tasted like there were almonds (or extract in it) and I really liked this though it was a tad sweet. as you can see, the filling was swirled in and around the entire pastry, almost like a croissant. I think it might be called makowiec (please correct me if I’m wrong).

we also had a pizza-tasting bread that was essentially a plain enriched bread roll topped with a very savoury coating of perhaps tomato and cheese. this reminds me of the bread we get in asia, where almost all the doughs are enriched and mildly sweet.

the last of our buns was described to us as a cheese bun, but what it really was was an enriched bun filled with custard and topped with some mild cheese. pleasant, but perhaps my least favourite of the lot as it wasn’t that special.

we finished with a slice of cheesecake since we saw that almost every table had ordered one. sernik, as cheesecake is known in poland, is different from the usual western ones as it is crumbly and a lot dryer and less dense than what we are used to – I prefer the dense ones myself though this was very tasty. I think it must be a result of them using a different sort of cheese.

in any case, regardless of which cukiernia you visit, just be sure to head into one! there’s nothing better than some coffee and cake to tide the day away.

targ rybny, gdańsk

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very good seafood near the harbour in gdańsk. by the time we arrived here, we were very much looking forward to having a taste of seafood, seeing as how the area is known for its harbour and surrounding water.

we chose targ rybny largely because of the many good reviews i’ve seen on tripadvisor, but also because it was very close to where we staying and we popped in our first night there. the place was lovely – very homey and rustic, and as it was the off-peak season, the place only had a few tables occupied and service was attentive.

we started off with starters of calamari and lobster soup. the latter came with a ravioli – we were so glad it wasn’t another pierogi – and was tasty enough, even if it doesn’t nearly reach the pinnacle of goodness of the one we had in norway while on holiday a year before. the calamari was cut very thinly and fried in a crisp batter, and served with a tasty aioli-like dip on the side. I would have preferred it cut thicker as I like the seafood more than the batter, but my partner preferred it this way.

our mains of cod on potatoes and rainbow trout on mediterranean vegetables arrived, and they were delightful. cooked perfectly with the fish flaky and just not-raw, it was sweet and tasty. and if you’re afraid of bones in rainbow trout – my fillet was mostly bone-free and very nice.

we finished the meal with a baked apple served with ice-cream. this took a long time coming, so I would recommend ordering it while you’re halfway through your mains. I think it could have been softer, but as it was a warm apple on what was a very cold and windy night in gdańsk was a lovely – not-too-rich – way of finishing a good meal.

polakowski, krakow

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cheap polish fare in krakow’s old town. we were recommended this restaurant by our host; but really I would classify it as a self-service deli. I believe it might even fall under the category of ‘milk bar’, something that in Poland refers to a form of category. milk bars are bar mleczy in polish, for interest.

we have never had polish food, and so we went a bit crazy seeing how cheap everything was; our bill barely came to 12 pounds in total for all that food. what we ended up ordering was a potato soup, which we thought was meant to be a chowder but really was a clear sort of vegetable soup with a slick of oil on top – we couldn’t finish this, and really it was a bit of foreshadowing for the rest of the meal.

the food is already cooked and displayed under warmer lights at counter where you make your order, and I believe it is freshly heated up before serving. I ordered chollent, meant to be a sort of jewish stew with meat and beans – but what came was a dryish slab of meat mashed with beans. it is moist, but largely because of the oil in the dish. it was ridiculously oily and hearty (have a look at that napkin on the plate in the last photo) and I managed a spoonful but not much more.

the carrots and peas I had two bowls of, and it was the most edible thing to me in this meal. but remember my penchant for vegetables; that probably biased my view.

the boiled ham hock was hugely edible, and very large. the meat was tender and fell off the bone but we couldn’t help but want a german pork knuckle instead, since the crispy skin provides some interest to what really is just flabby, albeit tender meat.

pierogis were next, a sort of meat dumpling done in thick flour wrappers. they came doused in what we found out later was lard – and this really just put me off – and I dug the filling out of the dumplings to try. the meat was harmless really, but there was a sort of spice to it that was unfamiliar.

polish food, then, is hearty and incredibly calorific. I had a feeling throughout my meal that this must have been food they needed to survive their siberian winters and must also have arisen as a result of the incredible manual work they must have once bee involved in, but it doesn’t figure so highly in modern life – not for health reasons. I found it necessary to stock up on fruit and exercise after this meal, but it is personal preference.

I found the food tasty even if too hearty for my taste, and this place – though I obviously cannot vouch for authenticity – was cheap enough for me to try all the polish food that I wanted to try and so I recommend it. to be fair, most people at the other tables were polishing off bowls of soup with bread rolls and very few ordered the ‘big’ mains, whereas we had taken the plunge and done quite a few too many at once.