My Memories of Krakow: the Heart of Polish Culture and Cuisine

susanna 4
Wonderful smoked cheese, oscypek

Suzanna Fatyan │susanna202001@yahoo.com

In the spring of 2006, I was accepted to the MA Euroculture programme in Poland. Childhood memories suddenly took over me: my Mom playing Chopin – ballad, nocturne, waltz and mazurek (mazurka). Music filling the house. A lovely cake with a similar name, full of walnuts and raisins baked by my Granny. This specialty, consonant with Polish dance, is an integral part of Polish cuisine. These memories are my first links to Poland. The flavour and fragrance of the cake turned the music of Chopin from a subject of aesthetic addiction into an integral part of home warmth and comfort. Amusingly, other memories are also connected to those gustatory and odoristic aspects. I remember the taste of Polish strawberry jam and oatmeal biscuits, szarlotka, trickled pastries and other Polish dishes. Our grandmothers knew how to cook them because, due to similarity of circumstances, they appeared in Uzbekistan together with Poles. We have bright sun, generous nature, and an abundance of fruits, vegetables and berries. For that reason, wonderful fruit and berry aromas of Polish cosmetics, popular in our country, felt close and familiar.

 “I remember the taste of Polish strawberry jam and oatmeal biscuits, szarlotka, trickled pastries and other Polish dishes. Our grandmothers knew how to cook them…”

My childhood memories about Poland are fragmentary, chaotic, irregular. Books on the shelves: Adam Mickiewicz, Henryk Sienkiewicz, Jerzy Stawiński, and brilliant aphorisms of Jerzy Lec. I remember the movies of Andrzej Wajda, fine faces of Polish actors, perfect beauty of actresses: Beata Tyszkiewicz, Ewa Szykulska, Barbara Brylska with delicacy, culture and healthy dignity always impressive in their characters. Incidentally, these features carried to the point of absurdity had frightened us in Russian operas where Poles were portrayed as vain, arrogant people.

Besides Chopin, Poland has other famous brands, reflecting the scope and depth of the scientific, artistic and spiritual potential of the Polish nation. Copernicus, John Paul II, Krzysztof Penderecki:  graduates and honorary doctors of Krakow’s Jagiellonian University which supplement the city’s list of brands. And this was the university where I was going to be studying.

“Krakow…Copernicus, John Paul II, Krzysztof Penderecki:  graduates and honorary doctors of Jagiellonian University which supplement the city’s list of brands.”

The childish joy I experienced through my acquaintance with Poland is hugely strengthened in Polish restaurants, delicious food distributed by someone’s generous hand in open air cafes. The hospitality, warmth and generosity of Polish people make you feel as if you are surrounded by your closest relatives.

Wonderful Polish homemade food

Homemade Polish food
Homemade Polish food

“Living in Poland, be prepared to gain extra weight.”

In Poland, you are invited to homes, you are surrounded with care and love every minute. For that reason, it doesn’t take long until you perceive Poland as your second home and get excited every time you hear a Polish word uttered.

Pierogi
Pierogi

Living in Poland, be prepared to gain extra weight. Hanging out with friends is intrinsically combined with delicious café experiences. And in Krakow it becomes an addiction. Probably, the most famous Polish specialty worldwide is pierogi (variation of dumplings). These yummy stuffed pies amaze you not only with their number of fillings like mushrooms, buckwheat, berries, strawberries … but also colours. I have never tried such beautiful and colourful pierogi in all my life! Polish soups are also a special part of the menu. The most traditional and remarkable to me is zurek, which is usually served in freshly baked bread. This rather substantial combo often turns out to be your meal of the day!

Kawa coffee
Kawa coffee

If you are in Krakow for Tłusty Czwartek (Fat Thursday), you will have the chance to try fabulous local donuts, pączki, filled with rose petal jam. Once again, a return to childhood! My Granny made rose petal jam as our garden was full of roses! The best place for pączki is Rynek Główny (Main Market Square), where the largest number of donuts is distributed. You are too late? Don’t worry! You can try this dessert in one of Krakow’s numerous coffee houses along with excellent hot chocolate, kawa (coffee)  or herbata (tea). The selection of herbata will surely amaze your imagination. It may contain all types of berries, herbs and even flowers from local forests. It was in Poland that I tried blueberries for the first time, and they immediately became one of my favourite berries. In Krakow, you buy berries, fruits and vegetables not only in shopping malls but also from farmers’ markets (in Uzbekistan we know them as bazaars). For that reason, food in Poland has a wonderful taste that you always think about. While travelling between cities of Poland you can admire the beautiful farms that produce the food you can then enjoy.

“Poland is famous for its desserts…Also, amazingly, the Poles even add poppy seeds to pasta!”

Poland is famous for its desserts, especially szarlotka, sernik (cheesecake) and makowiec (pastry with poppy seeds). Amazingly, the Poles even add poppy seeds to pasta! Even having lived in a warm country, I have never seen poppy seeds in such huge quantities as in Polish cookies. Szarlotka in Krakow is also worth trying! It seems quite unusual to me. First, it comes warm, while we serve it cold. Second, the apples were thinly sliced, while in my country we usually slice them in rather large pieces. It tasted fabulous, in candle light and accompanied with kawa!

kiełbasa
kiełbasa

Luckily, I also experienced winter time in Krakow, when I saw beautiful Christmas decorations and ate carp, kiełbasa (sausages) , several types of zapiekanka (bread roasted with mushrooms and cheese), wonderful smoked cheese (oscypek) with jam  as well as flavoured ginger breads. Don’t miss the local liquor based on honey, mied, along with Żubrówka (vodka with herbs), which are both are available in shops and restaurants.If you favour a vegetarian diet, bar sałatkowy (salad bar) Chimera at ul. Św. Anny 3 will be a true discovery for you, with the best choice of vegetable and fruit salads.

“Lastly, it is of crucial importance to know wonderful cafés…”

As a student, it is of crucial importance to know a wonderful café in the old part of town: Massolit at ul. Felicjanec 4. Massolit has a great choice of books in English which you can read in the café while sipping herbata. Books can be either bought or exchanged.

Several years have passed since I graduated from Jagiellonian University but the warmth and hospitality of the people, and the charm and ancient spirit of the city and university remain in my heart.

suzannaSuzanna Fatyan, Contributing writer

Suzanna is from a city of Oriental fairy tales – Samarkand in Uzbekistan. She studied English language and literature in Samarkand State Institute of Foreign Languages for BA. In 2008, Suzanna graduated MA Euroculture from Jagiellonian University in Krakow and Deusto University, San Sebastian. Suzanna works as tour guide in Samarkand, writes blog for Uzbek Journeys in Australia and travels as much as possible.

Italian cuisine for dummies

Italian cuisine complete

Laura Marchetti│laura-marchetti@live.it

I’m not really fond of cooking. Don’t get me wrong, nobody likes eating more than I do! I just hate the preparation process. And being an Italian abroad doesn’t really help, as people usually have high expectations of my cooking skills.

For this reason, during the past couple of years, I have collected a few traditional and easy-peasy recipes that are perfect for a lazy person like me, who sometimes feels the pressure to fulfil a certain national stereotype.

Antipasto

Bruschette (pronounced [bruskette])

Ingredients:

  • Sliced bread
  • Tomatoes
  • 1 or 2 cloves of garlic
  • Oil, salt and basil

Given the fact that this is an easy and quick-to-prepare appetizer, I do not find it necessary to specify the quantities. Just go with the flow.

Preparation:

Toast the bread. Cut the tomatoes into small cubes, finely chop the garlic; add oil, salt and basil and mix everything in a bowl. Spread on the toast.

Only now, while writing down the recipe, I realise how incredibly simple this is. If I can do it, so can you!

BRUSCHETTE
BRUSCHETTE

Primo Piatto

Spaghetti alla carbonara

Ingredients (4 portions):

  • 350-400grams spaghetti
  • 150grams non-smoked pig’s cheek bacon (in Italian: guanciale) – just to be meticulous, this is what the original recipe requires. However, it might be a bit hard to find it outside Italy. In this case, you can either use smoked steamed pancetta or usual bacon (but don’t say it to any Italian chef – they’ll probably be horrified as the “real” carbonara is made with “real” guanciale. Oh, whatever…)
  • 100grams sheep’s milk cheese (in Italian: pecorino) – this might be hard and expensive to find it outside Italy. If this is the case, use Parmesan cheese instead (and again, don’t mention it to any Italian chef…!).
  • 5 eggs – the trick for the amount is very simple: one egg for each portion, plus one for the pot. In this case, cooking for a party of 4, you will need 5 eggs: 4 people + 1 pot, high-level calculation!
  • Black pepper

End of the ingredients. That’s it, nothing more. No onions and, for my grandma’s sake, no cream! Grazie.

Preparation:

While cooking the pasta in abundant, salted water, cut the guanciale into cubes and fry it in a pan until crispy (there is no need to add oil or butter as it will cook in its own fat – mmm, greasy!).

In a bowl whip 4 egg yolks and 1 whole egg, add cheese and pepper, and finally add the fried guanciale.

Once the pasta is ready, put it in the bowl and mix with the egg-cheese-pepper mixture. And here is the essential part that usually, in my personal experience, disgust non-Italians: the eggs must not be cooked! Yes, we eat raw eggs in Italy, so what?!

SPAGHETTI ALLA CARBONARA
SPAGHETTI ALLA CARBONARA

Dessert

Tiramisu

NB: this dessert should be prepared the day before being served and kept in the fridge.

Ingredients:

  • 250 grams mascarpone
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 spoons of sugar
  • Ladyfingers (a.k.a. Savoiardi – Italian biscuits)
  • A couple cups of coffee (espresso would be best)

Preparation:

In a bowl mix the mascarpone and sugar. Separate the egg yolks and egg whites, but keep both! Add the 2 yolks to the mascarpone and mix again until uniform.

In another bowl whip the egg whites (with an electric mixer: do you remember? I am a lazy person!). Once done, add the whipped egg whites to the mixture of mascarpone and gently amalgamate.

Quickly dip the ladyfingers in the coffee and arrange in a layer on the bottom of a pan. Just make sure that the ladyfingers don’t soak up too much coffee and get too moist. Spread half of the mascarpone mixture on top of the layer of ladyfingers. Repeat everything with a second layer of dipped ladyfingers and the remaining mixture. At the end, add a third layer of dipped ladyfingers and cover it with cocoa powder.

TIRAMISU
TIRAMISU

And, there you go! A quick and easy Italian dinner that you can prepare for a casual gathering, or if you want to demonstrate your Mediterranean cooking abilities.

A word of advice: if you want to combine the dishes with a beverage, I would suggest a dry white wine – from Italy, of course!

(Sources of photos used in the article)

First photo: http://www.cucchiaio.it/ricette/ricetta-bruschetta-pomodoro

Second photo: http://www.sapereonline.net/come-fare-la-pasta-alla-carbonara/

Third photo: http://ricette.pourfemme.it/articolo/ricette-dolci-tiramisu-con-i-pan-di-stelle/9075/

laura profileLaura Marchetti, Contributing Writer

Born in Italy, Laura fell in love with and lived in the UK as a teenager. Then, she turned her interest in Britain into broader passion for traveling and discovering. She holds a BA degree in European languages and cultures from the University of Modena and Reggio Emilia, with a year as an Erasmus student in the lovely city of Gothenburg, Sweden. She started the MA Euroculture in September 2012 at the University of Groningen and is currently overcoming her shyness with the French language in Strasbourg. Her interests lie in cultures, sociolinguistics and ethnology, sociology and gender studies. She is particularly fascinated by the phenomena of nations and nationalism, stereotypes and… the human brain! Lazy and feminist at heart, Laura misses skiing and her dog, who is waiting for her in Italy.

Food vs. Life

ATKA ATUN | atka_brozek@yahoo.com

Since my pre-teens I’ve gone through obesity, bulimia, being overweight, being underweight, reaching my perfect BMI, and being overweight again. I guess I can honestly say that my relationship with food is long, complicated and sometimes toxic. Being a good Polish woman I still love food and will stay with it forever.

After a semester in Strasbourg, France, I came back home to discover that I had not only gained eight extra kilos but also, according to my doctor, was ten kilos overweight. Numbers are brutal, I can tell you, especially when your relationship with food seemed to be the perfect one. On that day, I promised myself to answer an eternal question: is it possible to have a good and healthy relationship with food without going crazy?

For some people, rules are simple: eating 4-5 times a day; eating fruit and vegetables 4-5 times a day; eating only seasonal food; quitting salt, simple sugars, pork, trans fats, processed foods and, yes, restaurants because you always have to know what you eat. You should not forget to drink at least 2 litres of mineral water every day, but never more than 3 or 4. I found myself in quite a situation while trying to ‘quit’ water. Apparently, my daily 6 litres is nowadays known as ‘aqua-holism’ and to put it simply: makes you look puffier and troubles your overwhelmed kidneys. Speaking of drinking, consumption of alcohol should be minimized to 200ml of wine per day for women and 300ml for men (unfortunately, days of abstinence do not count as an extra 200 or 300ml on a Saturday!). Other kinds of alcohol are not even considered as part of a healthy diet, which I find weird since the same amount of beer daily is a well-known medicine for purifying the kidneys.

I read all these rules and thought that a relationship like that must suck, and hard! First of all, no cuisine in the world can ever exist without salt. Secondly, eating 4 times a day, not to mention 5, is hard enough without being forced to eat 4 strawberries after each meal. Why? Because diet specialists also strengthen the fact that we should eat no more than 200g of fruit per day, split in fours or fives. Thirdly, no one ever made a good, even homemade, pizza on full grained flour. Believe me, I have tried and it was bad. Fourth, how can you study without eating out? I know some people are able to carry their homemade food around but not all of us have the time, energy or skills to prepare their meals as healthy take-out. Nevertheless, I myself am not a big fan of pork, trans-fats or processed foods which are obviously dangerous to our health, so these rules are do-able for me.

But let’s go back to my semester in Strasbourg. I would be lying if I said that I didn’t plan to indulge myself in France. I love cooking and the amount of products, cook books, and cuisines in Alsace is surreal in comparison to Kraków; and something I had to take advantage of. I was not scared since I had read a fabulous bestselling book, “French Women Don’t Get Fat” by Mireille Guiliano, and knew the nation’s secrets to maintaining a good figure. These rules can be summarized as follows: eat only three times a day, eat as tiny portions as possible (seriously, they can be really good as miniature meals), do not eat junk food, drink a lot of water and no more than two glasses of wine as your only alcohol and never without food. To me, it sounded like enjoying life!

But in Strasbourg there are macaroons…and lots of them. Every single pastry shop has its own secret flavours and you can choose between rose, mint, white and dark chocolate, blackberry, honey and so on. Not to mention the classic – Pierre Herme – that you can visit at Galeries Lafayette that sells ketchup, truffles, fois gras and other crazy macaroon flavours (2,90euro/piece) that seriously can change your views on life itself. Amazing Christian offers all sorts of flavours and sizes, although in that place it is best to try their hand-made chocolates. Naegel, that you will fall in love with after trying its famous Alsatian tartlette with pork, also offers some mind-blowing king-size macaroons (loving their cassis and rose giants). So it goes, like Kurt Vonnegut likes to say, all for “doing it like French women do – enjoy and be skinny”.

Three months after coming back home overweight, I have tried to be: indifferent towards my figure; to be a non-social, carrot-licking zombie chasing vegetables and fruit  5 times a day (with nowhere to go but Heaven); and finally, I have tried to be both. Once or twice a week I have some dark chocolate with earl grey leaves, a family bag of salty chips or a pack of salty sunflower seeds – because I love it. Now, I only add salt when it’s necessary and try using other spices to pump up the flavours. Two glasses of wine seem reasonable, because it’s good to be up the next day. When I have money I go to have some food at my favourite French bistro. After a month of being on both sides of the force I have lost three kilos.

Is my relationship with food perfect? No. Nevertheless, it’s the only one I can live with without going crazy and most of all – the only one that makes me human.

ATKA ATUN, Literature Editor

Atka is from Poland and completed her studies in linguistics with a specialization in intercultural communication. She has studied in Krakow,
Paris, and Strasbourg, and is currently doing a research track in Japan. Atka has been researching Japanese literature and the influence of minority cuisines on those of ‘host’ countries. She carries her dog around wherever she goes, and eats way too much weird food.