Last week, my family and I flew to Poland to attend the Jewish Culture Festival in Krakow. Now in its 26th year, the festival brings together thousands of musicians, artists and fans from around the city and globe to explore Krakow’s storied — and largely lost — Jewish past, and celebrate with more than a week of vibrant cultural events and concerts centered in the old (and now exceedingly hip) Jewish neighborhood, Kazimierz.
I was there to lead several modern Jewish cooking workshops. I also hosted a pop-up Shabbat dinner for 50 in a former synagogue space that had been forcibly vacated during World War II.
I was also there, of course, to eat. While in Krakow, we feasted on implausibly delicate pierogis filled with potato and mountain cheese, chanterelle mushrooms and hunks of plum sautéed in cinnamon butter. We slurped refreshing bowls of chlodnik, a chilled, buttermilk or kefir-enriched beetroot soup that is a close cousin of borscht. And we braved the notoriously long line and brusque service at Krakow’s best ice cream store for scoops of coffee and wild strawberry. But, as with just about anywhere I travel, I found breakfast in Poland to be the most memorable meal of the day.
Most mornings, our breakfast — or rather first breakfast — started with the market. Our hotel was just a few blocks from the farmer’s market at Plac Nowy, a public square that once housed Kazimierz’s kosher poultry slaughterhouse. While hardly the largest or most beloved of Krakow’s fruit and vegetable markets (that title likely belongs to the Kleparz), it was brimming with summer fruit like tiny wild strawberries and blueberries, cherries, fresh red and white currants and juicy gooseberries. In the afternoons, I would pick up a container or two of berries, and when our toddler woke up the next morning we would picnic on the hotel room floor.
Our second breakfast was a bit more civilized. Like in Israel, the morning meal in Poland is centered around vegetables, cheeses and good bread. The spread at our hotel’s cafe included tiny pickled pattypan squash, ruby tomato slices and creamy deviled eggs sprinkled with chives. Arranged on toast with a few slices of cheese (we skipped the cold cuts and kielbasa!), we enjoyed kanapki, open-faced sandwiches that are the heart of traditional Polish breakfast.
One morning, thanks to our lingering jet lag, we woke up too late for the hotel breakfast. Not quite ready for pierogis, we headed to Cheder, the café run by the Festival. Opened in a former bet midrash, Jewish house of learning, the café hosts year-round events and features an Israeli-inspired menu including yogurt parfaits topped with tahini, silan (Middle Eastern date syrup), and dried figs and nuts. The parfaits are served with slices of pillowy, lightly sweet Polish-style challah, which is eaten as a breakfast bread throughout the country. Rich, filling and bright, it was the perfect way to start the day with both the flavor of history and an eye towards the future.
Leah Koenig is a contributing editor at the Forward and author of “Modern Jewish Cooking: Recipes & Customs for Today’s Kitchen,” Chronicle Books (2015).