If you are visiting the wonderful town of Krakow in Poland, you should also visit the historic Jewish quarter, called Kazimierz. The area was destroyed during World War II and in the communist era gradually fell into disrepair. Rediscovered in the 1990s, thanks to the fall of communism and worldwide exposure, as the place where the movie Shiedler’s List was filmed, Kazimierz has become a lively neighbourhood packed with historical sites, cafes and art galleries. In the heart of Kazimierz, at Plac Nowy, you will see an historic round building called Okraglak. The stalls here sell a Krakowian street food known as zapiekanka (plural zapiekanki).
Zapiekanka, also known as Polish pizza, is a baked open-face sandwich made of sliced bread. Zapiekanka first appeared in the streets of Polish towns in the 1970s. It was during that period that the communist authorities allowed a degree of private ownership in the food industry. This limited freedom led to the creation of small family-owned foodservice establishments, known in Polish as mała gastronomia (small gastronomy). They usually took the form of stands, travel trailers and food trucks serving zapiekanka along with simple dishes of Polish cuisine and American fast food favourites, like hot dogs, hamburgers and French fries.
The demand for zapiekanka fell with the changes in Polish economy in the 1990s, but remained on the menus of some of those small gastronomy venues that survived the competition with large American-style fast food chains. The most popular of them, which have also attained a cult following are the ones located in Plac Nowy. The most famous stall here is Endzior but the quality of zapiekanka from all the stalls is excellent. Today zapiekanka fame is once again spreading beyond the borders of Krakow throughout Poland and is once again becoming a popular street food.
A typical zapiekanka is made from one half of a baguette, or any other long roll of white bread, cut lengthwise. The bread is topped with cheese and sliced white mushrooms to form an open-face sandwich, which is then baked until the bread becomes crispy and the cheese melted. Gouda, edam or cheddar are the most commonly used cheeses, but also very popular is oscypek, a Polish smoked sheep milk cheese. The typical topping is tomato ketchup, splattered on the cheese in a generous amount. Three of the most common and popular combinations you could find are : “diablo” with bacon, pickled cucumbers and spicy sauce; “gypsy” with ham and sweet and sour sauce; “greek” with olives and feta cheese.
Next time you are in Krakow, be sure to try this unique local street food. We are sure that if you like pizza, you will find zapiekanka the best tasty alternative to it. But do not ask a local, because for the citizens of Krakow there is no such dilemma, zapiekanka is the best street food in the world. If you want to make zapiekanka at home, you could find useful information and the original recipe at eatingeuropean.com.
*[Photo at the top by Kateryna Kukota – iStock]