Call me presumptuous in my skipping of Switzerland and Germany, but here’s a nice surprise for you all – you’ll be hearing a whole lot more about Germany in coming months. I shall say no more. It is for this reason that I’m skipping Switzerland and Germany, whose cuisines are essentially very similar. The only thing the Swiss really hold over the Germans’ heads is Roesti (which I didn’t even get to try) Raclette and Swiss chocolate.
But enough of the kraut-eaters, we’re moving over to the Eastern Bloc, to the beatroot eaters!
Far from being a scary, the Eastern Bloc is a fantastic place for a foody – things are cheap and food is mysterious! I simply love playing guessing games at meal time, and it’s always a surprise as to what exactly is going to land up on your plate as dinner. I didn't say it was always a nice surprise.
First food stop was Krakow, Poland. Or to be more precise, somewhere in northern Poland, for we first tasted Polish cuisine on our 15 hour train journey from Wurzburg to Krakow via Berlin and Warsaw. All I can say is thank goodness for picture menus; saviours of non-polish-speakers everywhere. My meal was pretty safe – a chicken piadina. Mr von Strudel ventured out to try Polish dumplings, or pierogi. Pierogi were soon to become our friends. A mix between
dirty dumplings from Camy Shanghai Dumpling house, and ravioli, Mr von S had ‘russian’ pierogi, with a filling of potato and cheese. These pierogi almost tasted more like gnocci than anything else, and were rather ‘wet’ i.e. not drained properly. When eating in a train carriage in the middle of the Polish country-side, I would say that the hungry cannot be fussy. Despite being a bit bland, the pierogi were served with sautéed onions which adds a nice something-something to this texturally-pleasing meal.
I’m not sure if it’s come across much here on this blog, but for me, eating encompasses much more than the usual senses. For me, eating is as much about the texture of food as it is about the taste and the sight. This is why I’m not the biggest fan of prawns or fish. The texture just really throws me. Crab, lobster, Morton Bay Bugs etc are all great – the texture is more meat-like and thus more pleasing to my palate. Thus, while something may be quite plain or dull in a taste sense, if the texture is awesome, I might just love it. Plus, there’s always salt.
We managed to get only one other sitting of pierogi in while we were in Poland and the second time around, they were fabulous.
Starting our meal with a bone-defrosting cream of broccoli soup (it was raining and about five degrees outside) russian pierogi floated to us on UFO shaped dishes, merrily dancing around a puff of creme freche, crowned with alphalpfa sprouts. One by one, the pierogi were devoured. There was silence for a good couple of minutes, broken by yours truely with some comment or other about deliciousness or a groan of enjoyment, I cannot remember which in my pierogi-induced haze. I had seen potential in those dining cart pierogi, I had believed that that little dumpling could achieve great things. And, my friends, that potenital was realised in a little cafe in the old Jewish quarter in Krakow. It was a happy moment.
If I could have squeezed in another couple of sittings of pierogi consumption, I surely would have. Instead, we ate dinner three nights in a row at the conveniently located wood-fired pizza place around the corner from our hostel. While not necessarily Polish, the pizzas were damn good. Not pierogi good, but close(ish).
My final thought, memory, recommendation to anyone venturing to Poland: do yourself a favour and order a hot chocolate for dessert. Do not order a hot chocolate AND dessert, that would be a mistake. I managed two such 'beverages' which I ate - yes, ate - spoonful by delicious spoonful. Those Poles like their hot chocolate a THICK, bordering on pudding consistency, and it turns out, so do I!
So, phoenetically speaking, jenkooya Poland, for a very enjoyable couple of meals.