The dichotomy of historic, traditional Kraków in Communist Poland must have been laughable, even ridiculous. Rather than being modelled on typical communist towns with flat roofed cement blocks of apartments; non-descript offices; monochrome department stores and bland government buildings it was, instead, a beautifully preserved, unique medieval jewel.
Even the Nazis left it alone as it was built on an ancient Teutonic market route and, therefore, believed it to be an historic German stadt. Covered in snow, it is truly magical. Horse-drawn sleighs, cathedrals and churches, ancient universities and a hill-top castle are all crammed into 5 ½ km2 of rare, historic grandeur.
These days Polish culture, particularly in Kraków, has been emerging from communism with aplomb. There are many authentic restaurants with excellent food worth experiencing here and boutique hotels are getting in the act as well.
Opened in 1947, the Kogel mogel Restaurant advertises itself as a socialist restaurant. It certainly would have been nationalised during the Communist reign and its website states it is still proud to serve peasants, farmers and progressive intellectuals! Kogel mogel is in the city centre around the corner from the historic market square and St Mary’s Basilica, one of the most gorgeous baroque churches in Poland – or anywhere. On entering this traditional establishment, bright red ornaments are juxtaposed with pale wood walls, furniture and flooring. Heavy curtains, chandeliers dripping with red flowers (rather than producing light) and red lamps all add to the inviting ambience.
At Kogel mogel, guests experience Polish cuisine at its best. Be ready for lots of flavoured vodkas (vodka was invented in Poland) or, if that is not your tipple of choice, there is a respectable selection of beers and spirits. There is also a decent house wine. Rich meats, dumplings and a few oddities such as grilled black pudding are all on the menu.
For our appetiser, I tried the herring with apple which was delicious. Goose liver (fois gras) in puff pastry was also on offer, but I decline fois gras these days as a matter of principle. The next course; white borsch soup with mashed potatoes and dried mushrooms, was tasty and filling. But the main course of polish delicacies is a real feast: grilled pork ribs, crispy bacon, pork knuckle, grilled juniper sausage, white polish sausage and turkey breast with garlic sauce, cranberry sauce, mustard and horseradish as garnish. Side courses of fried cabbage, grits with scallions and roast potatoes with herbs round things off.
Perhaps rather stodgy fare but, let’s face it, this is what they do well in this part of the world. It was all finished off with the house dessert: Kogel mogel with strawberries. Divine.