Category Archives: FOOD AND DRINK

The New Taste in Town – Closing Down

I’ve got a great idea for a new restaurant. It’s going to be a fusion experiment, a Caribbean-Lebanese-Indian mix. The decor will be flash and luxurious, with wall-to-wall Persian rugs, sitar music piped in and there will be light displays to dazzle even the most world-weary. The cuisine will be fresh, innovative and tasty. And yet… it will probably be out of business within 9 months.

In the three years that I have lived in Poland, I have noticed a theme which is developing when considering restaurants. There seem to be two options when it comes to eat-out cuisine in Poland, option A being Polish-Italian options, either individually or together, while option B covers most other types of food. The pattern I have noticed is that if there are interesting options available with the B grouping, they tend to close quite quickly and go out of business. A few examples I have seen personally are listed below:

Bye-bye Thai

There once was a Thai restaurant quite close to the centre of Kraków. It had great food, cheap prices and a simple style. It even had a clever memorable name – Thaisty, although it could be argued if enough people would be able to ‘get’ the name. With people of Thai nationality working there, there was an authenticity in the menu, while it’s location allowed a steady clientele of students and other passers-by. And then in the blink of an eye, it had closed down leaving an empty shell behind.

Thai-Lite

A friend of mine recommended another Thai restaurant about 6 months ago. All signs were promising – while being located in a small building meaning there were few chairs and tables within, it also gave a cosy feel and allowed for the possibility to be close enough to see the food being prepared. As with the previous Thai restaurant, there were Thai nationals working there, with signs that the Polish owner was married to a Thai woman. During my first visit there, I could see the owner preparing the food behind the counter, while consulting with Thai employees as to how spicy the food should be. However, that seemed to be the high point – since then the depth of the menu has shrunken massively. Originally, there was a huge variety of dishes with various levels of spiciness and ingenuity involved. However, this has since adapted, possibly to meet the demands of Polish taste buds. The menu now is much simpler with less available. It seems like it will be only be a matter of time before pizza, pasta and pierogi are introduced to the menu.

Back to Bombay

Indian cuisine is naturally prevalent in the British Isles and rightly popular as a result. However, once the white cliffs of Dover fade from view, Indian food tends to be a bit more difficult to find. Thus, it was a pleasant surprise to find a newly opened Indian restaurant within one of the underground caverns under Kraków’s streets. My first visit was on New Years Eve a few hours before the clock hit midnight. With a number of Indian waiters serving and offering us their best champagne, the service was excellent. I also found it was a recommendation of sorts to find an Indian family also eating there. The mango lassi drinks were refreshing and the curry I ordered tasted great. The first visit lead to a second and third. Then I returned the recommendation to my friend (mentioned earlier) and he called to make a reservation, only to find that they had closed for refurbishment “for an indefinite period”. It has since not reopened in the 4 months since getting that message.

Warsaw Wah-wah

The final occurrence which summarised my concern of such restaurants closing was during a visit to Warsaw a few months ago. Having seen many words of praise for the Fish and Chips restaurant in Warsaw, including on Wa-wa Jeziorki, I resolved to make a visit myself. However, it was further disappointment, as it turned out that the restaurant had closed, at least to the general public, as there seemed to be some wholesale options available. But it meant that I could not get to sample the best of British.

During this visit, I also had a short trip around town with Ian, and he showed one or two restaurant options, including Butchery & Wine, and some sushi options. It was telling though that he recommended an Asian restaurant called Lemongrass and as we drove by he realised that it too had closed, and even had a letter missing from the wording across the signage.

The End – Closing Down

I have taken it upon myself to work on visiting restaurants which are interesting and new, and as well as trying to make recommendations to friends and acquaintances, also inviting them along. I guess that many restaurants over-stretch and aim too big initially, leading to losses they cannot recover from. Supposedly, 30% of business fail within the first year, with 80% of small and medium businesses folding within 5 years. The restaurant industry can be notoriously difficult to break into (unless your surname is Gessler), so I guess further failure is to be expected. We can only hope further taste options will pop up to replace them.

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Concerns over sanitary standards in Kraków’s oriental bars

Sanepid, the institution protecting sanitary conditions, informed yesterday about results of an inspection that was carried in 40 Kraków’s oriental fast-food bars. Half of the establishments have failed to fulfill basic standards: inspectors encountered general mess and filth, serious malpractices in food storage, and bad waste management.

One of the bars was found to constitute an immediate public health hazard, and has been closed. It will be able to reopen, after having complied with inspectors demands.

Inquired by the journalists about the gossip: Sanepid officials assure the public, however, that no pigeon, dog or cat meat was found in any of the establishments.

Having learned that, every dog and cat in Kraków may now feel relieved and resume with their everyday business.

Meow, said a local cat

'Meow,' said a local cat

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My Little Polish Shop of Horrors

Whining about Polish customer service is a Polandian tradition, and what better time to indulge than our first birthday.

My local shop, conveniently situated about 100 meters from the front door of my building, has a lot of points in its favor. It sells about 50 percent of the things one might normally need, the roof doesn’t leak, and it’s open 24 hours a day. I really have nothing against my local mini-market. The majority of the employees are angelic and entirely capable of handling the worst that mass-market tourism can throw at them. I’ve often witnessed the till girls coping with semi-paralytic British tourists trying to buy “some kind of Polish vodka.” But for every angel there must be a demon. About a third of the staff are made up of hard-core old-school Polish sklepowa. These Evil Till Ladies have a multitude of tricks up their sleeves.

The basket caper

Simply bringing you laden basket to the cash register is not enough. While most till jockeys can cope with the idea that they might have to lean over and move items up to the scanning device one at a time the old guard are far from convinced that this is a reasonable expenditure of their time. Evil Till Lady demands that items be handed to her one at a time. Lining things up on the counter will not be tolerated, it’s just far too confusing. Evil Till Lady will replace the items she has scanned at random locations on the counter more or less guaranteeing you will hand her the same item at least twice. Having paid for most of your shopping multiple times you are free to leave with only a withering glance and a radically lightened wallet.

The misplaced-decimal ruse

On the frequent occasions when the scanner doesn’t work Evil Till Lady will attempt to enter the product code and price by hand. At this point the customer is clearly doomed, but it’s worth hanging on to witness the full horror of the situation. Completely failing to enter decimal points is a favorite ruse. Attempting to purchase a bag of frozen fish, a jar or mayonnaise, and a KitKat the following conversation took place:

Evil Lady: That’s 2,234 zloty.
Me: 2,234 zloty! Isn’t that a little expensive?
Evil Lady: What?
Me: 2,234 zloty. Isn’t that quite a lot for some fish, mayonnaise, and a chocolate bar?
Evil Lady: Well, that’s what it says.
Me: Perhaps you entered the wrong price.
Evil Lady: Well why didn’t you tell me!!
Me: I’m terribly sorry but I assumed you knew what the hell you were doing.
Evil Lady: Idiot.

The blindness dodge

I wouldn’t believe this if I hadn’t seen it, several times.

Evil Lady: The scanner is broken and I don’t have my glasses. Read the barcode for me.
Customer: Errm.
Evil Lady: Come on read it! You are young, I am old.
Customer: The whole thing?
Evil Lady: Yes the whole thing, are you an idiot?
Customer: Errm, ok. 54449 67777 7888 9332…
Evil Lady: What?
Customer: Errm…
Evil Lady: Again! Read it again. We have 14 items here, what are you waiting for?!

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Public drinking – why not?

This is the Beatroot’s second visit to Polandian. This time he’s brought along his very own extra-large coffee mug to “save us the washing up.” We’ll be counting the spoons after he’s gone.

Ah, the perfect Polish picnic. Sitting with the girlfriend and dog by the pond in our local park on a warm, early summer’s day. In the picnic basket: cold cuts of meat, salad, sandwiches, a hard boiled egg…or two! And then the girlfriend gets out the tulip shaped glasses and I pop the cork of the gently chilled Spanish kava.

Pop!

Actually, that pop just brought me back to consciousness. The last bit about popping the bubbly, of course, was a dream. Because I could get nicked in Poland by the cops for drinking alcohol in public, if I did.

I have seen police here, harass all those who drink in public. No exceptions. They don’t seem to differentiate between drunken yobbies getting aggressive in public places, from the calm family picnic with wine, or students eking out the last of the six pack. That’s because the law does not differentiate, either. It’s just a pissed law, if ever there was one.

So many people put whatever alcohol they have in thermos flasks. But you can’t really do that with Spanish bubbly, can you? That would turn it into an Improvised Explosive Device, very much like what the Taliban are using against Pole and Brit Corp in Afghanistan.

Boris the Twit?
Last month, Londoners elected the goofy Boris Johnson to the mayoral office. While a journalist, he was slightly in the direction of libertarian. But, once in office, the first thing he does is ban alcohol on the London Underground. No booze tubes allowed in Tube. Shock!

But…how many people do you know go out on the town to have a drink on the metro? How many times does someone ring you up and say: “How about coming out for a drink? No, not the King’s Head, the Circle Line!”

I mean, it just doesn’t happen. It’s a minority pursuit. People who regularly drink on metros are usually having an animated conversation with themselves about the art of Bog Snorkelling.

So I was glad that last night in London – the last night before the ban – what seemed like thousands of people did just that. They went out for a party on the circle line. CNN reports that:

Eyewitnesses have described how some drunken partygoers, often dressed in fancy dress, fought, damaged subway trains and vomited.

A little unpleasant, but I think Boris the Mayor deserved it. Twit. But what could they do if we, in Poland, had a mass drink – in, er…out? Al fresco Alcohol Day, to reclaim the streets, and parks, from the authorities, who think that each and everyone of us is a rampaging thug-in-waiting, unleashed as soon as he has consumed half a bottle of wine, in a park in Warsaw, on a lovely summer’s day, like today.

I drink to your health with a glass of Fanta. Cheers!

Uwaga – CNN link here!

The Beatroot is the author of The Beatroot (if you can get your head around that concept) a blog about Polish politics, current affairs and, occasionally, root vegetables.

Eating out for cheapskates in Kraków: Part I, Soup Festival

Kraków soup festival happens once a year, towards the end of May (Sunday 25 this year). I had trouble finding anything about it in English on the internet, so I thought it could do with a mention here. After all, even Anglophones should have equal opportunities to access free food. Soup for all I say!

The soup festival takes place in late May and it is based in the Kazimierz area of Kraków (the old Jewish Quarter, for those of you who aren’t in the know), and the basic idea is that lots of restaurants and cafes produce their own special recipe soup and compete to win the golden spoon. This year’s winner was a cool watermelon and mint concoction from a restaurant named “Tesoro del Mar”.

Meanwhile, everyone queues up in Plac Nowy for soup served from old military tanks while Kabaret distracts them from the art of keeping soup in bowl and on spoon. Cue soup slopped on ties everywhere.

This is what I wrote about the event on Pinolona last year:

On Saturday afternoon I went to Plac Nowy for a taste of Eastern bloc life in the soup queues at the Kazimierz soup festival. The soup stands themselves were hidden by the crowds, so I (rather foolishly) went with mob rule and planted myself at the end of the longest queue. As I had already discovered at the pharmacy, queueing here is an entirely different sport. One person usually equals five plus a pushchair, and any amount of that indignant humphing- which characterises the stereotypical British single-file version- will go unnoticed.

After about half an hour, I managed to procure myself a bowl of (actually delicious) thick, yellow soup.

Queuing was an easy game compared to the task of finding an empty space at a trestle table without slopping any soup out of the flimsy plastic dish it was served in.

An interesting weekend altogether. I may not have achieved total cultural enlightenment, but I got free food, which is the second quest the eternal student.

This year I thought I’d get smart and avoid the queues by targeting one of the outlying cafes in the vicinity of Plac Nowy.

No dice. No sooner did I reach the end of Wąska when I was faced with a mass of people lined (in the loosest sense of the world) up outside Fabryka Pizzy. I would have gone further in my search, but the pizza smell was too much for me. Plus you get a free stick of warm pizza dough with the soup… it’s virtually like eating a pizza but cheating on the health side of things because everyone knows soup is a diet food.

After around twenty minutes (of eavesdropping on the girl students behind me and trying to surreptitiously take photos without anyone noticing and taking objection) in the queue, Fabryka Pizzy served up a fetching two-tone pea and tomato krem (thick puree-like soup) and a warm stick of pizza dough to mop it up with. Mmm, pizza dough…

soupy carnage

The things we do for free food.

Buying powdered soup and passing it off as your own is cheating and Polandian would never condone this behaviour.