Almost everywhere you eat in Poland, you will come across a dish that might not be very welcome in Transylvania.
It might seem a pretty odd - and brave - choice (and one you'd probably venture only if you were planning on spending the rest of the day alone), but for those of you who do decide to dip your spoon into the aromatic broth, garlic soup in Poland is a creamy delight.
My first introduction to garlic soup was in Kazimierz - the old Jewish Quarter in Krakow whose forlorn squares and close lanes would seem oddly familiar to anyone who has watched Schindler's List. (The area at the time the film was made had been deserted and left to the city's more unsavoury elements, and while scouting for locations Spielberg felt it more closely resembled the conditions of the Podgorze ghetto of the 1940s, which in reality lies across the river from Kazimierz.)
Kazimierz was, however, the site of the forced exodus of Krakow's Jews, many of whom met their end at the hands of the Nazi's brutal killing machine.
But Kazimierz's heartbreaking past has given way to a more hopeful future. Today it is the centre of Krakow's hippest underground bar and restaurant scene (literally - as cellar venues are popular in Krakow). As most of the city's bar hoppers chose to stay ensconced inside those cozy, candlelit spaces rather than take to the chilly streets when I visited the area, I'd imagine it would be a lot livelier in the summer months.
But I digress. The reason I began talking about the area was the restaurant where I tasted this incredibly comforting soup - an evocative place called Once Upon a Time in Kazimierz (Dawno Temu na Kazimierzu) that recreates the spirit of the little family run stores that once kept this industrious old quarter alive.
Occupying the corner of one of Kazimierz's main squares, the restaurant is a higgledy-piggledy jumble of tailoring, carpentry and grocery store paraphernalia which, lit by candlelight, makes you feel like you were walking into someone else's life from long ago.
The restaurant, as depicted in its clever menu which is made to look like a community newspaper, furthers the story by describing the owners of these old shops - we weren't quite sure if the stories were real but it didn't really matter, the concept was an original and charming one.
The menu, unsurprisingly, was heavy on Jewish staples such as czulent - a hearty stew that to me tasted a bit like the Brazilian favourite feijoada (although I'd imagine beef rather than pork most certainly formed the meaty base). The other main was a fruity stew called cymes, which was sweet and richly flavoured and I could have gotten through a lot more of the stuff than I managed to steal off the other plate :)
But as good as the other dishes were, my favourite was a buttery liver pâté that was, for some reason, called Jewish caviar. I haven't been able to figure out why and I'd imagine living in Dubai I may not be in the best place to start making too many inquiries about Jewish food, but the dish intrigued me.
It was velvety smooth and seemed to be made almost entirely of chicken liver and butter (although recipes online seem to suggest there may be a few other ingredients involved). Whatever it was, I would happily pick it off a menu if I ever came across it again :)
Actually, come to think of it, I may actually try to recreate it at home. Although I might have to rename it if I ever decide to serve it in the UAE ;)
If anyone knows the origins of the dish's name, I'd love to know the story behind it.
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