Early Music and Modern Food at Kraków's Misteria Paschalia Festival
Kraków's not-to-be-missed Easter early music festival Misteria Paschalia, held this year from March 30 through April 5, offers a chance to combine peerless Baroque and Renaissance music with memorable food pairings. Pierogis, the versatile Polish dumplings, may seem a priori to lack the necessary gravitas to accompany Cipriano de Rore's Passion according to Saint John, but they turned out to be about right for the Huelgas Ensemble's mesmerizing rendition of that haunting mid-sixteenth-century composition. Farina, known for chef Monika Turasiewicz's skills with pasta, fish, and seafood, served a plate of delicate pierogis filled with cottage cheese and mashed potato, the kind known here as "Russian pierogis," at an early dinner (or late lunch) planned to fit the 8 p.m. concert time at Kraków's ornate baroque (and acoustically perfect) Saint Katherine of Alexandria church.
This year's edition of Misteria Paschalia, the twelfth, was the brainchild of the festival's founder and artistic director, Filip Berkowicz, who presented seven nights of the continent's finest early music performers in an anthology of European musical heritage from the Middle Ages, Renaissance, Baroque, and classical periods. "At a time of tensions and conflicts in Europe and globally," explained Berkowicz at the festival's inaugural press conference, "we hope to reach back to our common roots, from the Pyrenean pilgrim songs of the fourteenth-century Catalan Llibre Vermell to the eighteenth-century music of Bach, Handel, and Couperin."
Meanwhile, performers and early music aficionados alike had a plethora of dining opportunities all around town. Podgórze, the up-and-coming alternative to the increasingly over-discovered Kazimierz Jewish Quarter, begins with ZaKładka, just across the Bernatka footbridge that spans the Wisła (Vistula) river. This French bistro turns out an exciting variety of flavors and textures, from mussels cooked in shallots and white wine to frogs' legs in an almond and garlic sauce to a caramelized onion soup with a dollop of sour cream, while the wine list includes offerings from all over Europe.
Farther across Podgórze in Zabłocie is Studio Twój Kucharz, an experimental kitchen-restaurant run by four chefs who collaborate and take turns elaborating menus with starters such as smoked leek, cauliflower mousse, eco egg sous-vide, cucumber, dijon mustard, and almond and scallops with sauerkraut, red orange, curry, and scorzonera [salsify]. With wine pairings selected by the chefs accompanying each dish, a meal at Studio, located out behind the Schindler factory on the eastern edge of the city, is an adventure.
On Saturday and Sunday mornings, Kraków's old railway station becomes a bustling market and breakfast venue with stands and tables spread out under the lofty ceilings of the nineteenth-century train terminal.
And for those looking for authentic Kraków home cooking, there is a new movement afoot called EatAway with Locals, which offers a chance to have a typical Krakovian meal in an amateur chef's home at ridiculously low prices (about $12 a head). On a recent evening in the Kraków's western Salwator neighborhood, Marta Firlet Bradshaw received two congenial Basque families from Bilbao, Spain, as well as guests from Barcelona at her long kitchen table and served up a three-course feast of beetroot soup, goulasch stew with potato pancakes, and apple tart with homemade vanilla ice cream.
There are many other noteworthy restaurants for hungry music lovers: Try Ramen Girl of Yellow Dog, a noodle bar with unusual (for Kraków) ingredients such as bok choy, edamame, and kale. Zazie, a real French bistro, serves straight-up French cuisine. Resto Illuminati, near the main market square, offers carefully prepared and elegantly served eclectic cuisine ranging from duck breast to braised chicken salad. Live piano performances of Bach, Beethoven, and Mozart, with snatches of Cole Porter as well, provide the icing on the cake.
Finally, food truck square in św. Wawrzyńca st. (Kazimierz) is all the rage in Kraków these days: an ever-changing variety of trucks and buses serving everything from soup and sausages to fish and chips.