The fragrant Jerusalem herbs of hyssop, mint and sage. Chicken with a traditional Polish mushroom sauce. Elderberry syrup made from the fruit of the plant that grows across Poland.
These are among the enticing tastes and aromas beckoning visitors at the Krakow Jewish Culture Festival, a seven-day festival, through Sunday, July 2, that takes place in Kazimierz, the Jewish quarter of this splendid, cobblestoned medieval city. Now in its 27th year, the festival draws some 30,000 people — non-Jews and Jews — from around the world.
Over the last several decades, Jewish life in Krakow, destroyed during the genocidal Nazi occupation, has been undergoing a vibrant revitalization.
Known for its lively and diverse sounds of traditional and contemporary Jewish and Israeli music performed in old synagogues, clubs and other venues, the festival also offers an array of Jewish culinary programs.
Sabina Francuz, a caterer affiliated with Krakow’s Cheder Cafe, led workshops introducing vegetarian recipes inspired by Fania Lewando, an early promoter of a healthy Jewish vegetarian lifestyle whose The Vilna Vegetarian Cookbook, originally published in Yiddish in 1938, was republished in English in 2015. At Francuz’s session, participants prepared beetroot relish, Fania’s strawberry jam and an elderberry syrup, a versatile recipe that is delicious served over sponge cake.
Because the festival has a Jerusalem theme this year, Cheder Cafe, which operates year-round, added to its menu several Israeli-inspired offerings such as a flavorful bulgur salad with tomatoes, cucumbers, fresh mint leaves and small bits of nuts. The cafe serves hummus year-round, making it with a combination of chickpeas and fava beans.
The festival also included a multi-sensory event led by Hedai Offaim, a prominent Israeli food writer and leader of Israel’s “farm to table” movement, who evoked a Jerusalem Shabbat with specially prepared foods and drinks like hyssop and mint tea, a traditional Polish kugel baked overnight and sfiga, a dish made with bread soaked and cooked in olive oil, hyssop, mint and garlic. The star of his menu was a melt-in-your-mouth herring marinated in olive oil, onion, mint and garlic. He credited its smooth flavor with its local source. “The herring in Poland is the best in the world,” he told The Nosher.
The evening also featured storytelling and original live music performed by Israeli musicians Hadas Kleinman and Aviv Bahar.
Another food highlight at the festival: Kasia Leonardi, director of catering and events at the Jewish Community Center of Krakow, led a workshop about hamantaschen. Leonardi, who discovered her Jewish heritage 15 years ago, regularly prepares Shabbat and holiday dinners at the JCC. One of the most popular dishes at the JCC’s Shabbat is Leonardi’s chicken served with a sauce made of dried white mushrooms.
Author’s note: Penny Schwartz traveled to Krakow on a study visit supported by the Polish Cultural Institute New York.