It’s my first night in Poland. I’ve just arrived in Krakow after a very long flight. It’s 10 PM, and I’m hungry. I tell my Airbnb host that I’d love some food. Something typically Polish. His eyes light up - you need zapiekanki! Ok, I say, but what exactly are zapiekanki? He doesn’t have the words to describe them. Instead, he gives me directions to Plac Nowy, where everything will be illuminated.
He’s right. I arrive and see a round wooden building in the middle of a square. I channel Magellan and circumnavigate. Evenly spaced kiosk windows line the sides. Each successive window I come to has a sign. Each successive sign is different, but they all say “Zapiekanki”. There are lines of people at every window. Money goes in and zapiekanki (at least what I assume to be) come out.
Let’s see, how do I describe what I’m seeing?
Imagine a piece of bread the length of a man’s forearm. An inch thick and two bites wide. Facing the sky are toppings and melted cheese. On top of those are power-cord-thick strings of ketchup and mayonnaise tangled together like five-year old’s attempt at drawing DNA. That’s zapiekanki. It’s, literally, pizza toast. Except instead of tomato sauce, it’s inundated by ketchup and mayo. People all around are just crushing them. Honestly, I retch. Just a little. I am not eating that.
A month later I return to the center of the zapiekanki universe: Plac Nowy. The Mrs. is with me this time. And this time, I am going to zapiekanki. Yes, I just used zapiekanki as a verb. That’s how serious this is.
Sidebar. Polish food actually is delicious. Everything is good here. Things I would never ever even think about touching in the U.S. like cabbage, boiled fruit, herring, pickles, cold beet soup, warm beet soup, lard sandwiches and dill I eat all the time here. And they’re really, really good. Can zapiekanki be that bad? Sidebar over.
My initial, and somewhat continual, disgust with the appearance of zapiekanki really stems from the sheer amount of condiments used. The only way I can zapiekanki is sans sauce. It’s just not happening otherwise. Here’s what I come up with:
I dig in. It’s delicious. Of course. I mentally check zapiekanki off the list (the mental list I just made up of Polish food I must eat now that I’ve never heard of previously). I’m still not going to eat zapiekanki with sauce though. No way.