A while back, I stumbled upon a rather striking photo in my Facebook feed. Surrounded by the dramatic Arctic landscapes, cloudless blue sky and snowy mountains were obwarzanki – something that I always thought belongs in Krakow, and is Krakow’s favourite ‘street food’ without which the city would not be complete. But there it was, displayed proudly by its maker, set against snow-covered mountains of the Arctic – Krakowski obwarzanek.
Intrigued, I spoke to Aleksander Zachuta, the person behind the introduction of this distinctly Lesser Polish snack to the international crew at Polish Polar Station Hornsund in Svalbard. The Station itself is quite a fascinating place. Established in the 1950s, the Station is northernmost Polish scientific research site that currently operates year-round. It is managed by the Polish Academy of Sciences (PAN), and constantly delivers new research and in-depth knowledge in such fields as meteorology (data for forecasting and climatological purposes collected at the Station), seismology (Station belongs to the international network of seismological observations), Earth magnetism, ionospheric research, glaciology, atmospheric physics and optics, environmental research, and is also home of many independent scientists from all over the world, conducting research in biology, geology, geodesy, geomorphology, glaciology and oceanography. All that, far north in the Arctic, where temperatures drop way below zero in the winter, and the polar night lasts 3 and a half months.
Working in such harsh conditions, far away from home, family, and other things that make up our everyday life, I can imagine that one can get pretty homesick. But there comes Aleksander Zachuta, the Head Chef of the Station’s kitchen. How often do we consider such trivial and down-to-earth things like a diet, when thinking about researchers in faraway places? We tend to focus on their scientific discoveries, and maybe photographs of gorgeous landscapes they happen to be working in. What do these people eat? however, is a question that is rarely brought to attention. And when we think of these harsh winters in the Arctic, scarce vegetation and no sunlight for three months, and a group of (I can imagine) hungry scientists, one starts to wonder: is it just tinned food and dry fish out there for them to eat? Nothing more wrong.
Aleksander Zachuta did not train as a chef. He is, in fact, a trained machine construction technologist who happens to love food and cooking. When in Poland, he works for many restaurants and hotels, and he can often be seen at various culinary events and shows. He also is a culinary trainer at Weindich Gastronomia Centre in Chorzow. ‘As one of my other passions is travelling, I like to combine my hobbies and this is the second time now that I am working as a Head Chef at the Polish Polar Station Hornsund’, he says. When asked what kind off food he prepares for the scientists at the Station, he simply says: ‘Home cooking, like you can get at your mum’s or grandma’s’. But the culinary adventure at Polish Polar Station does not end there. The menu is often expanded to such specialities as (typical for student eateries in Krakow) pizza, burgers or kebabs, as well as Aleksander’s favourite Asia-inspired fusions like cream of pumpkin and carrot soup with popcorn, grochówka (Polish butter bean soup) with coconut milk or tomato soup with ginger. There is also room for Polish regional specialities, like kluski śląskie (Silesian potato dumplings), pierogi or obwarzanki.
Lesser Poland (Malopolska) and its food play a big part at the food-scene of the Station, as Aleksander is a proud Krakus, as he describes himself, and it is his ambition to introduce the cuisine of Lesser Poland to the group of international researchers at the Station. ‘I bring with me to the Arctic my favourite, home flavours’, he says. ‘So on our table, there is always the baked on site Krakow bread, the Krakow or podwawelska sausage, delicious cottage cheese from Skała, smoked trout from Ojców, or carp from Zator. There are also prunes from Nowy Sącz, sauerkraut from Charsznica and salt from Wieliczka. Just like that, I happened to be an Ambassador of Lesser Poland flavours in the House near the Pole and extol them among the guests from around the world.’, he writes on his Facebook page.
And if there is anyone who could, just like that, recreate obwarzanki in the Arctic, it had to be Aleksander Zachuta. The thing with obwarzanki is, you see, that they do not travel well. Since they came to be around, they were known for being something that you can only have in Krakow, as the moment you wrap them up for travel they change their texture from slightly crunchy on the outside and soft, almost moist in the middle, to rather bite-resistant bread that lost its former sweetness and glory. They are only good for a few hours since baking, really. At their prime tasty window, they are unbelievably satisfying bake. The more surprising then, to see them proudly displayed against the snowy mountains of the Arctic! It has never crossed my mind, to be honest, to try making them at home – even when I missed Krakow a lot. Now it seems, I have no option but to try, especially that the recipe came with a confirmation: it works in the Arctic, it will work everywhere. All obwarzanki lovers out there, rejoice. Thanks to Aleksander Zachuta and his love for Krakow we can all have a little obwarzanki bakeoff at home. Thank you for the recipe!
500g fine wheat flour (cake flour)
5g dried yeast
HOW TO MAKE?
- Start with mixing a bit of flour with water, yeast and sugar. Set aside for about 15min.
- After that time, add the rest of flour, oil and salt and knead a smooth dough. The amount of water is not precise, and you should add it to the dough bit by bit, and add only as much as the flour will absorb. The dough should have a rather tough consistency.
- When the dough is ready, you can start forming obwarzanki. You can braid them in any way you like.
- Prepare a pot and boil some water. The diameter of the pot has to be at least twice as big as obwarzenk’s.
- Preheat the oven to180 degrees Celsius.
- When the oven is hot, briefly cook each obwarzanek in hot water, about 1 minute of cooking per obwarzanek.
- Take obwarzanki out of the hot water with a slotted spoon and place them on a baking tray previously lined with baking parchment.
- Sprinkle each obwarzanek with salt or poppy seeds and immediately place in the hot oven.
- Bake until they’re golden and smell nice.
Below, a gallery of photos from the Arctic, taken and kindly shared by Aleksander Zachuta. Enjoy!