We kept going on to our friends Alex and Jen about how fantastic food tours usually were. “Oh, man! Get ready to eat!” we said. “Get ready to drink! Boy, howdy, we’re gonna have vodka and pierogi and a good time!” We cautioned them not to eat or drink too much beforehand to save space for the experience.
We left the Vistula River and arrived at the meeting place for our food tour. A cluster of a dozen friendly Americans from everywhere from Austin to Seattle and one Polish guide with a clipboard were there. After brief introductions, he started his lecture about the avenue, the lampposts, and the buildings surrounding us, all Stalin-era with statues of the simple farming and industrial folk who would build the empire carved into buildings. The day was hot, and we all nodded attentively, wondering when there would be beer.
“Ok, now we walk!” our guide said after about 10 minutes of history. “We must walk quickly!” We tried to speed up to his pace, trotting across intersections but could not prevent breaking our gang of food tourists up on larger streets where the crosswalk light was not in our favor. Our first stop was a converted marketplace called Koszki, full of various restaurant stalls.
We stood at long tables while our guide slapped a small selection of sausages, fries, and beers before us to share. You could immediately tell who was hungriest and had the most thirst as we sawed off our allotted portions and glanced ravenously at each other’s excess. I snuck an odd fry or two to my husband. The moment we started to relax a little after scarfing our sausage bites and beer samples, the guide was herding us along. “We have to move quickly!” he said. “Everyone must walk faster!” He seemed disappointed in the walking speed of some of us, as if we were never going to go pro as food tour enthusiasts or even make the team.
We soon realized, trotting behind him, sweating and uncertain where the next stop would be, he intended to cover several more miles of the city in his tour. He took us up one side street and had us peer into the courtyard of a building that survived WWII. There the people of Warsaw erected an altar to worship without being caught and murdered by Nazis after the uprising. It is still maintained, and he told us there are few remaining.
After this, we jogged along to see a distant view of the Palace of Culture and Science and a single line of surviving buildings from WWII, a rarity in Warsaw, once called the Paris of the North. From these buildings, it is evident that the city was once quite beautiful. A single modern skyscraper between them and Stalin’s Rocket, as it is nicknamed, appeared to have a big chunk missing by design. According to the guide, it was not by design but rather due to the successful lawsuit of residents not wishing to have their view ruined.
On to the next stop, Zapiexy, we were served a small portion of what they called Communist pizza and tiny plastic shot glasses of Communist soda pop.
The soda was essentially brightly colored sugar water, and the pizza was a bit of sauce on a halved roll with a sausage slice, a bit more flavorful than what you would be given in an elementary cafeteria. With all the trotting and the heat, some of us bought bottles of water too. The menu board advertised an Amerykanska version featuring bread with bacon, corn, paprika, and onion.
“It will probably get better,” we told Alex and Jen. “Maybe.”
We walked quickly through the city and stopped at 5 Corner Square, where a giant blue egg sat. When you place your ear against it, you hear the heartbeat of a fetal thrush.
Two blocks away, we waited at Cukiernia Palowicz’s street window for Warsaw donuts, a pastry filled with rose- flavored cream, but we were encouraged to save these to eat after our tour was complete. Speedwalking behind our guide again with our greasy sacks of donuts, we made our way to Zapiecik. We had eaten pierogis earlier in the day in this identical chain restaurant. There we were offered a sampling of pierogis and coffee mugs of boiling beet soup so hot that, given the pace of our tour, they had not cooled down enough for us to drink before jumping up again for our next destination.
Our final stop was a traditional Polish restaurant where we were served tartare, shots of vodka, and a slimy, pickled herring that remained untouched after our first taste. For the record, I love all of these things when done well.
The couple from Austin begged for water repeatedly, and the one pitcher that arrived was quickly distributed amongst six people at the other end of the table. “Can we please get some water?” the Texan asked until a second pitcher arrived for our end. We were all dehydrated, tired, some a bit hungry still, and the raw meat and vodka were not helping. As soon as we felt we could be released, we fled the tour and went to the first shop to buy jugs of water. Too tired and distant from our apartment, we ordered a ride back. A group of Polish partiers tried to take our Uber, jumping into it as we walked to the curb. We briefly argued to get them to surrender the vehicle, and the driver shrugged as if it happened often. “Oh, YOU are Chris?” the hairy Uber thief in the front seat said to my husband as if his claiming to be someone else was like accidentally stepping in a puddle.
On the ride back, we grimly assured Alex and Jen that not all food tours were this exhausting or underwhelming. “Ok, that one wasn’t IT.”
Back at the apartment, after a shower and chugging water, I dipped into the grease-stained bag and tried a donut. The first mouthful was flavorless, a dense, barely sweetened bread. On the second bite, I discovered a small reservoir of rose cream/jelly in the center, almost
bitter. “Ok, then,” I said, returning the rest to the bag. “Gonna pass on that.”
The food tour appeared to be the dream of an architect turned guide who wanted to show us as much of the city as possible. Despite the additional miles, the insufficient, sometimes disappointing food and booze, and the lack of water, we did see a great deal of the city on foot. While I won’t be promoting his tour here, I also won’t publicly poop on it by name. Our own dining experiences in Warsaw far exceeded this one. Still, the guide loved architecture and briefly showed us the city as much as he could, nipping at us like a cattle dog, slinging us a few pierogi and sausages to keep us going.
- Read those reviews thoroughly before booking a food tour.
- On hot days, even if your tour is supposed to provide it, bring your own water in case they fail to.
- If possible, avoid a tour as large as ours. The food and drinks can often be limited, carefully portioned to enhance their profits, and therefore insufficient to satisfy. The smaller tours you can learn more, and are naturally tailored to you, allowing a greater enjoyment of the selection and restaurants.
- I would like to learn more about some of the things I have described here. Feel free to reach out if you have more to add!