Brunch Comes to Poland
Polish has no word for a leisurely, late-morning meal, but brunch is catching on in Krakow, with french toast, stiff drinks, and schmoozing
By 12:45, Adam Popiel, who hosts a local radio show Power Nap, appears in uniform: massive headphones around his neck. He grew up in Massachusetts to Polish parents, who are thrilled he’s connecting to the Jewish community after living here for almost a decade. JCC staffer Kasia Leonardi wanders in shortly after. She usually attends with her mother and sister, who all prepare the weekly Shabbat meals that draw more than 70 people to the JCC. While Shabbat draws a wide spectrum of people from various age groups, brunch typically attracts the younger generations. It’s not uncommon for people to stumble in hung-over after a Saturday night out.
Aside from these meals, the JCC hosts language classes and lectures, an active seniors club, and events for people of all ages. At the legendary JCC dance parties, rabbis and professors mingle among the imbibing, youthful crowd. When I moved here to conduct fieldwork for my master’s thesis on souvenirs and art representing Jews, I yearned to engage with the community, and that’s how I ended up joining the JCC—and soon after that, the JCC had its first brunch.
“Who is ready for Slivovitz?!” Ornstein asks, lifting up a slim glass bottle of plum brandy labeled in Hebrew. Joanna grins, then cowers in her seat. It’s barely after 1 p.m., but shots are poured and we toast: “L’chaim na zdrowie!” A few weeks earlier we’d sampled raspberry nalewka (traditional fruit-infused vodka), homemade by Sylwia Płucisz, who explained the art of nalewka-making. At upcoming brunches, we’ll be serving JCC Brunch Beer, specially branded and labeled for our events.
Adam’s semi-regular co-host Phil Manchester, a Brit who sometimes attends the JCC brunch, once told me, “It’s an American thing if you think alcohol is standard with brunch.” He’s right; even though the term “brunch” was coined in 1895 by an Englishman, after five years of eating brunch in New York before my move to Krakow, I’ve always adopted the American view that alcohol is part of the experience. That, and french toast; while we add other dishes to the menu from week to week—once, a fluffy banana-chocolate-chip cake made by local restaurateur Jerzy Lewinski was a highlight—the challah french toast is always available.
The timing, too, is a key part of any brunch: starting late, and staying for hours. Joanna’s farewell brunch lasts until almost 3 in the afternoon, typical for our gatherings, with people grazing and talking and grazing some more. Schmoozing, to use the Yiddish term—talking without any particular direction. “Brunch here is like Seinfeld,” Ornstein says, his youthful grin emerging. “It’s successful because the only agenda is no agenda, just letting people express themselves.”
As people start saying goodbyes, the few of us remaining clean up together. Some of us relocate into the kitchen, to continue the conversation while we wash dishes, and then we move on to our favorite local café, Cheder. Brunch usually ends this way, but today is particularly bittersweet because Joanna is leaving town. We’re discussing another event for the brunch crowd: challah grilled cheese with tomato soup for dinner, endorsed by brunch regulars and others who work Sundays and still want to partake in the schmoozing.
Joanna starts to chuckle and asks, “When’s my next trip to Krakow?”
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