Food Destinations in Central/Eastern Europe
I will be going to Krakow at the end of June for business, but have about 10 extra days free to travel around the region. I have never been to Central or Eastern Europe before and can't say I know much about the cuisines of the region beyond sausage, beer, and goulash. I am, however, very open to learning about the local culinary traditions and trying new things. What are some cities or towns I should not miss if food is a priority? Are there any in particular I should avoid?
I am open to having a couple of fine dining experiences, but am much more interested in the humbler foods that locals enjoy on a regular basis. That being the case, I am not looking for names of particular restaurants so much as dishes to look for and background information on the regional cuisines.
I am currently considering Krakow, Prague, Vienna, and Budapest (not necessarily all four) as possible destinations, and was thinking of renting a car and driving from city to city. Also, most flights seem to stop in either London or Munich - is Munich worthy of a two-day stopover?
Thank you in advance.
What you should understand is that Prague food tradition is derived from Austria and in Austria you can get a lot of Hungarian cuisine, just more refined. Austria also absorbed a lot from other neighbours, such as Wienerschnitzel is in fact Escalope Milanaise and the entire Tirolean cuisine is a copy of Bavarian cuisine. So most of the Central European cuisine is very much inter-related.
However, this is not saying that if you go to Vienna, Munich and Prague, you would be eating the same thing. But you might have the opportunity to see how some of the dishes evolved with time and region.
On the other hand, Poland has an entirelly different food culture, closer to Northern Germany IMHO.
Your choice might also depend on the price range you are expecting to pay every day for food. I would think that in Vienna, your average meal would be a bit more expensive than in the other cities, however, if you choose a random cheap-ish place without recommendation, you are safer in Vienna than anywhere else. I would expect Prague to be better in the high-end, high-price, less traditional places than Vienna or Budapest.
Another topic altogether, if you have any choice of the airline, try to use Austrian. They have the best in-flight cuisine of all of the European airlines. Incomparable to British Airways or any US carrier.
We happen to have been to all four of the cities you mention in the last 14 months or so (Vienna for over two weeks, a week each in Prague and Krakow, and regrettably only a day in Budapest.) The top choice, food-wise, would probably be Vienna but Prague is a close second. Both have amazingly diverse dining that ranges from exquisite street food to cozy, local restaurants up to world-class fine dining. Krakow, in my experience, was strong in street food but lacked the diversity in cuisines of the other two cities.
I wrote a lengthy wrap up of the recent trip (Prague-Krakow-Vienna) and there are a lot of posts about all those cities. Feel free to ask specific questions and folks who know a lot more than I do will chime in.