As a follow-up to our recent exploration of Far Eastern flavors in the heart of Lesser Poland, let us show you the richness of Asian accents in slightly different contexts – in art, fashion, and… read on to see for yourself!
A Japanese current in the Vistula
There would be no Asia in Kraków if it weren’t for Manggha Museum – “a home to the collection of Japanese art”. Acquired primarily by Feliks Manggha Jasieński, the collection was stored in the National Museum between 1920 and 2009, the year it was purchased by the independent Manghha Museum. Built into one of the meanders of the Vistula so that not to disturb the local genius loci, the institution’s eye-catching building in the form of a wave – designed by a renowned Japanese architect Arata Isozaki – has become a flagship cultural spot and an iconic example of contemporary architecture. Manggha houses the Andrzej Wajda Archives and a Japanese language school, but since the opening of the Europe-Far East Gallery in 2015, the visitors can also enjoy captivating exhibitions of broadly-defined art, culture and technology from Far Eastern countries. We recommend crossing a footbridge to get to the museum terrace where you can sit comfortably and enjoy a bowl of aromatic Japanese bancha tea from Café Manggha while relishing in the view of the castle. Also, make sure you visit the museum in spring if you like the smell of cherry blossoms. No matter the season, however, you can enjoy Aleksander Janicki’s five-meter-tall steel sculpture of an origami crane. A Japanese symbol of longevity, the bird represents the dialogue of tradition with modernity and the blending of Japanese and European cultures.
As already indicated, Asian presence in Kraków is visible not only in food. Thanks to the work of such talented duos as the one of Pat Guzik and Mateusz Kołek, Asia finds its representation in art and fashion. Being avid travelers to China and Japan, the artists have taken inspiration from Asian iconography, Japanese pop culture and street art. Known for illustrating top Polish magazines, Mateusz is frequently invited to draw posters for local Asian restaurants. Youmiko Bar takes pride in Mateusz’s stunning art – with the famous “Fish Market” displayed on one of the walls. A tiger drawn by Mateusz observes the visitors of Taj Kraków while a group of Samurai cats fights hard to defend a bowl of ramen at Ramen People and Wschód Bar. Interestingly, Mateusz admits that he does not use a camera on his trips to Asia. This is why a series of drawings from a four-month-long trip to Hong Kong has been titled “Things I saw but couldn’t use a smartphone”. Of the series, Mateusz says: It’s an homage to all the moments that drew my attention for one reason or another, but they could also be a metaphor of something broader, of our times, of our relation to a city, of nature.
Mateusz’s drawings appear on Pat Guzik’s designs and, together, the duo creates unique pop-up shops with sustainable and engaged fashion; for example, one of the boutiques featured a collection of upcycled garments made in collaboration with Ushirika Cooperative. Mateusz and Pat create collections that merge European and Asian cultures and experiences. Inspirations for prints on fabrics and accessories are never accidental, but born during searches on two continents and in two minds.
What about Pat’s approach to design? In her daily work, she remains faithful to the ethos of sustainable fashion by reducing waste fabric and incorporating what is left to add uniqueness and timelessness to her garments. Her collections represent Asia not only through Mateusz’s prints, but also thanks to the cut of the garments – in-between high and street fashion. Her clothes, those bearing strong resemblance to work apparel, matched with simple accessories, as well as oversized t-shirts with gigantic prints can be worn comfortably in Poland and Hong Kong alike. The bustling Chinese metropolis is where Pat designed her first capsule collection for Shanghai Tang. And even though she works in Kraków, her collection – “We All Come From a Place” – premiered in Hong Kong during Centre Stage Asia's Fashion Spotlight. Notably, the Asian market opened its door to Pat when she was still a student – her collection “Heaven Is A Place On Earth” was awarded the Eco Chic Design Award. “There Were Never Flowers, There Was Fire” is her latest collection, representing the world in the aftermath of a catastrophe. The designer’s postapocalyptic vision where a pair of people of supernatural sizes examines a dead mountain landscape is a ruthless commentary on our drive towards destruction. Distorted proportions intensify the feeling of fear and alienation evoked by the absence of flora and fauna – all we see is bare rocks glittering in the sun and the grim legacy of mankind: a highway and a metal shopping cart. This is art at its most utilitarian. Ready to wear and admire.
Who is Quin?
Simply put, Quin is an icon who, for years, has made it his goal to provide locals in Kraków with access to the most authentic Asian products. So if you are wondering where to find the best tofu, kaffir lime leaves, tempeh, Vietnamese coffee, fresh Korean perilla, Thai basil or leaf mustard – go to Quin’s! The store has been opened since 2013 and is now enjoying an iconic status, being a real treat to anyone looking for hard-to-get, exotic products or willing to experience the atmosphere and richness of Asian grocery shops without leaving the city. Mr. Quin comes from Hanoi and came to Kraków to study at the University of Technology. No job and a possibly one-of-a-kind chance to open his own business prompted him to open a store despite his initial dreams of a restaurant. What he disliked about Vietnamese restaurants in Poland was the absence of fresh, original vegetables and reliance on carrots and Chinese cabbage. However, all most visitors of such joints wanted was eat well at a reasonable price. In Mr. Quin’s view, such an approach perpetuated stereotypes about Asian cuisine. This is why his store abounds in diverse marvels. There is an impressive selection of sauces, including several types of fish sauce, rice, pasta, noodles – including soba and udon – and dried mushrooms. Come here to buy fresh galangal rhizome, taro, kankong – also known as water spinach, pepper leaves, young bamboo shoots, and even durian. Mr. Quin himself is an excellent cook and occasionally sells self-prepared Vietnamese food. He also loves talking about his country’s cuisine and patiently shares information and trivia about all kinds of products on offer. A true promoter of Asian culture!
The Empress of Pickles
Did you know that Bożena Sawicka, the Asian cuisine know-it-all and the one-and-only empress of pickles and fermented preserves, lives in Kraków?! You may know her if you’ve ever attended the Najedzeni Fest! culinary festival or taken part in food pop-ups at either Żonglerka or Barka where she cooked pho and baked fish-stuffed donuts. Last but not least, you certainly know her if you had a chance to try her exquisite food, including fried silkmoths, in a short-lived bar Mała Azja. Having turned her two-room apartment into a pantry, Mrs. Sawicka keeps stacking the shelves with exotic spices and jars of all sizes filled with pickles: radish with Japanese yuzu, gooseberry, turnip, Asian Knotweed, apples, Korean Perilla, mustard leaves, black carrot, eggs, and two types of kvass: oats and bread. She loves Tunisian and Senegalese cuisine (having lived in both countries), Vietnamese food as well as the diversity and richness of the culinary tradition of former Soviet Union republics. You can meet Barbara for workshops, dinner, lunch, or simply contact her for advice via Facebook.
Eat with Mira
Mira Park is a Korean living in Kraków. Born and raised in Haenam, she learned cooking skills from her mother and older sisters. Having lived in Kraków for more than a decade now, Mira has made sure to plant her own garden on a terrace so that she could grow not only vegetables, but also otherwise unavailable (unless in Korea) herbs and spices. For some time now, Mira has been welcoming guests in her spacious kitchen as part of the eataway project where she is currently one of the most famous cooks! It is worth waiting for a Korean feast at Mira’s, be it only to taste her heavenly kimchi of varying fermentation levels. Mira is eager to discuss the meaning behind Hangul symbols on each of her several refrigerators – used to control fermentation processes. Kimchi and pickled radish are always served as starters, accompanied by a variety of other delicacies known collectively as banchan: tiny sardines with walnuts, fried oyster mushrooms, fish cookies, spicy calamari and fluorescent pink Japanese turnip – daikon. Mira has a soft spot for iconic Polish ceramics from Bolesławiec, serving all her food in the characteristically white and blue dishes. You can try Doenjang soup, Korean miso, sweet potato noodles (japchae), garlic-infused Korean beef known as bulgogi, spring rolls with vegetables and chicken under a delicious, peanut dressing, as well as sweet-n-spicy chicken. When it comes to dessert, Mira offers traditional Korean picks – red bean sponge cakes and aromatic compote, sujungwa, based on ginger and persimmons. With vegetarians in mind, Mira has created a unique menu with vegetable pancakes, japchae, Inari Sushi with tofu and Hotteok – sweet pancakes with cinnamon and brown sugar. After the feast, prepare for a surprise – the opening of Mira’s wardrobe full of Korean kimonos – likely to enchant especially female visitors. Mira hosts Korean cuisine workshops on a regular basis, including thematic sessions such as “Korean Sentiment”, “Noodle Lovers”, “Mandu Maniacs”, “Ko-Mex: Mira and Karen for Brześć Kids” and “Korean BBQ”
Book a meeting with Mira Park!
Author: Kasia Pilitowska, English version: Marcin Markowicz
Photos courtesy of institutions and individuals featured in the article