This is not trendy underground dining San Francisco-style. This is the real thing.
Not only is it literally underground, it is underground in a salt mine.
The Wieliczka Salt Mine is about half an hour by car from Krakow. You go underground to where there is a labyrinth — 200 miles of tunnels and 3,000 chambers. Everything is carved from salt including a Twelve Apostles scene, a larger than life size replica of the late Polish Pope and even the “diamonds” in the chandeliers in a cavernous underground church where not only tourists go in droves, but mass is held on Sundays.
We also ate well in the salt mine — at the Wieliczka Salt Mine underground restaurant.
My Wieliczka Salt Mine guide is Mark Strojny. He tells me that 13-and-a-half million years ago there was a sea here. Hence the deposits of rock salt, which is naturally dark green.
We are initially going to walk down 380 stairs into the mine. In total we will walk down 800, he says. The mining started in 1280. The mine goes down nine levels. There are 200 miles of tunnels and 3,000 chambers.
Our tour will take us through about 1 percent of the mine. We will walk 3km and see 20 chambers. It is a labyrinth — under the town that stands above.
Commercial mining stopped here in December 1996. They still produce on the surface. About 15,000 tons comes from brine that is boiled to extract the salt.
Miners were responsible for the carvings, including one of the Twelve Apostles and the late Polish Pope — and even the salty “diamonds” in the chandeliers. The miners carved out 40 churches during mining days. Up to 9,000 people a day visit in the summer.
The main lofty huge underground church was carved by three miners over a period of 67 years. They took turns working one after the other, and separately.
They have a weekly Sunday mass here at 7:30am and a lot of concerts. It is the deepest church in the world at 310 feet or 101m below the surface.
We eat lunch in the Salt Mine restaurant, underground.
Our starter is fresh and light smoked salmon and feta salad. This is followed by cream of broccoli soup (delish with a dash of pepper) with small rice noodles.
Our main course is sun-dried tomato stuffed chicken. It comes with a salad of grated carrot with a lightish yoghurt/mayo dressing. There’s Polish apple juice to drink and for dessert, Polish chocolate cake with a light raspberry sauce.
Home-made fruit-infused vodkas are very popular, made with fresh cherries, green nuts, raspberries, other berries, are very popular, the guide, Mark, tells me over lunch. You drink them for your health and to aid your digestion — not to get drunk. The fruit is never cooked. Fresh, mixed with some sugar and the alcohol, up to 90-plus proof, is reduced to about 50 percent with water used with the fruit.
Try Jamie Oliver’s home made citrus-infused vodka recipe.
See Time to Relish the Poland Culinary Renaissance Starting in Krakow.
For more information on culinary Poland and for Poland Culinary Travel itineraries, contact Florida-based Sarna Rose, president of Poland Culinary Vacations.
For more on Krakow and surrounds contact the Malopolska Tourist Organisation in Krakow.
Google flights from SFO to Poland for good deals.
© Story and photos Wanda Hennig, 2015