Green Revolution: a vegetarian in Warsaw
Poland is becoming increasingly popular as a tourist destination. For the past few years Warsaw, the capital, has been swarming with tourists from all over the world. It shouldn't come as a surprise - the city has a lot to offer. It's very different from the capitals of Western Europe: most of the historical architecture has been destroyed during the II World War, so the city is an ever-mutating hybrid of styles, architectural wonders (and weird hiccups), impressively clashing the old with the new, where Soviet reliefs neighbour Renaissance churches and contemporary art installations.
Warsaw is now turning into a more attractive tourist destination than famous Cracow, which - although full of stunning medieval architecture - is slowly becoming commercially oversaturated. Warsaw, with its quirky bars, posh restaurants and hipster venues, will remind you of Berlin or London, where you can enjoy yourself without being forced to steer towards outrageously overpriced restaurants and cafes that offer "original historical food and atmosphere" created excusively for your superficial tourist experience.
Many people who visit Poland remember the food very fondly: no-nonsense hearty meals, the very essence of comfort food. Varieties of dumplings, thick soups, roasts, sausages... Poles know how to do their meat: you can have it raw, smoked, cured, fried, roasted or cooked. However, if you are a vegetarian, you might find the Polish food scene more difficult to navigate.
Luckily, looking for a nice vegetarian lunch in Poland will no longer make you feel like you're unwillingly reenacting that scene from Everything Is Illuminated. This is not a joke - Eastern Europe is famous for being extremely meat-oriented, and for many people a dish without meat does not constitute an actual meal. Just a few years back most food places considered it a perfectly normal practice to add some fried bacon bits (skwarki) to your vegetarian dumplings (because they're traditional! And they will make it taste so much better!). Chicken broth wouldn't count, either. And obviously, Poland being a country with strong Catholic tradition, vegetarian and lent dishes are frequently confused (hint: lent dishes are meat free, but they are fish-centered instead. And last time we checked, fish didn't grow on trees).
Things have been changing around Warsaw, though! Vegetarian and vegan diet is growing popular, and every self-respecting restaurant, bar and food truck has at least a couple of seriously filling and flavourful plant-based meals to offer.
The real gems on the culinary map of Warsaw are, however, the places dedicated exclusively to vegetarian and vegan food. Poland may be a far cry from a vegetarian paradise, but if you think these places are only visited by a few die-hard leaf munchers, you better think again... And prepare to wait, as the queues are often to be expected.
Warsaw, with two airports and both Ryanair and Wizzair flights coming in and out every day, is a very tempting destination for a city break. If you want to make the most of it while enjoying the best vegetarian and vegan cuisine, check out these local favourites - the staff does speak English, so don't be shy. You know you want it.
Krowarzywa Vegan Burger http://krowarzywa.pl/en/
Krowarzywa is a real phenomenon on the culinary map of Warsaw - it regularly appears in the top burger places in the city. Note - not vegan burger places. Just burger places. That's how good it actually is.
The name is a play on Polish words "cow" and "vegetables", which together also sound like a "living cow", referring to the compassionate nature of the place - no cows suffered for your burger.
Krowarzywa offers a concise yet satisfying menu of burgers made of seitan, groats, chickpeas or tofu. Every week there's a different special on the table - always made of seasonal ingredients, which are ingenuous and consistently delicious. There aren't many places where you can eat a nettle, scorzonera or chestnut burger, but Krowarzywa always delivers. The place takes its pride for being 100% vegan and environment friendly, and they do as they preach: even their plates are edible, made of biodegradable fibre. So after you're done with your meal, go ahead and nibble on the crockery.
Apart from its gorgeous burgers, Krowarzywa also offers a wide choice of homemade smoothies and occassional specials, such as vegan ice cream, doughnuts or cakes.
Extra advantage: bang on in the city centre.
Loving Hut: Oriental Vegan Cuisine http://lovinghut.waw.pl/kontakt.html
Do you know how to tell a good Oriental bar in Poland? It's gotta be tacky. And I don't mean simply red-lampoons-and-golden-letters-tacky. I mean: bring it on.
Proper Oriental bars in Poland are established and ran by the natives. In order to have a proper experience you need to find a place where communication in Polish is borderline impossible, and the venue itself looks like a late people's republic's dream of capitalism. Plastic orchids, faded French posters of Hollywood stars and a moving waterfall picture. Usually, there's an old Christmas tree in the corner even in July, and you can hear some really weird German radio play in the background (although you can be 100% sure nobody here speaks a word of German).
But, of course, you are here for the food. Loving Hut uses tofu and seitan to recreate the favourite Asian takeaway dishes in their best vegan form - using only fresh ingredients, natural seasonings and absolutely no MSG. The food is cheap, filling and spot-on delicious. You'll be back for more.
Lokal Vegan Bistro https://www.facebook.com/lokalmargines
Well, you've come all the way to Poland, so you might want to try all those famous Polish dishes. If only there was a place that served traditional Polish comfort food, but without meat...
Good for you! Lokal is where you want to be. This little vegan bistro specialises in adapting dishes every Polish person remembers from their childhood. There's zero compromise on the flavours - they taste just like the ones nana used to make, except they are absolutely plant-based. That's why Lokal is frequently visited by those who just fancy a good ol' homemade dinner. The portions are also granny-style: almost too big to finish. There's no better way for a vegan to discover the authentic taste of Polish homemade food.
The decor and crockery brings to mind old-fashioned communist milk bars, which used to be frequented mainly by students, hobos and pauperised intelligentsia (some of them still exist, and the clientele is pretty much the same - plus some hipsters and an occassional minor celebrity).
Falafel Bejrut https://www.facebook.com/FalafelBejrutWarsaw
Hands-down best falafel place in town. Mahmoud "Mike" Rai - originally from Lebanon - is the falafel king of Warsaw. His story could make a pretty good movie: in Beirut, his family has been working in food and hospitality for generations. Sheikh Pierre Gemayel, the legendary Lebanese political leader, adored his uncle's falafels.
Mahmoud chose to move to Warsaw. He had no papers and no work permit - he would wander from one place to another, catching any job available. He tried opening his own business, but it was a spectacular failure. He had nothing - and then he decided to buy an old hot-dog cart and turn it into a falafel station.
Jackpot! His delicious, authentic falafels soon brought him so much success and popularity that he opened his own bistro, close to the Old Town. Recently, the business had to expand again, due to ever-increasing demand - now Warsovians can enjoy Mike's falafels, houmus and freshly brewed cardamom coffee at Senatorska and atNowolipki. Of course, it's all vegan.
Vege Miasto http://www.vegemiasto.pl/
One of the first vegan bistros on the culinary map of Warsaw, and still immensely popular - if you want to pop in for dinner, you might want to make a booking in advance. The place is quite small, but worth a trip, especially if you're after more than one course meal.
Vege Miasto's menu boasts a satisfying range Polish-inspired dishes as well as occassional twists on Asian or European cuisines. The food is beautifully seasoned and presented, often in imaginative combinations of flavours and textures that will satsfy even the most demanding palates. You can then wash it down with a glass of wonderful vegan or biodynamic wine, craft beer, or some local cider. If you have a sweet tooth, you'll be happy to see the dessert menu, as there's always a choice of sweets available, from fresh chia pudding to indulgent chocolate cake, accompanied with some fair trade coffee or lovely organic tea.
Cover photo (c) Krowarzywa