On being vegetarian in Poland…

poland vegetarian

Pierogi ruskie – traditional Polish dumplings (meat-free!)

So I’m vegetarian. Or not really; I eat fish, which makes me a pescatarian, but that always sounds pretentious so I usually go with “vegetarian who eats fish”. Which normally either (a) confuses people or (b) prompts them to say “don’t you mean pescatarian”? But I digress.

Anyway, I have recently returned from a wonderful New Year trip to Poland, where we stayed in a spa town on the southern border with Slovakia, ate and drank far too much, went on wintery hikes, and memorably tried snowshoeing (which is much more fun downhill than uphill… at least until you go the wrong way, reach a bit which is steeper than you meant to attempt, fall over when you try it anyway, and have to shuffle the rest of the way down on your bottom because you can’t stand up again in snowshoes on a steep hill. And people are watching. Oops, digressing again).

poland vegetarian

The gorgeous Dunajec river gorge, on the Slovakian border

poland vegetarian

Looking professional on my snowshoes – before the steep slope incident…

Wonderful as the trip was, however, I learned a valuable lesson: the Polish really don’t do vegetarian.

I’ve travelled a lot in the last 10 years, and for the last 9 of them I have been vegetarian. Sometimes it’s easy – I love you, India – and other times it’s not so easy. You try being veggie in Argentina, home of the best steaks in the world.

But none of them can hold a candle to Poland. It’s fine, I thought, I will just order something with no meat in it. My choices will be limited, but so be it. So for my first meal in Poland, I ordered pierogi, traditional dumplings with cheese and spinach. And they turned up… with bacon on the top. Granted the menu didn’t specifically say they were suitable for vegetarians, but who misses bacon off a description?!

I quickly learned to ask the question EVERY time I ordered anything. For this, our Polish guide Kasia was invaluable, as something else I wasn’t really expecting what how few people spoke English. In many respects that’s great – I mean, it’s Poland, why should they speak English anyway? – but it’s not so useful when you’re trying to ask vital culinary questions.

On New Year’s Eve, after our lovingly prepared vegetarian starter turned up with a large helping of gelatine on the side, I asked Kasia to produce a sign to speed things along. Needless to say, I never needed it again… but I’ve got it for next time!

And on the plus side, the vodka was veggie…

poland vegetarian

How to cope with being vegetarian in Poland…

 


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poland vegetarian

17 thoughts on “On being vegetarian in Poland…

  1. Pingback: 5 Reasons Why I Love… Sweden – Reading The Book

  2. That’s funny. I am also a pescatarian and have had some interesting experiences while travelling. I ate a lot of carbs in Munich (limited non-veggie options) but was able to eat some superb veggie dishes in Brazil which is also meat happy. I normally use Happy Cow app which helps me find veggie/vegan restaurants and shops all over the world. You can even map directions from where you’re staying. It’s great.

    And yeah, Polish don’t do vegetarian. My family has always had trouble with understanding my choices 🙂

    • Oh I hate that!! It’s hard enough at first without people deliberately ignoring your wishes! It just fascinated me in Poland that it didn’t even occur to them that people wouldn’t eat meat or that they needed to mention it…

  3. Being vegetarian abroad can be sooooo hard! In many countries it’s simply not in the culture and then it can get so hard to find something. I’ve been living in Mexico for about 8 months now and it’s not easy. It’s really not in the Mexican culture. It’s hard to find meat replacements. Therefore I’ve eaten meat every now and then to give me some extra strength.
    Anyway, I’m happy you found a way and that you enjoyed your holiday in Poland! And probably, if you go to the bigger cities in the county, there will be some veggie options if you search well.

  4. It is very hard to find vegetarian or vegan food in Europe outside big cities. I live in Prague and lot of times I go outside of the city the only vegetarian version is fried cheese or fried cauliflower 😀 So nothing for vegans..

    • I’m in the UK and it’s not an issue here, but certainly in other parts of Europe it’s not easy. Poland was by far the worst though (much as I love the country!) – others have limited choice, but Poland is the only place I’ve been where they have dishes with meat where the meat isn’t listed on the menu! 😂

  5. I am only 6 months into my veggie journey, but already I find eating out so confining. I can only imagine what Poland must be like!

  6. Oops, surprise bacon! Yeah, I live in Ukraine right now and have a friend who’s a vegan. She ends up eating a lot of grilled vegetables and Greek salads without feta.

  7. I’m too fussy to be veggie all the time, but was quite surprised to have this issue in Tenerife when I was travelling with a veggie ex-girlfriend. On the first night in the tiny restaurant in the village we were staying in she ordered croquettes because it sounded like the only vegetarian option (it’ll just be potato right?) Nope. Basically fishcakes. At least we found a couple of vegan cafes in the cities!

  8. I’m not vegetarian but I don’t eat a lot of meat, and I definitely find it harder in some countries! There are so many things people don’t even realise have meat in them too!

  9. I’ve actually had the opposite experience in Poland. My fiancé is vegan and we’re currently visiting his hometown, Poznań, and we haven’t had any problems finding places to eat. There are plenty of restaurants here that offer vegan options. And in one case, when we ended at an Indian restaurant that didn’t have any specifically vegan items on the menu (just vegetarian), they were nice enough to make him something vegan.

    A couple of my favorites so far have been Pierożak Pierogarnia (the ruskie was my fave, but the vegan pierogies were also delicious!) and Mixe Vege Cafe (one of the best veggie burgers I’ve ever had). Even restaurants that serve traditional Polish food had vegan options (Pod Niebieniem in Stare Miasto had an excellent vegan gołąbki). We’ve gone to a variety of places, from fancy restaurants to mall food courts, and while some places only have one or two vegan/vegetarian options, there’s always been something for him to eat.

    Also, I have to add that there are plenty of people here who speak English, so even if you don’t have a native speaker with you like I did, you should be fine. And because what little Polish I know is usually horribly mispronounced (Japanese is a much easier language to learn!), it’s really nice there are English speakers who can understand me.

  10. I know the struggles of being a vegetarian in a meat eating country through my veggie travel buddies, and they can be quite hilarious/frustrating depending on a number of things. From having meat picked out of soups to ‘vegetarian’ dishes with the odd bit of chicken in it… Sometimes I’m glad I don’t have to suffer that myself.

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