We’d been to at least five churches that day. Zipping around in Magda’s car from beautiful, stratostrophic spires to Poland’s biggest cathedral, cooler crypts and silent altars. When we finally made our way back to our little Airbnb, I could feel our feet wouldn’t get much further in a city we barely knew. The day before, we’d spotted Słodka & Ostra, a bar with incongruously good graphics at the base of our block of flats. My Mum and I decided to get changed and try it for dinner.
Inside the bar, they asked if we’d like to sit in the garden instead. Sure, we replied- as we were gestured back out of the restaurant, across the road and into the approach to an abandoned tram shed. We sat down beneath huge trees grown up through cement and chalkboard menus as tall as me, leaning on one of the disused buildings in the courtyard. After a day of sightseeing, I was holding out hope for bread and a salad I could hopefully attempt to veganise. I realised as I scanned through the menu that there were in fact two vegan options- I couldn’t work out what they were, but a red leaf gave the gave away. The rest of the options had green leaves next to them, signifying vegetarian. My Mum started to laugh- that tired but relieved laugh of people that haven’t eaten food they recognise in a few days- as we realised we’d stumbled across a meat-free haven in the middle of Poznan.
Five minutes later our waiter made his way across the zebra crossing from the restaurant with a huge bowl of coconut and noodle broth for me, and salad for my Mum. The next course turned into being split pea lentil cakes, roasted carrot and celeriac balls on pumpkin puree, and more pasta than my Mum could probably ever think of eating.
We laughed and laughed at how lucky we’d been, headed into a greenhouse that had been turned into a bar for a final beer, then walked back across the road, up in the lift to our seventh floor, and back to our little flat in the Poznan sky.
Poland was magic. It was the first time my Mum and I had been away just the two of us. I loved every day. We went over to meet family my Mum hadn’t seen since the 1970. We stayed in Airbnbs and visited two groups of our family- in Poznan and Krakow.
The last time I went to Poland, I’d only been vegan a few months, so wasn’t very confident with asking for specific vegan meals, and instead I mainly spent the week eating very plain side dishes (sliced potatoes and red onion FTW). But this time around I came armed with Instagram recommendations up to my eyeballs and more geotags than possible hot dinners.
In Poznan I met family members that couldn’t speak more than five words of English (the same amount I can speak in Polish), and we spent a handful of days hearing about relatives through endlessly generous family friends that would spend their time translating for my Mum and me. Food wasn’t the centre of those days, but Sloda & Ostra, the backyard restaurant in an old tram station, was one of the highlights.
After a few days in Poznan we caught the five hour train to Krakow. If Poznan was like something from a Jonathan Safran Foer book, the train to Krakow was certainly more Wes Anderson. We piled into a carriage for eight that we shared with a mum and her incredibly well behaved little boy. Every hour a man with a two-wheeled coffee and cake trolley the width of the train corridor would knock on our compartment window and ask if we needed anything, as our train sped through 300 miles of Polish countryside.
We hopped off the train in the centre of Krakow. My Mum had booked us an Airbnb specifically because it was on the same street as her favourite place to go for coffee and sorbet. We ended up going to Cafe Camelot at the end of every day for coffee or pudding.
In the early mornings I would do some freelance work while my Mum wondered around the city centre. In the afternoon we saw family, in the evenings we wondered around the main square once again as I would try to persuade my Mum, eyes set on mountains of gifts to bring back, that carry-on luggage means you need to be able to carry it on.
I didn’t get much of a chance to try any other vegan places in Poznan, but from my research and some help from Emma - (thank you!) there’s definitely no reason to be put off travelling to Poznan as a vegan- there are plenty of options. In Krakow, veganism is really taking off. You’ll find vegan pastries, brownies, pancakes and cakes, as well as burgers and trendier restaurants offering multiple vegan options. Even after the EU referendum and a not too-healthy pound, our meals with alcohol would come to around £10-£12 a head, and then we’d go out for coffee and cake for around £4 each.
My favourite places to visit are Krowarzywa, which did an incredible range of vegan burgers that were really tasty and packed full of vegetables, pickled cucumber and sprouts as well as fulfilling an junk food intentions. The seitan and vegan cheese with vegan mayo was my favourite thing I ate allll holiday.
A lot of places are also now doing their own, in-house mate- so definitely give as many of those as you can a try- Krowarzywa’s was fab.
Chimera has been an old favourite of mine since my last trip as a vegan (back in 2012)- it’s the kind of place local students and workers go to get a big, inexpensive meal. Just make sure you sit upstairs and outside, not downstairs in the meat-focused restaurant below street level. On our first night in Krakow, two dinners plus a carafe of wine came to £14 in total. It’s a buffet where the staff serve you, so just point out what you fancy- the menu changes periodically but I went for a vegan stew and a huge plate of salads- which was great after that five hour train journey!
Another vegan, health-focused place, Farma Burgerownia was also a great find- it’s just off the main square and into the student district. As with Krowarzywa, you can build your own burger here too, but I’d suggest asking what the staff recommend, as both my Mum and my chosen combinations turned out a little strange, although the burger buns, burgers and salads themselves were great.
Final night fave was Alchemia od Kuchni. This restaurant has been added onto the well-known Alchemia bar, and can be found in the old Jewish quarter, which is brilliant for drinks and restaurants that are a bit more modern than the choices in the old town centre and Stare Miasto. There were loads of vegan and vegetarian options to choose from- I went for a cauliflower steak with tabbouleh, while my Mum chose a Thai red curry. Alchemia really reminded me of a Polish Mildred’s with that multi-cuisine approach to their menu, and I really hope I get to come back to eat there again because it felt really fresh and modern.
There were so many other places I wanted to try- and I’m sure there will be more opening up in Krakow by 2017 too- so I’d recommend using Instagram geotags to check you’re not overlooking somewhere great. Krakow is small enough to step off the beaten tourist track within a street or two, which makes it really easy to navigate and find more independent offerings than what's available on the main square. Wander through the streets and find a good place to drink or have a coffee, and you'll probably start stumbling on new businesses that haven't even made it to Instagram recommendations yet. That's where I'd start.