The Intrepid Herbivores

A vegan TV show about Travel and Food

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Guest post: Poland by HJ Hampson

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I love the word “intrepid.” For me it conjures up not only a sense of adventure, but the idea of greeting new experiences with an open mind and a willingness to roll with whatever may come. I try to apply this sense to my life, not only when I travel, but when I experiment in the kitchen, when I face my crazy wall of climbing beans and corn which are presently trying to overtake my greenhouse, when I take on a new project or simply leave my house. It’s a wild world out there and you get more out of it if you let more of it in.

The authoress herself.

HJ Hampson

Anyway, we were very careful about choosing words when we were thinking about the title for this show. Joe and I both agreed that “The Intrepid Herbivores” sums up the spirit of the project perfectly. So imagine the way I squealed when my periodic surfing of food and travel related blogs out there uncovered the website of British author HJ Hampson, The Intrepid Vegetarian. HJ is currently on a mission to “check out of society for a year and backpack around the world” on her own. She is vegetarian and eats eggs and dairy products, so her perspective is slightly different than someone travelling with a vegan diet, but she still faces the challenges that come with exploring foreign cuisine while attempting to hold to a dietary ideal. I reached out to HJ as a kindred spirit and she has very generously allotted time out of her ambitious travel schedule and limited internet access to craft us an article about food in Poland! Her blog is wonderfully detailed and well worth the time to read.  You can follow all of her adventures and order her book, “The Vanity Game,”  at http://www.hjhampson.com.

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europe-mapPoland: Not a country you would immediately think of as a culinary world leader, nor especially a vegetarian culinary leader so I approached its border on the night train from Berlin with trepidation. What do the Poles eat? Sandwiched between sausage-loving Germany and (well ignoring the Baltic states) caviar-loving Russia, I was inclined to think they would sway more towards the German smorgasbord of meat, but then, there were all those pickled vegetables in the Polish section of Tescos*, weren’t there?

Well, I have to say, Polish cuisine was a delightful surprise. OK, so it’s not super-veggie/vegan friendly, but it’s a lot easier to get a decent meal there than I expected. My first stop was Krakow, where I couchsurfed with Agata and Piotr, two students. I arrived off the train very early in the morning and stumbled around Krakow station, passing stall after stall of pretzel seller. In the end I caved in and bought one, they smelt so good and there was no way they could contain meat, being as thin as the dough was. It was a bit like eating a ball of very compressed cream crackers. Still, it was only about ten English pence so I couldn’t complain.

Krakow. Photo by HJ Hampson

Krakow. Photo by HJ Hampson

Agata took me to her flat and then disappeared off to the bakery where she worked, so I was left to my own devices. What to do for dinner? Agata and Piotr weren’t back for hours, but she’d told me there was, in fact, a Tescos up the road. Tescos I thought? Here in the outskirts of Krakow? I hoped I could find it. I needn’t have worried, it was a monstrously gigantic superstore. It was kind of funny walking in there – it was set out just like an English store, but obviously, all the food was Polish, like the Polish shelves in the English Tescos had taken over. I wondered if there might be a small section of English food: jars of curry sauce, decent tea-bags, baked beans and stuff, but I was sadly disappointed.

 They did have lots of pickled veg in lurid colours, and even some hummus. I ended up buying a oily pizza-like thing with a very salty mushroom topping.

The next day I took some sandwiches to the Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum. I ate them in the car park, if you’re wondering. They do actually have a café there, though the obligatory tour whizzes one round at such speed one would never have time to sit in it.

 For dinner, Agata and Piotr took me to a milk bar. Milk bars are a Polish institution from Communist times – they serve cheap, basic food, sometimes in a canteen-like setting. This one specialised in pierogi – Polish dumplings, and there was actually a choice for vegetarians. Vegans would be limited to the lentil filling, but I could pick from Ruski Pierogi (filled with cottage cheese and potato) or pierogi with spinach and cheese. I went for a combination of the two. They were a little dry, but that’s how the Polish seem to eat them, no sauce or anything, though you might add a bit of sour cream if you wanted. Other people were eating salads with bright pink cabbage which looked good too.

Boatel. Photo by HJ.

Boatel. Photo by HJ.

The next day I headed to Warsaw, where I was on my own, staying in a grim little hotel that was actually a boat. Warsaw isn’t an immediately likeable city. At first glance it seems to be a mangle of big roads, underpasses, gaudy shopping malls and the worst of Communist architecture, but by the end of my two days there I wished I could have stayed longer. I was ravenously hungry after the long train ride and then the long frustrating search for ‘the boat’, so I was very grateful for the stodgy potato pancakes with a rich mushroom sauce that I had for dinner. Potato pancakes are another Polish staple and they are cheap, filling and come with various toppings. Totally yummy.

Warsaw has a big selection of international food as well, from Italian to Mexican to Indian. I did try to go to a Polish restaurant – a very famous old milk bar, but the vast menu, written on the wall, was all in Polish, and as I can’t speak a word of it and as the woman at the hatch where you placed your order looked grumpy, I gave up and went to the Mexican restaurant instead, where I had the rather un-Mexican dish of a Tofu burger with fries. It was the first time I’d eaten tofu in two months on the road (and chips for that matter too!).

 It’s great when you go somewhere and the food is better than you expected, and, as a vegetarian, it’s easier than you expected, so I have to give it to Poland. In future I’ll be paying a bit more attention to that little section in Tescos. 

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*Tescos is a European supermarket chain.

 

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This entry was posted on June 27, 2013 by in Guests, travel stories.

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