Warsaw one of the best places in the world for vegan food
When Feliciano Diaz opened a vegan restaurant in Warsaw three years ago he knew he was taking a step into the unknown. A dedicated vegan with a passion for food and a Polish wife, the Spaniard wanted to bring the spirit of veganism to the Polish capital but knew that the idea of keeping away from meat and dairy foods was still something of a novelty in Poland.
“When I opened I did some research into the market and found just one study and that showed there weren’t many vegans in Poland,” he says. “I had many doubts when I opened.”
That was three years ago and times have changed. Now Diaz’s restaurant, Momencik, a bustling Mexican fast-food place in central Warsaw, is doing a roaring trade.
“We are doing very well,” he reports during a break from busy lunch service. “Business is good. Every year we see more people coming in. We have happy customers. There are many reasons to be positive.”
Momencik is just one part of a wave of vegan restaurants in Warsaw that have transformed the city’s dining options, and turned the town into one of the best cities in the world for those wanting plant-based eating.
The Happy Cow, a website dedicated to assisting travellers wanting vegan food, puts Warsaw at number 3 just behind Berlin and Los Angeles in its list of the top 10 vegan cities in the world. It also states that there are now 48 vegan restaurants in the Polish capital and that number, according to the Happy Cow website, is “growing more rapidly than any other city in the world”. The city, the website adds “has rapidly grown into one of the most unexpectedly vegan-friendly cities” on the planet.
“I would never have thought just five years ago that Warsaw would be one of the world’s top cities for vegan restaurants,” says the Happy Cow’s Ken Spector, who has made a couple of tours of the city’s vegan dining culture. “I was incredibly impressed and surprised by not only the number of vegan offerings in Warsaw but also by the tremendous quality of the food and dishes there.
“Having a number of vegan versions of traditional Polish foods/soups at restaurants throughout the city, the addition of two phenomenal vegan sushi restaurants, and a plethora of other vegan ethnic restaurants in Warsaw makes the city one of the world’s most exciting places to be vegan. On top of that there is the ability to easily walk from vegan restaurant to vegan restaurant in a great city.”
All this has come despite Poland’s reputation as a meat-loving country. While some traditional Polish dishes such as pierogi often come without meat, in the past vegetarians, let alone vegans, have often struggled to find any choice on a restaurant’s menu.
The vegan wave also arrived in a country which, at least in some circles, appears to regard non-meat eaters with a certain suspicion.
Przemysław Chojnicki, director of V-Label Poland, a company certifying products as vegan and vegetarian, and a member of VegePolska, an association promoting vegetarian eating said: “International travel by Poles has helped fuel the boom in vegan eating. Polish people are seeing more of the world and trying new foods. Polish people are also very creative and are eager to adapt different foods.”
Chojnicki also points to a growth in the numbers of “reductarians” as another reason behind the popularity of vegan restaurants. These people, also called “flexitarians,” have decided to cut down on their meat and dairy consumption owing to health, ethical or environmental concerns, and, as a consequence, are eager to try vegan food. This desire to try something different and new has been picked up on by Diaz at Momencik.
“Right now people are much more inclined to try diverse food choices, and that even includes meat eaters,” he says.
“You can see how the cultural mentality of people has changed when it comes to the vegan option,” he continues. “Today you can have a conversation with one person and he’ll be happy to try vegan food while 10 years ago he may have been hostile to it.”