The last time I ordered a salad in Slovakia, the roasted mushrooms and tomatoes I had expected arrived on a bed of cheese cubes rather than lettuce.
Even as a self-proclaimed dairy queen and carb-lover, spending a significant length of time on a Eastern European diet of heavy meat, potato and cheese dishes can really leave you craving something green. So, after hearing about RO Raw, a raw vegan restaurant in Krakow from a delightfully non-preachy enthusiast, I was intrigued. A longing for fresh veggies combined with a curiosity of how anything but a glorified salad could be made with just raw, vegan-friendly food kept the place in the back of my mind until I finally made it to Poland over Easter break.
I must admit, I initially approached the idea with caution. I was really hungry and in the back of my mind wondered if I might need another meal later in the evening to sustain me. But as soon as we walked into the bright, whimsical restaurant in Wolnica Square and took our seats next to a stuffed carrot and broccoli stalk, I had a good feeling about the whole experiment. Once I saw the ingredient combinations on the very conveniently English-friendly menu, I knew we’d picked a winner. After starting with shakes, one Green Insanity (apple, banana and spinach) and one Brazilian Delight (Brazilian nuts, pineapple nuts, cranberries, banana) we struggled to choose from a menu where everything sounded fresh and fantastic.
The first step was to eliminate the additional normal, but not raw, vegan section. If we were going to try it, we were going to go all of the way. After that, it became more difficult, mostly because of the high number of unfamiliar items. Vegan sandwiches made on raw bread. How does that work? Raw soups? They can also be served at 41 °C, thank God. Pumpkin Tagliatelle or Carrot Spaghetti? The possibilities, which I thought would be so limited, were endless.
Luckily our waitress was one of the most patient, kind and genuine I have encountered in Eastern Europe, or quite possibly ever. She answered our probably stupid questions about just about every item on the menu, the restaurant and the vegan scene in Krakow as a whole. Finally, she helped us decide on the Discover Raw which included samples of Raw Pumpkin Cream Soup, A Passion for Fresh Salad, Raw “Pierogis”, the Raw Sandwich, and Zucchini A La Lasagne to seal the deal.
The preparation time was minimal for the variety of dishes we ordered and when it arrived it was clear this would be far from a “glorified salad.” We started with the soup was full-flavored and, while not piping hot, still warmed enough to be true soup in my opinion. The salad, which thankfully, was chock full of lettuce with no cheese in sight, had fun extras like pumpkin and sunflower seeds.
The Raw Sandwich was the biggest unknown of the bunch, and therefore the biggest surprise, consisting of raw bread made from dehydrated nuts and veggies compressed together in a delicious cracker-like base with a cashew paste and seasonings. Next to this sat the Raw “Pierogies” which earn their quotation marks for consisting pickled beets and cashew cream as opposed to the traditional potato, cheese or meat filled raviolis that are so famous in Poland.
We saved the deal-making Zucchini Lasagna for last and were not at all disappointed. The zucchini serves as the noodle substitute with spinach, cashew paste and fresh tomato sauce layered between, topped with crimini mushrooms. By the time we’d finished it all, I was far more full and satisfied than I expected to be walking in the door. That, of course, didn’t prevent us from perusing the dessert shelves. While the Raw Brownie and Cashew Cheesecake were tempting, in the end, it was the Plum and Pear Almond Tart covered in raw chocolate that we couldn’t resist.
The total cost of our raw smorgasbord came to 76 złoty, or almost 20 € for two people. While that’s certainly not a steal, especially not by Polish standards, remembering that you’re eating all fresh, organic ingredients really softens the blow to your wallet. If that doesn’t help, the friendly service made the extra money worthwhile for me.
When all is said and done, if you are looking for something new and fresh in a lieu of heavy traditional dishes, or just a comfortable spot to hang out and have a cappuccino (vegan of course) RO Raw is the place. The staff admitted they are no where close to filling the place up on most days, but that most certainly is credited to a smaller vegan culture and need for more publicity rather than any lapse in quality of dining experience.
Of course, I haven’t suddenly been converted to raw veganism or anything like that. But to duplicate the energy and lightness I had after the meal would definitely be worth going through the effort of preparing similar dishes. And although I remain skeptical that any combination of frozen bananas, avocados and carob is ever going to rival ice cream, I certainly won’t knock it until I’ve tried it.