Cheap Food I Love (Polish Special): BIGOS

The guidebooks struggled to say much about Bialystok. A large Eastern Polish town, the last big place before the relative wilds of Belarus, it carries itself half like a seedy frontier outpost and half like a respectable suburban nowhere. A smiling taxi driver picked us up from Bialystok’s business hotel, for instance, and took us to the station, where his next passenger was a young girl who got into the front seat and started showing him wads of banknotes. Bialystok was our stopover between Warsaw and the bison-filled forests, and it was also the first place I ate Bigos.

Bigos is a sauerkraut-based stew which is (apparently) constantly reheated over a period of several days – if not weeks – with new meat continually added. Nobody in Poland makes this authentic Bigos for sale anymore, though it may still be eaten in homes: the snack bars and pubs that do offer it presumably make up their stock each morning. Our guidebook was sniffy about this but the bar-snack Bigos I ate was glorious – tangy gravy, lovely stodgy cabbage, chewy meat. We’d been nibbling peanuts on the Warsaw train and hadn’t eaten properly since breakfast, so stumbling into a basement student bar and finding Bigos on the menu was a treat. It cost about 45p. I had happier moments in Poland, and ate better and more unusual food, but I don’t think I ever felt more contented.