Last Saturday 9th May 2015, we made our way into London to spend the afternoon at the second annual Days of Poland festival – the biggest Polish festival in the UK. The festival, organised by 2 Sisters PR founded by Ewelina Krzysztofik, aims to ‘promote Polish culture among people living in Britain’ and the afternoon couldn’t have been nicer.
This year the festival was sponsored by Lebara Mobile, who had quite a big presence at the event – it was a shame their branding colours were not white and red to match the Polish flag! Still, plenty of flags, tents and the big stage caught the attention of many of us passing by over London Bridge. Just as we were crossing the bridge to get to Potters Fields Park, the grey clouds cleared and the sun came out and as we got closer to the festival entrance we could already smell the Bigos and hear the Polish folk music luring in the crowds.
If you’ve never experienced Polish hospitality or culture before, then this festival (mark it in your calendar for next year) is a wonderful opportunity to ‘party like a Pole!’ You don’t have to be Polish to attend, although clearly there were a lot of Polish people, the atmosphere was very friendly and there’s plenty to get stuck in to.
The festival site itself is a beautifully kept area of greenery, right by City Hall and facing The Tower of London. The organisers were lucky that the sun came out, as I think it would have been a very different experience otherwise. As it happens, the weather was fine and the crowds came out in force.
On the main stage, there was an opportunity to watch and to sing along to traditional Polish folk songs and dancing. Much of this was familiar to me – I’ve danced many a Polish folk dance dressed in traditional costume, mainly as a child during my time at our Polish school in Manchester.
I’ve also eaten many, many pierogi and plates of bigos, so I was incredibly happy to see so much Polish food on offer at the festival, served as ‘street food’ and being eaten on picnic blankets and benches around Potters Fields Park. Polish food is true comfort food at its best!
As a second-generation Pole, born to Polish post-war émigré parents, I was brought up to respect and love Polish culture. I generally speak Polish when I’m back at home and it’s wonderful to be able to speak the language when travelling to Poland.
Polish food and culture provides me with an instant dose of nostalgia, whether for my Mama’s own Pierogi or for my days on stage wearing red dancing boots, pretty skirts and hand-embroidered folkloric costumes. By the end of the stage performances at the Days of Poland Festival, I was even tempted to join one of my local dance groups!
There are lots of Polish dance groups/ensembles up and down the country – the last time I saw them performing was for the Polish Dance Spectacular in Manchester in February when over 350 performers took part in the 9th Polish Folklore festival in the UK. Dances from many regions of Poland were showcased, such as from Kaszuby, Opoczno, Beskidy, Kraków, Podhale, Biłgoraj and Łowicz. Some of these dance groups have been going for over 50 years having been established in the UK after the war. Many original members have now passed their dancing shoes onto younger generations, who continue to take part in dance festivals and events around the world.
At the Days of Poland Festival, there were performances members by Karolinka, Orlęta and Mazury. I even spotted some of my friends from Manchester-based group Polonez in the crowd, who on this occasion were enjoying the sunshine and a Polish beer.
I also loved some of the folkloric pieces on offer, sourced directly from Poland – pretty mugs and cups, handmade jewelry, even Polish folk costumes and dresses.
My own children and husband also enjoyed the festival and were very keen to join in with the celebrations – even speaking a few unprompted words of Polish. We’re very much looking forward to a family trip to Krakow later on in the summer and the Days of Poland festival was the prefect prelude.
It was also lovely to bump into friends Monika and Ewa for a Polish beer – Nazdrowie!
There was lots to entertain the children, such as face painting and crafts and they loved the Polish ‘hot dogs’ – grilled Polish sausages or Kiełbasa, as well as some sweet crepes, or Naleśniki for pudding.
We were super hungry so opted for a Polish ‘meal deal’ which consisted of a mixed selection of Hunter’s Stew (Bigos) meatballs (Kotlety Mielone), filled dumplings (Pierogi) and stuffed cabbage leaves (Gołąbki), all washed down with plenty of Polish beer. I can appreciate that lots of work goes into making Polish food such as Pierogi, as they are all made individually by hand, so I thought £7 was a steal for a very generously filled plate of traditional Polish food and a bottle of water thrown in, too. Of course, lots of people were asking “where’s the Wódka?!” There wasn’t too much vodka about, mainly Polish beer and a drinks tent with Pimms. Perhaps there was more vodka at the after-party?!
The Poles have every reason to be proud of their cultural heritage and it was lovely to see so much of it on display at the Days of Poland festival. I’ve started to see much more Polish street-food on offer generally within food markets in London and I hope that we see more Polish food and folk dancing at other UK events over the summer.
The afternoon genuinely made me feel very proud to be Polish and it was so nice to see Polish traditions being kept by adults and children alike.
I also enjoyed chatting with some of the people at The Polish Bakery in London, the chaps from The Polish Deli, who I had met before at The Real Food Festival, as well as with some of the best Polish folk dancers who were all very happy to pose for photos in their beautiful costumes.
All in all, I thought this was a fabulous family day out and I’m looking forward to next year’s event already.
The Days of Poland Festival was free to enter and for the last two years has taken place during the month of May in Potters Fields Park by London Bridge.
Would you like to try some Polish recipes? Here are a few of my favourites –
Polish food in the UK
Did you know that one in ten people in the UK now eat Polish food?! This is possibly as a result of more Polish produce being available within our supermarkets. It is considered to be one of the fastest growing ethnic food trends.
Here are three of my favourite places to eat Polish food in London – I’d love to see them involved in next year’s festival.
Baltic, 74 Blackfriars Road, London, SE1 8HA – amazing Amber-studded bar, house made vodka and cocktails (photos above)
Ognisko, 55 Prince’s Gate, Exhibition Road, London, SW7 2PN – the ground floor or the Polish Hearth Club, the restaurant is now owned by Baltic owner Jan Woronieki.
Daquise, 20 Thurloe street, South Kensington London SW7 2LT – an institution! Try the Pierogi which are pan-fried and served at your table.
There are plenty of Polish events held at POSK – 238-246 King Street, Hammersmith, London W6 0RF.
Look out for Polish film nights at Ognisko Restaurant – as mentioned above.
With Blood and Scars – A novel by B.E Andre
Time is running out for Ania. She needs to ask her dying father a vital question; his answer is the key to how she will lead the rest of her life. She must force him to revisit his childhood in Poland in 1944, a time when decisions about survival were made on the spur of the moment, a place where chaos undermined all previous morality. Who is her father really? Can she bear to find out?
Another secret also torments her: an incident she filed in her memory store. Now the police have found the remains of a child in Whalley Range. Should she try to find the gang of friends from her own childhood days? Or should she keep the secret of what happened then?
This coming-of-age novel is a tale of heroic survival against all odds: a life-affirming story of courage and hope set against harrowing circumstances. It celebrates the goodness that can be found in all nations.
Have you ever experienced Polish food or culture? I’d love to hear more!