During this past week, I had lunch in a milk bar (bar mleczny). I don’t remember whether or not I had had a meal in a milk bar during my previous trip to Poland (at that time, I didn’t even know that milk bars existed, much less what they were), but my experiences in the Bar Under the Barbikan (Bar Pod Barbakanem) in Warsaw will be ones to remember.
SOURCE: Steve Danko at the Bar Pod Barbakanem (Warsaw, Poland). Photographed by Christa Shukaitis for Stephen J. Danko on 02 Oct 2009.
When I studied Polish at the Polish Club in San Francisco, one of the dialogs in our textbook was set in a milk bar. At that time, I really didn’t understand what made a milk bar a milk bar.
Actually going to a milk bar answered all my questions. The establishment a no-frills eatery. Customers order from a menu on the wall, pay at the register, and hand the receipt through the service window to a woman in the kitchen. The food is passed to the customer back through the same window. Customers bus their own tables, returning the dishes to a second service window to the kitchen. Just don’t get confused and return the dirty dishes to the wrong window. If you do, a woman who looks a lot like your Great Aunt Sophie will scold you severely.
SOURCE: The Milk Bar Menu (Warsaw, Poland). Photographed by Stephen J. Danko on 02 Oct 2009.
The choices on the menu consist of basic, Polish home-cooking. On my first visit, I ordered a kotlet schabowy (pork chop), ziemniaki (potatoes), and a Coca Cola Light. Everything in ala carte. The pork chop was really cooked to perfection and the potatoes were mashed so they were delightfully lumpy.
On my second visit, I tried to order żurek (sour soup) but was told “Nie, dzisiaj nie ma żurek (No, there isn’t any żurek today)” and I settled for zupa pieczarkowa (mushroom soup) instead. I was once again surprised at how good the food was. The cook prepared a ladle-full of noodles in a bowl, and then filled the bowl with mushroom soup. This wasn’t any old homogenized mushroom soup, but instead consisted of lots and lots of mushroom pieces swimming around in a delicious broth.
If the good food weren’t enough, take a look at the prices! In US dollars, the pork chop was less than $3.00, the potatoes were about $0.70, and the mushroom soup (a full meal by itself) was just over $1.00.
When asked if I could take a photo inside the establishment, the proprietor was at first reluctant, but finally allowed me to take a picture of just the menu. I guess she didn’t want to take the chance that her trade secrets might be divulged in the photograph.
Milk bars, once a common sight in Poland, are becoming more and more rare. In Warsaw, I’m told, there are just two milk bars left.
Copyright © 2009 by Stephen J. Danko