Argh, I’m so frustrated – it’s almost the end of my trip, I fly back to my cat (and husband) this Wednesday but there’s still so much more I wish to write about. Beautiful places in my city, street art, desserts, places you have to visit while being in Wrocław… Don’t worry – I promised myself I will write about it when I’m back in America, but I wouldn’t forgive myself if I haven’t write about Milk Bars.
Don’t worry – you won’t milk your own cow to get a drink, but honestly I wouldn’t mind going to a place like that. What is a milk bar then?
Bar mleczny means literally “milk bar” in Polish and it’s form of cafeteria. But not just ordinary cafeteria. Extremely tasty and extremely cheap. Like American McDonald’s cheap. Although the typical bar mleczny had a menu based on dairy items (now you know why it’s called a milk bar), these establishments generally also served other, non-dairy traditional Polish dishes as well.
Guess when the first milk bar was opened? 1896. Yes, in 19th century in Warsaw and after World War I they appeared all over the country. The role of cheap restaurants carried through World War II.
After the fall of German Nazi regime, Poland became a communist state, and a satellite of the Soviet Union. The majority of the population was poor, contrary to official propaganda, and expensive and even moderately-priced restaurants were derided as “capitalist”.
During the post-war years, most restaurants were nationalized and then closed down by the communist authorities. In the mid-1960s milk bars were common as a means of offering cheap meals to people working in companies that had no official canteen. They still served mostly dairy-based and vegetarian meals, especially during the period of martial law in the early 1980s, when meat was rationed. Luckily for us all today, during the tenure of Władysław Gomułka, the authorities created a network of small self-service eateries. The meals, subsidized by the state, were cheap and readily available to anyone.
What does milk bar serve? Apart from raw or processed dairy products, the milk bars also served egg (omelets or egg cutlets), cereal (kasza) or flour-based meals such as pierogi and today you can eat a meal just like your mom would make – but not grandma, Polish grannies cook the best food. Trust me – if you ever marry a Polish person and meet his/her grandma she will stuff you with the most delicious food like you were a pig.
Currently every major Polish city has at least one milk bar somewhere in the city center. If you want to check if the city you’re going to visit has a milk bar just click here (funny thing: even Canada has one!) .They are popular among the elderly, students, and working class, but are generally looked down upon by other social classes – you can meet old, young, rich, poor, males, females, children, literally everyone. That’s why I write about them – I know traveling can cost a lot, if you want to eat like a local for a ridiculously small cost chose a milk bar. Not to mention they are always in a convenient area close to the city center.
I want to share with you my favorite one in Wrocław known as ‘Miś’ which means literally Teddy Bear. Located at Kuźnicza 48 right next to the University, literally 200m from the Market Square. It doesn’t look good, but the food is great. What we call ‘a Sunday meal’ is usually a soup and a second course that includes fried piece of meat, potatoes and a salad. Now here’s the best part: if you look at the price list on the first picture for a tomato soup with rice, fried pork chop, two scoops of mashed potatoes and a sauerkraut salad will cost you 9.71 PLN or… 2.91 USD TAX INCLUDED. Tell me where you can eat a homemade food for such a low cost?! Last time I went there I took half portion of dumplings and half portion of soup and I paid… 2.01 PLN which is 0.60USD. Sounds like a joke, doesn’t it?
I know it doesn’t look fancy or doesn’t encourage you to come inside, a lot of those milk bars look like they were still in the 80s, but you can’t find anything more local and cheaper than this. If you can I will pay you with gold and I will even add Momzilla on the top of that.
My few tips before going to a milk bar:
- Menu is only in Polish, but since it’s located around universities I’m sure there will be someone who will help you. Who knows, maybe you will meet your Polish partner in the line… 😉
- Be mentally prepared it won’t be fancy – since it’s so cheap sometimes you might have to share a room with really poor or old people therefore the smell might not be nice. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against others but I’m sure you know what I try to say – I’m sorry if it hurts anyone’s feelings.
- I can’t tell you about other milk bars but in Miś you first make a choice, pay and then you go with your bill to a lady that will serve you the food. After you finish eating you give back the dishes – just follow others.
- For the ‘save items’ ask for pierogi ruskie – but be sure you do it before afternoon – hungry students will probably eat them all.
- Be prepared for crowds. But hey, if it’s popular it has to be tasty!
And for the very end my favorite part from a Polish movie also called Miś – I’m glad I could find it with English subtitles, just click here to see it. It’s a great movie exaggerating absurd that took place during the existance of Polish People’s Republic and in this part you can see the scene happening in a milk bar. Don’t worry – it doesn’t look like this today, you can see my spoon was not on a chain and my dish wasn’t screwed to the table!
Do you have places like this in your country? What is a must visit restaurant to get a home-made food like a local? Share your experience with other traveling people! 🙂
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