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The Warsaw Voice » Other » October 17, 2007
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Milk Bars: Taste of Nostalgia
October 17, 2007 By Magda Kuszewska   
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Milk bars, restaurants that have been offering simple fare in humble surroundings since the 1950s, are something of a Polish institution. Milk bars rose to the height of their popularity during the communist 1970s and 1980s and these days occupy a special place in the hearts of the older generation.

Milk bars partially resemble fast-food outlets but can be a good deal cheaper and the menu is considerably broader. A full two-course meal of traditional Polish food complete with dessert can be had for around zl.10. As they're called milk bars, it won't come as a revelation to learn that dairy foods dominate. There are plenty of dishes based on eggs, flour and all kinds of grains too. Milk bars started to feel unloved and unwanted in post-1989 Poland but they haven't all packed up and left.

From beggars to businessmen
So how does a place manage to offer so much for so little without going broke? "Milk bars are granted around zl.20 million in state subsidies," says Maria Kaliska, an official at Warsaw City Hall. "Their rent, gas and electricity are often subsidized by City Hall as well," she adds. This level of assistance keeps prices at a level that almost anyone can afford. But as well as people who need to make every penny count, a typical milk bar will attract a broad clientele that includes businessmen, families, students, artists and pensioners. Dining in milk bars is an opportunity for students to soak up the ambiance of a daily life in times gone by, while street cred simply demands it of the artistic community.

Bare essentials
Self-service, not silver service, is the order of the day here. The cutlery is aluminum or even plastic. The menu hanging over the counter is indecipherable to anyone who can't read Polish. The customers waiting in line make their orders, take their receipts and stand in another line where they collect their dishes through a small window before finding somewhere to sit down.

Many of Warsaw's longtime milk bars have vanished without trace and few of those remaining are as spacious as they once were. A fashionable boutique now occupies Trzech Krzyży Square where a popular milk bar once stood and Familijny, on Nowy ¦wiat St., is only half the size it used to be. The hardiest, however, have survived and there are even a few newcomers-which just goes to show that the time-honored recipe of cheap food, self-service and modest decor never goes out of style. The Green Way vegetarian restaurant on the corner of Hoża and Szpitalna streets, for example, offers Mexican stew with side salad for zl.9, vegetable layer cake for zl.10 and a variety of soups for zl.3.50. Some are facing competition from cheap restaurants that offer service. Lanse on Marszałkowska St. serves two-course lunches from zl.12 while luncheon at Molo on Krucza St. starts at zl.10. The price for a homemade dinner at Flis, another popular hangout at 55/57 Marszałkowska St., is capped at zl.10.


Legends in their own lunch-time

Bambino at 21 Krucza St.
Cottage cheese pancakes, zl.2.50, vegetable soup, zl.2.30, cucumber soup, zl.1.80, carrots and peas, zl.1.50, and leek salad, zl.0.90.
Familijny at 39 Nowy ¦wiat St.
Cucumber soup, zl.2, boiled beef or cutlet with potatoes and salad, no more than zl.8, beans and borscht, zl.2.30, soft jelly, zl.0.80.
Prasowy at 10/16 Marszałkowska St.
Pea soup, zl.2, buckwheat with champignon sauce, zl.2.30, cottage cheese dumplings, zl.2.60, rice with butter and sugar, zl.1, compote, zl.0.80.
Uniwersytecki on Krakowskie Przedmie¶cie near the main gateway to Warsaw University
Vegetable soup, zl.1.70, "Russian" dumplings with potato and cottage cheese filling, zl.2.80, kefir, zl.1.80, carrot salad, zl.1.30.
Złota Kurka at 55/73 Marszałkowska St.
Pearl barley soup zl.1.30, egg fried in butter, zl.1.40, rissole, zl.5, potato pancakes, zl.2.20, stew, zl.5, ¦l±skie potato dumpling with pork fat, zl.2.70.
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