An odd survival from Poland’s communist period is the milk bar (bar mleczny). Partly to counter widespread food shortages in stores, a larger workplace would have its own cafeterias (stołówka) where employees would have at least one filling meal a day with minimal fuss. Milk bars were a way of providing a similar service to those working in smaller companies as in urban areas it would never be a long walk to the closest one. Also, meals at milk bars were provided for some who were unable to work (Prices were heavily subsidized by the government.
After the end of communism most of these quickly went belly up but a small number survived and an even smaller number… thrived. An odd fact of Polish institutional food in the communist era was that it was surprisingly good. Not having access to the technology of prepared foods like mashed potato powder or canned or frozen vegetables and the like the ingredients were all relatively fresh and the cooking methods simple and straightforward.
Now, in any Polish city there a number of milk bars with local favorite status can be found. The clientele tends toward students, and those with subsidized meals but the food is largely unchanged – made with fresh ingredients and tasty, filling and cheap.
I don’t find much occasion to go to milk bars where I live but when I was in Warsaw recently I was close to one of the best – Bambino on Krucza (crow) street. The atmosphere is low key communist era retro and it usually as line of people outside the door waiting for the no frills goodies inside, including tourists referred by guidebooks. It’s not a user friendly experience the menu is on the wall, you order at a cashier and then hang around a small serving window for your food (or sit at a table and wait to hear them yell out the name of what you ordered). Since the staff doesn’t speak English it must be a nerve racking experience for foreigners, but they show up anyway…
As I was eating my chłodnik litewski (a cold creamy beet soup) and potato pancakes dusted with sugar I saw a familiar figure in the line. It was none other than one of the oddest of Polish politicians (overall a very odd lot)… Janusz Korwin-Mikke (the wikipedia entry does not do justice to just how crazy and irritating he is). I carefully avoided eye contact (though he did see me stare a little). He was dressed in a white linen suit (which looked like a crumpled stale mess at the end of a long hot day).
After he finished his soup he left, got on one of those electric rental scooters littering the sidewalks of Polish cities and after a false start and a might wobble joined the flow of traffic and headed off into the late afternoon sun. I went back to Bambino twice during that trip but both times the line out the door was a lot longer so I had to pass it by….