Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Bar mleczny formula still doing well in Warsaw

Before Western-style fast food invaded Poland, the only place to eat cheaply and quickly was the bar mleczny - literally 'milk bar'. The name would suggest a chromium counter serving various colours of the milkshake, but the Polish take on the milk bar was a self-service restaurant where you can buy home-made-style soups, pierogi, goulash, beetroot, cabbage and potatoes, a large meal for a bargain price.

Many have disappeared in Warsaw, displaced by more sophisticated eateries, but here and there you will still find a few - and they are doing well. The old-school format appeals to the young as well as to the retired.

Today, I chanced by one I'd often walked past and ignored when working on ul. Nowogrodzka - Bar Bambino on ul. Krucza. Entirely undistinguished from the outside, it was only by gazing in (I was hungry) that I could appreciate its charm.

It's busy in the kitchen at lunchtimes, a blur of activity
To use a bar mleczny, join the back of the queue to the cash-till. Select your meal, pay, collect a ticket. Take your ticket, pick up a tray and cutlery, and join another queue hanging around the serving hatch. A lady will shout 'następny!' ('next!') and you hand her your ticket. There's a blur of activity, after which a lady bustles towards the hatch shouting out your order. You collect your dishes from her and make a dash with your tray to an empty table (the place is busy!). After enjoying your meal, it's a self-clear system, and you take your plates and cutlery to the a hatch marked zwrot naczyń ('return of tableware').
Love that 1960s moderne decor.
The jadłospis (menu) gave a huge variety of soups, main courses, side dishes and desserts, at prices which showed that someone's really worked hard to strike the balance between profitability and affordability. I chose sorrel soup with hard-boiled egg (3.63zł), pierogi ruskie (pierogi with a cheese, mashed potato and horseradish stuffing) and buckwheat groats with a rich mushroom sauce. My order came to 13.74zł, or £2.89 for a huge and entirely filling meal. The soup was served piping hot, the pierogi came with skwarki (crunchy chunks of pork fat) which I sadly left untouched as it's Lent.

Bar Bambino compares favourably in terms of price, speed of service and spacious layout to bary mleczne from the Mleczarnia chain (there's one on ul. Bagatela, close to our offices that's tiny and usually packed).

If you are unfamiliar with bary mleczne, ask a Polish colleague to point you to the nearest one. They are a great Polish lunchtime institution.

This time last year:
Nikkor 45mm f2.8 pancake lens reviewed

This time two years ago:
Old Town, another prospect

This time three years ago:
W-wa Śródmieście - commuters' staging post

This time four years ago:
Filthy ul. Poloneza
[four years on, nothing's changed...]

This time five years ago:
A sight that heralds the coming of spring

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