Elizabeth Furiga: How to Navigate a Milk Bar

The milk bar or “bar mleczny” is a culinary holdover from communist times. These no-frills establishments feature homemade Polish meals at little cost. In the Communist Era, the milk bars were subsidized so that all Polish workers could afford a meal. Then and now, the restaurants serve mostly dairy and flour-based vegetarian dishes. If you don’t eat meat and are traveling in Poland, a milk bar is a great place for you to eat, however, navigating one can be a little tricky.

Milk bars are usually run by lunch ladies in aprons that look like stern Polish grandmothers and don’t speak a lick of English. This makes for an interesting experience ordering at a milk bar if you know little to no Polish. It’s a good idea to learn the names of a few basic Polish dishes before you go to a milk bar. That way, you can recognize the item on the menu and point and say “Proszę” (pronounced Prosh-eh), and the name of the item (if you can muster that or just point if you can’t).

Because the government subsidizes milk bars and many of the ingredients they use, you can still to this day get soup, an entree and a drink for about $4 USD, making milk bars a favorite among seniors, university students and the working class.

Milk bars have reached a mythical status in Polish pop culture. Films have depicted communist era milk bars as having dishes and silverware bolted to the table. While this may have been true (although I highly doubt it) milk bars now use cheap generic plates, which customers clean off the tables themselves. Despite the shabby presentation, the taste of the potato pancakes with mushroom sauce, strawberry Polish style crepes or tomato soup far outweighs the picnic style tableware.

Milk bars are not the place to come and linger after a meal. Most patrons eat quickly and quietly with their heads down, absorbed in their meal. Conversation is verboten.

If you ever get a chance to go to Poland, especially Warsaw or Kraków, make sure to look for a milk bar. It might seem intimidating to order somewhere where no English is spoken, but the reward of delicious, cheap Polish food is worth the hassle.

Poles are top 10 in English

By Robert Strybel, Warsaw Correspondent

According to the Swedish-based EF (Education First) Language School, Poles rank in the top 10 of the world’s most proficient speakers of English as a Foreign Language. Poland scored 62.95 in the study, ranking it in ninth place worldwide. Sweden captured first place with a score of 70.94, followed closely by the Netherlands (70.58) and Denmark (70.05). It’s obvious that Germanic-speaking countries usually fare the best, so it may come as a surprise that Poland came in a tad above both Germany and Austria.

Emergency hotline launched for foreign tourists in Poland

On June 1, 2013, Poland launched an emergency hotline to help foreign tourists obtain required information during their stay in Poland. Two hotline numbers are available between 8:00 a.m. and 10:00 p.m. every day and serviced by English, German and Russian-speaking operators. The phone numbers are +48 608 599 999 and +48 22 278 77 77.

Source: Polonia Media Network