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.

25th Annual Lawrence County Polish Day

Celebrate the 25th Annual Lawrence County Polish Day on Sunday, September 27 at Cascade Park Pavilion in New Castle, Pa.

Entertainment this year will be provided by Lenny Gomulka and Chicago, and for the first time in this area, Tony Blazonczyk’s New Phaze.

Vendors will be on hand with items like Polish pottery from Boleslawiec Poland, wooden and glass eggs, Christmas ornaments, Polish sweets, seasonings, canned goods and more.

Donations will be accepted for the Polish Orphanage “Jutrzenka” located in Bardo, Poland. Since its’ inception, thousands of pounds of toiletries, school supplies, clothing and personal hygiene items have been sent overseas to these children from Polish New Castle. In addition, Polish New Castle has sent over $5,000 to aid in their care. Items are shipped on a quarterly basis throughout the year based on the donations received.

The doors and kitchen open at noon with delicious Polish food prepared by Holy Trinity Polish National Catholic Church. Admission is only $12 with children 16-and-under free! The dancing starts at 1 p.m.

Proceeds benefit the Polish Americans of Lawrence County Educational Scholarship Fund. To date close to $60,000 has been paid out in scholarship funds.

For more information, contact Rose Marie at 724-658-5916, Gary at 724-752-9988 or Jean at 724-654-6337. For more information, please visit our website at http://polishnewcastle.org.