Friday, May 3, 2024
HomePastaThe Greatest Milk Bars in Krakow, Poland

The Greatest Milk Bars in Krakow, Poland

Krakow runs on milk bars. These no-fuss canteens serve reasonably priced but filling meals that style like Babcia’s home—massive, honking dessert and all—they usually maintain a deep, nostalgic place in Poland’s nationwide psyche. Whereas the nation’s meals scene has been sprinting within the other way of hearty staples like żurek soup, schabowy pork cutlets, and pierogi ruskie (extra on these later), milk bars have remained steadfast, soul-soothing, and as reliably satiating as ever. 

In trendy Poland, milk bars (“bar mleczny” in Polish) look like an anachronism doomed to die out. Polish culinary college graduates aren’t clamoring to work at canteens, and the bars’ getting old staff are retiring in droves. Even when the institutions had been to outlive, would they not be Brooklynized into kitschy brunch eating places or become a franchise by yet one more vulture fund?

Curious (and hungry), I went to Krakow to seek out out what the longer term holds for these treasured eating places. That’s how I met Michał Turecki. Turecki is a born-and-raised Cracovian meals information, author, and cook dinner who—like many Poles—can hint life’s milestones again to exploit bars. On a cloudy-turned-sunny April morning, I met him exterior Bar Centralny. Two minutes into the dialog, he was already drifting into misty-eyed nostalgia: When his grandmother handed away seven years in the past, he went straight to close by Bar Północny to cry over a plate of pierogi ruskie as a result of they reminded him of those she used to make.

Milk bars’ emotional connection has rather a lot to do with historical past, and the truth that they have been round for generations. Whereas most affiliate such a eating with post-World Warfare II communism, it in actual fact predates the battle. Turecki explains that milk bars grew in reputation within the Fifties, when getting cheap meals to the individuals was essential because the nation handled post-war destruction, social unrest, political uncertainty, and a litany of financial challenges. Turecki estimates there have been as soon as some 70,000 milk bars throughout the nation.      

One cause milk bars have survived is authorities subsidies, which make $3 żurek with kielbasa and $2 pierogi attainable at the moment. In an period when meals insecurity is on the rise, it’s in Poland’s nationwide curiosity to have a nourishing (in each sense of the phrase) different to ultra-processed calorie bombs and fast-food chains. And at milk bars, you possibly can financial institution on the form of meal a Polish mom or grandmother would serve—partially as a result of that’s who’s predominantly within the kitchen. These institutions, then, double as a supply of culinary dignity to those that would in any other case not be capable to afford to eat effectively. Some patrons even convey containers to inventory their fridges and cabinets. 

It’s no secret that almost all bar mleczny provide what’s principally a copy-paste menu of the classics. No one’s there for selection or aesthetically pleasing shows ready by stagiers transferring grains of kasha round simply so with a pair of tweezers. Rave critiques of milk bars typically have extra to do with sentimental worth than style, although Turecki insists that high quality does range relying on the cook dinner. 

However many cooks are nearing retirement. Turecki says he’s “terrified” about the way forward for milk bars. Past the meager salaries, the ever-dwindling pot of public cash is one other looming nail within the coffin. “Politicians suppose the primary group utilizing the milk bars are individuals with meals stamps,” he says. “When truly, you possibly can meet individuals there from virtually each social group, from the poorest to college students, and vacationers.”

Konrad Piwowarczyk, who additionally joined me on my milk bar crawl, shares Turcecki’s sentiment. Piwowarczyk is a younger, gregarious, wildly educated meals and vodka information with Scrumptious Poland. “They is likely to be the kind of enterprise that can part out with time,” he says. 

However they will not go down with out a combat. The closure of quite a few common milk bars in current weeks and months struck an alarming chord. Additional, native elections are on the horizon in Krakow and funding milk bars has turn out to be a political soccer, drawing consideration to the difficulty. 

Then there’s the position of tourism. Krakow, with its UNESCO-protected previous city, is a vacationer magnet, and guests are charmed by the form of old-timey, conventional eating milk bars present. As extra middle- and upper-class Poles abandon milk bars for worldwide choices popping up across the metropolis, it stays to be seen whether or not these enduring institutions will turn out to be a uncommon overtourism success story. 

I couldn’t wait to be a vacationer myself: Exploring town’s milk bars is a superb strategy to expertise the native tradition and meet Cracovians from all walks of life. Armed with lists supplied by Turecki and Piwowarczyk (and a Reddit web page or two), I set off on an epic tour of 13 milk bars throughout town. Right here’s a style of my findings. 

Raphael Olivier

It’s breakfast time, so I get bułka z pastą jajeczną i kakao, half a bread roll with chopped hard-boiled eggs, mayo, and onions unfold throughout. It comes with a piping-hot cup of cocoa, a much less off-putting mixture than it sounds. (Cocoa turned a milk bar breakfast staple on account of espresso shortages, in line with Turecki.)     

I adore it in right here: the white marble tables, maroon chairs, and unusually ornate chandelier twinkling over all of it. We’re in Nowa Huta, actually the “new metal mill,” the place a towering statue of Lenin as soon as stood. The realm was designed within the Fifties because the mannequin communist neighborhood. Communism is lengthy gone, however communist-era Centralny stays. 

Raphael Olivier

That is the place Turecki cried over these pierogi ruskie, describing the expertise as “metaphysical.” Full of twaróg (smoky cow’s cheese) and sprinkled with chopped fried bacon, they’re the whole lot I would like in a pierogi––comfortable, barely chewy, and tangy from the cheese.  

An apart: Many presume “ruskie” pertains to Russia, and a few have taken to calling the dish pierogi ukraiński in protest. However “ruskie” is definitely derived from “Rus,” in reference to the historic area of Pink Ruthenia, which now straddles western Ukraine and southeastern Poland. 

Turecki will get the ⁠kluski leniwe, or “lazy” dumplings. These are basically pasta strips served with melted butter, a sprinkling of breadcrumbs, and sugar. Turecki explains that the beneficiant use of sugar in milk bars dates again to post-war shortages of nearly the whole lot however sugar. “There was a saying: sugar makes you stronger.”

Raphael Olivier

Bieńczyce’s is understood for its soups, particularly the thick and flavorful krupnik brimming with barley, carrots, celery, onions, and potatoes. The bitter rye soup referred to as żurek can be common, made hearty by potatoes, hard-boiled eggs, and sausage. It’s obtainable at each milk bar, however right here it’s “similar to it speculated to be,” Turecki says, “correctly bitter with good-quality sausage.”

Marble tables are bunched collectively to make room for the throngs of scholars, younger professionals, and retirees queuing up on the doorway at this informal spot. I seize a seat whereas Turecki takes care of the order. What arrives is each candy and savory: kopytka z masłem are hoof-shaped dumplings comprised of potato-based dough that come drizzled with melted butter. Turecki calls these “Polish gnocchi” for his or her pillowy texture. Then, it’s naleśniki z jabłkami,  pancakes with a tart apple filling. A far cry out of your fluffy American pancakes, we’re speaking burrito-size blintzes coated in an avalanche of powdered sugar. (Bear in mind, sugar makes you robust.)

Bar Mleczny Uniwersytecki

Raphael Olivier

Uniwersytecki, actually “College,” is a scholar lunch stalwart, however individuals of all ages flock right here for placki ziemniaczane z sosem, potato pancakes with gravy. Whereas most meat eaters spring for hunter’s sauce (shallots, mushrooms, butter, demi-glace), my vegetarian sensibilities level me to a steamy mushroom gravy with comfortable porcini mushrooms swimming within the cloudy glaze.

Raphael Olivier

We pop into this hole-in-the-wall for a fast bowl of żurek, that bitter rye soup. It’s lukewarm and has a salty, meaty taste that jogs my memory of shrink-wrapped American hotdogs. I don’t adore it, however I’m clearly within the minority judging by the road trailing out onto the sidewalk. 

Krakus, close to the Jewish Ghetto Memorial and Oskar Schindler’s manufacturing unit, is without doubt one of the few milk bars with an English menu on the counter. I look over it whereas Turecki helps a gaggle of Spanish vacationers talk their order. 

Earlier than I do know it, I’m tucking into a wonderful bowl of barszcz czerwony z uszkami, scorching and tangy beet soup with small mushroom-filled dumplings. The dish is common on Christmas Eve (Wigilia), so it’s a uncommon deal with to be having it out of season. I comply with it up with racuchy z jabłkami, pancakes with a slight pan-fried crunch that ooze apple compote with each chunk. 

Jutrzenka is tucked right into a group block throughout from a tree-covered park. The sometimes lengthy menu is plastered with three Pepsi logos, a vestige of the joy for western merchandise when communism fell. 

It’s breakfast, so time for one more eggy bread roll. Right here you get the opposite half of the roll, so you possibly can eat it like a sandwich. The egg, mayo, and onion combine comes collectively extra like a salad than one congealed paste. With a shake of recent pepper, it’s good to go.

Raphael Olivier

Targowy, on a large communist-era boulevard, feels homey with laminate mock-wood flooring and matching tan chairs and tables, a vibe that carries by to a menu of old-school classics like kotlet schabowy, bigos (hunter’s stew with chopped meat, sauerkraut, and recent cabbage), and—as all the time—pierogi ruskie. 

Piwowarczyk orders us a plate of naleśniki z serem, twaróg cheese-stuffed pancakes, that are normally dessert. These are what a Polish dessert “must be,” in line with him––candy however not overpoweringly so.

Raphael Olivier

Temidą is the one true bar mleczny in Krakow’s previous city, which suggests it’s busier and pricier than the others on the listing. However who am I to complain about an $8 pork cutlet? The canteen is price a cease for its interiors alone, low-vaulted ceilings paying homage to a medieval palace entrance. However the spirit of simplicity stays in dishes like kluski śląskie (Silesian dumplings) served on a plastic lunch tray. These deliciously glutinous intestine bombs swimming in a creamy mushroom sauce have a refined potato taste and a barely chewy, dense consistency because of the potato starch.

Smakosz peeks by a lush dwelling wall of greenery (not less than in the course of the summer season). Turecki suggests a comfy bowl of rosół, Polish hen soup with a crystal-clear broth; 

noodles like strands of shredded paper; and recent greens like carrots, celery, and onions. It jogs my memory of what my grandmother would make me as a child after I was below the climate; I’m not shocked to study it’s Poland’s pure treatment for colds and flu, too.

Bar Mleczny Pod Filarkami

Raphael Olivier

Filarkami, straddling the previous city and Kazimierz, looks like a country tavern with its faux-brick partitions and picket tables. However the blue plastic trays transport me again to canteen land. Piwowarczyk goes for the kotlet schabowy, a breaded and fried boneless pork cutlet that’s Poland’s reply to wiener schnitzel. “It’s crispy and never too dry—with a little bit of moisture but not overly oily,” he says. It comes with an earthy-smelling grated beet salad that wasn’t what he truly ordered. However like Seinfeld and the Soup Nazi, it’s finest to keep away from confrontation when coping with the no-nonsense milk bar women. 

In the meantime, I devour my kasha coated in yet one more creamy mushroom sauce that shares the plate with a distinct beet salad enriched with butter and cream and wash all of it down with a mug of tangy kefir. The beet-kefir combo transports me immediately to the Polish countryside.

Raphael Olivier

Occupying the underside flooring of a blocky constructing with graffiti between the window and entrance, Filsak feels about as removed from 2024 as you may get. The trattoria-style red-and-white checkered tablecloths brighten up the joint; so does the meals, which feels barely lighter. The pierogi ruskie aren’t overly doughy, which lets the refined cheese, potato, and black pepper filling be the star. I strive some ogórki kiszone (pickles) on the facet, they usually pack a tart, salty punch on account of their brine in saltwater as a substitute of vinegar. Dessert comes subsequent: ryż z jabłkami, rice with apple, cinnamon, and candy cream. It isn’t attempting to win factors for presentation, but it surely’s surprisingly harmonious—the sweetness of the powdered sugar tempers the acid within the apples, and the grains of rice add textural curiosity.



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Most Popular

Recent Comments