I ended the day before with a heavy meal of Zurek and Kielbasa, but I woke up at 7am with my stomach growling, time to eat and explore some more!
Not many places are open at 7am but the there was one milk bar (bar mleczny) – Bar Mleczny Familijny.
Milk Bars were first developed in Poland in 1896, with the first ever bar mleczny being in Warsaw. It was a business venture meant to sell cheap dairy based food. The business model worked and others soon copied it. By the end of World War I, there was a bar mleczny in every town in Poland. Milk bars became even more prominent because they provided good food and affordable prices especially as the Great Depression hit.
Milk Bars expanded even more during the communist era when anything moderately expensive was considered bourgeois. The growth of milk bars in communist-era Poland was aided by a skewed supply and demand market (with way more demand for supplies than supply) which led to price inflation and a burgeoning black market.These cafeterias would be the first establishments to receive supplies and would prepare all sorts of dairy based dishes to be sold at subsidised prices (with the government paying for certain costs). At it’s peak, there were over 40,000 Bar Mlecznys all over Poland. After the overthrow of Communism (and here) people rushed to keep away from anything that was remotely communist and austere and many Bar Mlecznys had their doors shuttered. Only 150 are still open today, kept open by a wave of nostalgia and heritage.
The logistics are simple, a large menu hangs at the front a small cashier booth next to it, order your meal at the booth, pay, take your reciept and go collect your food, eat, return your trays and get out.
Milk Bars are today where students, pensioners and the working class go to have a home-cooked meal, but don’t expect service – these ladies feed you, not entertain you.
I began my day with a bowl of Flaczki, beef tripe soup. The tripe is cleaned over a few days and chopped up and put in a beef stock with herbs, bay leafs and spices – a very good example of the waste not culture of Polish cuisine.
The smell of cow offal is strong and pungent and even a well cleaned tripe and herbs doesnt always mask it. Flaki is obviously not everyones sort of thing although it tastes a lot better than it smells.
Perhaps its the fact that it does taste slightly similar to a Pig Organ/Offal soup back in Singapore, except that this was less peppery and more sour, but I really liked it. The flavour was a mixture of beefy and gamey and the texture of the tripe was chewy.
I left the store a happy man and after four hours of touring around went to another Bar Meclezny for lunch – Bambino Bar. This one was a more famous one, with a more updated feel and from what I hear, the best flavour.
The queue was long, as would be expected of a famous place, to kill the time I decided to google to see what Bambino Bar was most popular for. Nothing. No that it was famous for nothing, but that everyone seemed to say that everything was good and there was not particular specialties.
So I did things the easy way, I just went for whatever I could pronounce.
I ordered a Kotlet Schabowy, a polish style schnitzel, different from the Austrian and German one in that it usually uses the tenderloin or pork chop. It came with a side of potatoes with dill and deep fried pork lard bits drizzled on top. Next to the Kotlet Schabowy was a soup a Zupa Pomidorowa with pasta bits in it.
This was the perfect hearty lunch. And yet for me the bit that stole the show was the boiled potatoes. Potatoes are ubiquitous this side of the world what made it amazing was the simple dill and pork lard garnished with it. The aroma of fried pork lard and the sharpness of dill made it more than a simple potato dish, it was a star.
I’d eaten a lot for lunch, but they were all savoury. The meal was missing a sweet treat, and not any sweet treat, it was missing the famous Paczki pastry. Paczki are deep fried dough spheres filled with a sweet caramel or marmalade and then coated with a layer of glazed sugar. It is the ultimate if-your-gonna-get-fat-might-as-well-enjoy-the-calories snack. The best place for Paczki according to the guides was Cukierna Pawlowicz.
I reached rather late and the famous Paczki might have been snapped out, but I managed to get other things that approximated it mostly Packzi without filling I think.
I actually have no idea what I was eating, they were just sweet and tasty and they made me happy. Very happy.
Stomach full and mood lifted by some amazing food I went again exploring Warsaw. My 48 hours was almost up and I had one more dinner before having to catch the flight back to Stockholm. There was one dish I had to try. Since I’d tried pierogi, manti and khinkali (all dumpling dishes) already I decided to go for another national dish of Poland – Bigos.
The reviewers said that the tourist hotspot Zapiecek was the place for the best Bigos in Warsaw. Bigos is often translated as hunters stew. It was made by finely chopping up meats together with sausages (kielbasa) and stewing it with sauerkraut as well as shredded fresh cabbage. The stew dish is typically served in a bread bowl but more “high-class” (or wannabes) serve the stew in a cast iron pan which the dish was cooked in together with a side of bread.
To queue to Zapiecek was short but the waiting time was long. The other tourist behind me grumbled about having other people just sit down and the waitresses not doing anything for crowd control. I was alone and I figured that I wasn’t being charged for service anyway (its tips based here), so I’d just tip less. All I wanted was my Bigos.
I ordered Bigos, and also a Beetroot Soup, which was purplish and surprsingly savoury. I had expected it to be sweet like a dessert and was expecting to not like it but it tasted of a Chicken soup with the colour and smell of beetroot and had the occasional hint of sweetness.
The typical way to eat Bigos is to have a shot of chilled Vodka so I ordered one to go with my Bigos. The blend of a chilled dish that warmed me up went quite nicely with the warm and slightly sour stew dish. It doesn’t look super appetising here but it did taste rather nice. It’s a stew that has sour undertones, which cuts the thick richness of the dish – that I can appreciate.
A good Bigos dish apparently gets better with the more stews its gets, the more it is stewed the richer and thicker the flavour is. A filling, burp-ful meal.
And with that Bigos, my 48 hour food hunt in Warsaw came to an end and the plane back to Stockholm was calling. Polish and Warsaw food is really pleasant but heavy. The flavours are strong and rich, but there was very little cream in all these dishes, the food was just heavy because it was carbohydrate and meat heavy. These flavours were complimented really well with the sourness, whether in the soups, or the serving sauce or even in the dish itself. I did not have too much experience with sourness as a key element of a dish with Singaporean and Asian cuisine so this was something new. It really helped too lighten the meal so the whole dish became more edible.
Sigh… time to work off those calorie though…
ON THE MAP (Bar Mleczny Familijny)
ON THE MAP (Bar Mleczny Bambino)
ON THE MAP (Cukierna Pawlowicz)
ON THE MAP (Zapiecek)