Bar mleczny

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Bar mleczny in Gdynia
Bar mleczny in Nowa Ruda

The bar mleczny ( German : milk bar, also known as the Polish milk bar ) is a gastronomic self-service eatery and the Polish version of a milk bar . All day long non-alcoholic drinks and food are (produced and) sold that come from traditional Polish cuisine . The name "Milchbar" comes from the time when mainly milk, dairy products and vegetarian dishes were offered there. But over the years, meat dishes also caught on. The idea for an inexpensive eatery was born in 1896 and spread rapidly between the two world wars. During the time of the People's Republic of Poland , milk bars were used for mass catering to large sections of the population. Since the free market economy was introduced in Poland in 1989 , many bars have had to give up.



The bar mleczny is a Polish idea, although contrary to popular opinion it is older than the former People's Republic of Poland. The tradition of inexpensive vegetarian restaurants goes back to the end of the 19th century. Stanisław Dłużewski opened the first milk bar, the Mleczarnia Nadświdrzańska dairy, as early as 1896 . It was profitably in a central location in Warsaw , namely on 11 Nowy Świat Street (“New World” 11), one of the most popular strolling and shopping streets in the city. The landowner and farmer offered vegetarian dishes based on milk, eggs and flour. The idea of ​​offering meat-free meals at a reasonable price quickly became popular, and other companies opened similar facilities. After Poland regained independence in 1918 in the Second Republic , the popularity of milk bars grew. Driven by the post-war food crisis, the cheap eateries spread across the country. Ministerial edicts regulated the size, composition, prices and even the number of meals. The regulation of no more than two meals per person and the ban on displaying ready-made dishes in shop windows should prevent waste. The mleczny bar gave many needy citizens access to affordable meals.

People's Republic of Poland (1944–1989)

Bar mleczny experienced its greatest heyday during the People's Republic of Poland, which existed from 1944 until the end of the Eastern Bloc in 1989. After the Second World War, the communist authorities took up the idea of ​​providing inexpensive vegetarian food for the population, because meat was considered a luxury product at the time. Most of the restaurants, including the Polish milk bars, were nationalized. During the period of Gomułka's “little stabilization” in the mid-1960s, milk bars were organized in the Społem Food Cooperative ( Polish : Spółdzielnia Spożywców Społem ). The prevailing idea at the time was to have cheap meals available to all people near their workplaces. Subsidies kept the price of meals down and food was readily available to everyone. The milk bars thus offered a good opportunity to cater for workers from companies without canteen food. If you wanted to eat something in the milk bar, you often had to wait in line at the cash register and then at the counter. In 1978 it was calculated that in Poland there were 35.5 places in restaurants for every 1000 people. That was definitely not enough for the management of Społem . The plan arose to expand the public gastronomy. One wanted to create a huge network with tiny milk bars, so-called gosposie (German: the housekeepers), as well as build large restaurants with over 100 seats. But the ambitions of the gigantic project could not be fulfilled, because there was a lack of space and the determination to implement the plan. But above all, there was a shortage of food in the shops. The problem was exacerbated during martial law in the early 1980s when meat was rationed.

Change from 1989 until today

Food distribution in a Polish milk bar

Since the introduction of the free market economy in 1989, the Poles have also enjoyed a culinary variety that was not there before. As a result, many milk bars had to give up because they did not have the same attractiveness as the new private restaurants. The service was often too old, there was a lack of waiters and the simple furnishings were not appealing enough. Most of the milk bars have been converted into ordinary mini-restaurants. Of almost 40,000 such bar mleczny that still existed during the times of the People's Republic of Poland, about 140 are left today. Some survived because they now also offer meat dishes, improved the quality of the menu and raised prices. In addition, the Polish state subsidizes the milk bars with several million euros every year (but only vegetarian products, which is why meat dishes are a bit more expensive). The cities and municipalities provide the premises and in some cases also pay for electricity and gas. Thanks to this help, it is possible that prices, even if they have increased, are still at a low level. In recent years, however, the subsidies for the Polish milk bars have decreased considerably. As a result, the number of Polish milk bars continues to decrease. The bar mleczny is therefore a dying institution.

to eat and drink

Price board with typical dishes of a bar mleczny
Menu of a bar mleczny

The food at the bar mleczny consists of dishes and dishes from Polish cuisine, which are traditionally rather hearty and rich in fat. In contrast to earlier times when there was a shortage, the offer is no longer limited to meat-free food. The basic structure is still meals made from milk, dairy products, eggs (e.g. pancakes), groats and flour. Even if the meals are very cheap, the preparation of the dishes is very labor-intensive, which is why newly hired kitchen staff often give up the job. In the fifties beer was still sold in some of the bars, later alcohol was basically no longer offered. In the socialist era there were seldom desserts apart from ice cream , as desserts were considered bourgeois and therefore disreputable. The following traditional dishes, for example, are typical of the bar mleczny:

Social role in Poland

Especially in the era of socialism, milk bars were not only a convenient and cheap alternative to eating at home, they were also a center of social life. Nevertheless, they were criticized and ridiculed. They owe their bad reputation mainly to the economy in service, the reduced range of simple food and the simple interior design. The institution is known to the youngest generation from old movies, old jokes and grandmother's tales. This is how Stanisław Bareja's cult comedy Miś (German: the teddy bear) came about in 1980 . One of the most famous scenes in Polish cinema history takes place there in a bar called mleczny. The square seemed to be a symbol of poverty and to stand for the absurdities of so-called real socialism . In the context of the Ostalgie , the milk bars are now gaining a new popularity, even if today it is less workers than unemployed people, pensioners and also students who are counted among the loyal customers. For many young Poles, they even have cult status. You can no longer remember the time of long lines and rationed groceries. Some visit the bar mleczny because it gives their guests a touch of the socialist past for the duration of a meal and because it is often the “last bastion” of traditional Polish cuisine.

See also

Web links

Commons : Bar mleczny  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Merian : Warsaw and Poland, February 1992, p. 117