Considered the places that fed the working class before the fall of the communist system, the Polish Milk Bars have played a paramount role during times of crisis derived from the war between Ukraine and Russia, providing food to the hundreds of displaced Ukrainians since March 2022.
Founded at the end of the 19th century, the Bar Mleczny, as they are called in Polish, came due to socialist authorities, with the intention of having a space for the working class in which they could eat at low cost with food made from milk and vegetables, which is why they adopted their name.
With the establishment of approximately 40,000 bars in those years and today with only 400 around the country, workers finished their labors and commonly ate what is offered even currently on the menu: the Pierogi dish.
The famous Polish Pierogi, is the most traditional dish in the country’s gastronomy, they are made of pasta filled with various ingredients such as vegetables, cheese or meat. These foods are frantically prepared by the cooks, who regularly keep in their hands the traditional recipe that was inherited by their grandmothers and mothers.
Although in its beginnings, the Milk Bars weren’t the favourite places of the inhabitants, for they were a bit ashamed to eat there, nowadays they preserve a peculiar symbolism that motivates the middle-class inhabitants -frequently- to find a nutritious meal, with flavors that evoke the past and a space that is essential for the youngest members of the families to know and delve into the culture of their nation.
Given such relevance, the Bar Mleczny are an important part of the diet of those who, by their own decision and for reasons of emergency, arrived in Polish lands. The Kondrat family, from the city of Lugansk in Ukraine, is a faithful consumer of the traditional dishes of the dining rooms with a Soviet atmosphere.
The favorite dish of the Kondrat children who are 4 and 7 years old, is the Ukrainian soup, which emerges on their palate memories of joy, this soup is also traditional in Poland and is better known as Barscz or borsch, as it is usually pronounced, which ingredients are beets, vegetables, pork, onion, salt, pepper, balsamic vinegar and butter. Although it doesn’t have a friendly aspect, it is enough to leave a mark in the mouth of those who consume it with a reddish hue that seems to enliven people.
The Kondrats sit down, order at the register, drink two glasses of fruit-based water and wait patiently until the walls resound: Barscz! Dwie Barscz! The father gets up immediately, the children’s faces take on a special glow and they eat immediately. After that, cooks launch a new phrase: Pierogi z mięsem! In the same way, the father walks rapidly and picks up the dishes to take them to the table.
Order two dishes, since each one is made up of five Pierogi that are accompanied by onions with caramelized touches. They take a last drink of water, laugh for a moment and leave, to continue one more day in the place they want to be their home for at least the rest of the year, while the chaos -hopefully- lightens.
Both the Kondrat and thousands of families, not only from Ukraine, but from Poland and neighboring countries, consider the Bars as a place that should endure in the nation.