"Milk bar" is a literal translation of the Polish "bar mleczny" - terms for self-service, low-cost, public places where meals were sold. Traditionally, these were mainly milk, dairy and vegetarian dishes, later also meat dishes. Milk bar is a typically Polish type of fast food bar, that became popular in interwar period. However, the peak of popularity of milk bars falls on Communist era. And it is with the post-war period that milk bars are commonly associated..
The first Polish milk bar was established in 1896 in Warsaw. In Łódź, the first milk bar was opened in November 1949 at 13 Piotrkowska Street. A month later, a second place of this type was opened, also at Piotrkowska Street, no. 209* Although the peak of popularity of milk bars falls on 60s and 70s of 20th century, nowadays we can still find in Łódź places where the meals are cheap and easily available to anyone.
What menu should we expect when visiting a milk bar? It depends if we mean historical or present milk bar. In the past, such places were dominated by cheap dishes based on readily available ingredients, e.g. pea soup, omelettes, pierogi, groat - based dishes, if the meat - just only offal (pork liver was the most popular). In modern milk bars the menu is much more extensive. Pierogi are still the basis but apart from that we can also eat pancakes, pork chop, schnitzel, stew, baked beans and even beef ribs. The choice of add-ons is also much wider. Some milk bars also serve breakfasts.
However, one thing has not changed in present milk bars. The dishes will still be at least 30% cheaper than the same courses in restaurants. Often we could eat a two-course dinner for less than PLN 30.
In Łódź, you can find several places that refer to the tradition of old milk bars. The food there is tasty and cheap, but let’s be honest - it’s not a menu for sophisticated palates. But it's an extraordinary experience, not only culinary. So do not hesitate even for a moment - here are the list of places you must visit to leave with a full belly:
* source: Niedźwiecka Ewa, “Łódź w PRL-u. Opowieść o życiu miasta 1945 - 1980”