Poland has a rich and (in Katryna’s opinion!) underrated cuisine, and we were excited to eat nothing but Polish food during our recent weekend visit to Kraków. Our best discovery was the existence of the historic milk bars (bar mleczny), government subsidized cafeterias which saw their heyday in socialist postwar Poland. Offering filling Polish food at unbelievably low prices, they are an excellent place to get a better sense of the local culture and history while having a delicious meal. We tried to seek out as many milk bars as we could in our two days in Kraków, and have more we would like to try. There’s about 150 milk bars remaining in the country, and you really feel like you’ve gone back in time when entering some of them. Despite the uptick in interest from younger Poles and tourists in the nostalgia of the places, our experience also showed that many older Poles are still eating their meals in the milk bars, very likely as they have for decades.
Pod Temidą | ul. Grodzka 43, Old Town
Pod Temidą is between Rynek Glowny and Wawel Castle, making it a convenient place to stop for a bite to eat. The menu is posted on the wall in Polish and English, and even though it is in the heart of the old town, it still feels like a throw-back to an different era. We had breakfast here, so haven’t sampled the full range of options but the cheese filled naleśniki (Polish pancakes) with fruit toppings were perfect.
Bar Targowy | ul. Daszyńskiego 19, Old Town
Bar Targowy is very much off the beaten tourist track in a residential neighborhood not too far from the heart of the old town. The menu is only posted on the wall in Polish, so it’s helpful to have an idea of what you would like to order (or point to another diner’s food to order the same!). We had our last meal before leaving Poland here, and went all out with pierogis, naleśniki, soup, and meat specials (we made educated guesses about what we were ordering, but still weren’t exactly sure what we would get!). The food was delicious and very inexpensive—about $14 USD for a table full of food to feed four people. The long line when we arrived proved that this place is popular with locals, and we were glad we ventured a little outside the tourist areas to find this place.
Milkbar Tomasza | ul. Św. Tomasza 24, Old Town
Milkbar Tomasza is an updated version of the traditional milk bar. With clean, colorful interior that reminded us of an American-style diner, they had a full menu of breakfast, lunch and dinner items. They offer a wide range of Polish cuisine, plus some additional options like panini and Irish breakfast. The menu is posted on the wall (and outside) in Polish and English, so making a decision on what to order is easy. Milkbar Tomasza was the only milkbar we stopped at that gave us the option of fried or boiled pierogis (we went with fried—they were delicious!). We also had their naleśniki for breakfast one morning. The Milkbar is conveniently located not too far from Rynek Glowny making it a great place to stop for a quick meal.
Bar Kazimierz | ul. Krakowska 24, Kazimierz
(2019 update: We have learned that this location is now closed)
Bar Kazimierz is in the historic Jewish neighborhood of Krakow. The restaurant seems very much unchanged from generations past, and was full of locals having lunch. Despite the locals-only feeling, they did have a print menu available in English for us to peruse. We had delicious pierogis, gołąbki (stuffed cabbage leaves), beet borscht soup, potato pancakes and meat dishes at a bargain prices. This milk bar seemed to serve a range of people from varying socioeconomic backgrounds, and one patron approached us while we were eating to ask us for some food (and was quickly deterred by the restaurant staff). The location is convenient for anyone visiting the Kazimierz neighborhood, and we wouldn’t hesitate to go back. The staff was some of the friendliest we encountered, and the food was delicious.
There are certain foods that are staples on milk bar menus. Here are some of our favorites:
- Pierogis: Most cultures have a stuffed dumpling of some kind, and Poland has the famous pierogi. The pierogi ruskie was a favorite of our group, filled with a potato, cheese and onion mixture.
- Naleśniki: A crepe-like pancake, you can find these with sweet or savory fillings. Many traditional naleśniki are filled with a farmer’s cheese, and can come with a fruit topping (great for breakfast). We also had a savory one filled with spinach.
- Gołąbki: You’ll find cabbage featured in many Polish dishes, and gołąbki are hearty meat and rice filled cabbage leaves.
- Kiełbasa: The famous Polish sausage, you may find it on its own, or added to a soup.
- Barszcz: Similar to the Russian borscht, this is a delicious beet soup.
Looking for a snack while on the go? Obwarzanek krakowski, a bagel-like bread treat, is sold widely around the city by street vendors. They come in a variety of flavors, including ones with poppy or sesame seeds, and we gravitated towards the ones with cheese.
We also discovered the most delicious donuts called pączki at Krakowskie Pączki (ul. Grodzka, just south of Rynek Glowny). Filled with a rose marmalade, they came with a variety of icing options including lemon, orange or cinnamon. Served nice and warm, they made a great end of the day treat (we were craving them enough on our second night we had to go back for more).