Culinary Experience in the Milk Bars of Krakow

When I planned a trip to Poland, I had vaguely included visiting a Milk Bar as one of the To Do’s in Krakow if time permitted. The reason for my nonchalance perhaps stemmed from the belief that Polish Cuisine is bland uninspiring. After a 3 day trip to this pretty picturesque Polish city; the culinary experience in the milk bars of Krakow emerged as the highlight of my brief sojourn in Poland.

What is a Milk Bar

As the name suggests; milk bars are not really outlets where milk is sold from the tap and patrons guffaw around sipping on tall glasses of milk shakes. “Bar Mleczny” or Milk Bars in Poland are a relic from the Socialism era. The first milk bar was set up in Warsaw in 1896 serving dishes based on dairy items and traditional Polish cuisine. These outlets with cheap and nourishing food played a prominent role during the Great Depression of 1930’s right through World War II. In the aftermath of devastation and war; Poland came under communist rule from 1945 imposed by former Soviet Union . In their over zealousness for socialism, private establishments including restaurants were nationalized and the moderate to expensive ones  were eventually closed down. The state subsidized milk bars thrived during this period serving dairy based food; sometimes egg and pierogis (dumplings). Meat and Alcohol were strictly off the menu and people survived on basic fare of potatoes, wheat and cheese. There are stories around cutlery being chained to the tables in the milk bars to prevent diners from taking them away  during the times of induced scarcity.

Milk Bars of Krakow

Winds of change have blown across Poland after the curtain call on communism in 1989. Over time the country became a part of the European Union opening up the path to economic progress and prosperity. The economy of shortage gave way to modernity in all spheres but the milk bars of yore were retained with a nostalgia of the past in their look and feel and a makeover in their menu to include meat items. These self service outlets run by ladies in crisp aprons serve non ostentatious but healthy delicious grub at very cheap rates. They are mostly frequented by students, pensioners and anyone looking for a quick meal that is light on the pocket. Sharing tables with strangers is pretty much the norm and not an exception in these places.

Milk Bar Hopping in Krakow 

On a hot summer afternoon in Krakow, I decided to walk into one of these milk bars for a bite. A quick google search threw up Pod Termida a few metres away on Grodzka. I obediently followed Google’s instructions to my destination. The small blue sign with bold white letters “Mleczny” Pod Termida can be missed if you are not looking out. The place was neat and spartan and to my comfort; the “Jadlospis” or Menu had English translation of all the items.  Better still, the lady donning a crisp apron had a smile on her face and we managed to converse in English. I ordered a plate of Kluskie Slaskie with Mushroom Sauce and she quickly conveyed instructions to the kitchen in rapid Polish while handing over the change. In the next few minutes that I waited at the table for my food, streams of people queued up at the counter. The odd tourist in the melee of locals could easily be identified by the long pause in front of the menu on the wall. Milk Bars of Krakow - KLuskie Slaskie

The steaming plate of Kluskie Slaskie looked rather dull but my apprehension led to a wide smile once I took the first bite. The potato dumpling was made from a dough of boiled mashed potatoes, flour and salt, small balls of which were subsequently flattened and steamed. The buttery mushroom sauce had loads of onion, garlic and spiced with pepper for taste. I devoured every bit of the spongy dumpling, occasionally observing the ladies across the table. They spoke in hushed tones exchanging smiles that would have been surely concealed behind the down turned lips in their younger days under communist rule. Some people were politely turned away as their favorite Beetroot Zupi (Soup) was over for the day. These outlets do brisk business and are generally done with their limited produce within a few hours of opening. So if you are looking for choice, better to pop up early and with cash since most do not accept credit cards. A good 30 minutes later, 15ZL (4 EUR) lighter but satiated with happiness, I slipped out into the cobbled streets of Krakow for a day of sightseeing.

I was zeroing on another Milk Bar for the following day when my Air BnB hostess suggested that I should perhaps go to a Pierogernia too and sample the home made dumplings. Pierogernia’s are similar to Milk Bar’s in offering and price point. They are reviving the culture of relishing the Polish delicacies in a warm, no frills cafe like environment with innovative fillings ranging from sweet to savory. 

The hand painted wall decor, lamps, and tables in Pierogernia Krakowiacy was colorful. It was almost like walking into a Polish folklore greeted by a traditonally attired young Polish hostess donning a floral crown. The menu for the day with grilled turkey, tomatoes and pepper seemed enticing but I wanted to have a few sweet ones too.

My dilemma was soon dissolved when she kindly agreed to give me a half of the day’s special savory (Lepiaki na Slono) and a half of a sweet one (Lepiaki na Slodko) so that I could taste both. They looked pretty similar and drab; but appearances are deceptive as they say. Turkey, Tomato and pepper served with some sweet apple relish did quite well though the pepper was far too mild for my spicy Indian palate.

The cherry and mascarpone cheese stuffed dumpling sprinkled with powdered sugar tasted much better than it looked. The sweetness of the filling countered by the not so thick layer of flour doused in thick creamy sauce was a treat for the tongue. It reminded me of my grandmother’s coconut and jaggery mix stuffed dumplings cooked in thickened milk. As I travel around the world exploring as much with my stomach as I do with my eyes, I realise that cuisines merge into each other at some point; the basic concept remaining the same leaving the innovation and differentiation to local ingredients. 

It was hard to look away from the slices of cheese cake (Sernik) loaded with berries that was kept on the counter. After a fill of pierogies, I controlled that burp stuck in my throat and gave in to my senses. The squishy cheese cake at 7 ZL less than 2 EUR was a delight with all those rich attractive berries adding color and taste.

I tried my luck with Milk Bars in Warsaw too but sadly the menu was in Polish and they were all too busy catering to the office crowd. If you are in Krakow; would highly recommend a meal in a Milk Bar and it will be a memorable date with recent history. Don’t forget to carry cash since most of them do not accept cards and remember to ask for a mix of dumplings so that you can get the best of it as a tourist.

Back home in India, these self service spartan places are the norm of the day be it the Dhabas in the North, the Darshinis in the south or the friendly street carts elsewhere. I frequent these outlets often, taking their existence for granted. Milk Bar hopping in Krakow got me thinking; may be a 50 years later when India has progressed ahead and I am long gone, these pocket friendly eateries that feed the masses will be but a relic of the past holding on to nostalgia in some corner though I sincerely hope not.

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Symphony of Comfort & Warmth in Sound Garden Hotel, Warsaw

The best and cheapest stay during my recent 24 day trip around a few countries in Europe turned out to be the smartest and the most comfortable. I was flying out of Warsaw pretty early in the morning and I wanted to stay close to Chopin Airport. While searching the net, I chanced upon Sound Garden Hotel in Warsaw and immediately discovered an online partner where a room was available on sale for a very low rate (EUR 25 without breakfast). I was a bit apprehensive at first since the reviews were mixed, some kind and a few unkind ranting about issues that left me wondering. I decided to take the plunge, specially to experience their smart network and ladies floor. Sound Garden Hotel in Warsaw has just taken a step ahead with IOT (Internet of Things) and this geek is extremely happy to have made the choice to stay in that hotel.

Checking In and Checking Out of Sound Garden Hotel

I came across a lot of negative reviews for the Self Check In Process but I had a great experience, finding it simple and easy. It is very similar to generating your boarding pass at the airport kiosk. The lady at the reception was eager to help though I could manage on my own. I was assigned a room on the Ladies Floor which is the top most Floor of the Hotel since I was traveling alone. I did not have to pay any deposit as my 2 night stay was prepaid. A deposit is required if the stay is not paid upfront. I was told that the access to the Wi Fi was through the TV in the room and was eager to experience the smart network. The Wi-Fi network in the common area like reception and restaurant was open though a bit slow.

The plush new elevators are smart too. I noticed that each floor was designed around music like jazz, pop, nature, rock and the ladies floor had the theme as Silence. The elevator silently moved and allowed me to alight at Floor 6 once I had swiped my key card. I felt I had just walked into the reception of a Spa with the sound of rippling water, soothing, gentle, calming. The two relaxation chairs, warm lights, flickering candles and rack full of books just made it cosy and comfortable. I could not thank myself enough for booking this hotel for my last 2 nights in Europe before I headed home.Warsaw Sound Garden Hotel Ladies Floor

Checking out for me was a breeze. All I had to do was drop the access card in a box located in the elevator. My room was paid upfront and I had also cleared the restaurant bill the previous evening.Sound Garden Hotel Check Out

Rooms at the Sound Garden Hotel

The room was small, simple and cosy. It can be a little congested for 2 but for a solo traveler it was perfect. The bedside tables had curved modern sleek bed lamps that could be controlled with a smart switch. The bed table was laid out with chocolates and 2 bottles of health rejuvenating drink Voda. The bed linen was spotlessly clean and comfortable. The cabinet next to it had enough space and hangars for my clothes.Warsaw Sound Garden Hotel Ladies Room

After a quick recce of the room, I switched on the TV with the remote and the screen lit up with different options including one for accessing Wi-Fi. As soon as I clicked on Wi-Fi; the screen displayed the network I had to access along with the password. I was sorted within a minute and the speed was pretty good. This 21st century Wi-Fi addiction to remain connected at every opportunity is something that I have also succumbed to.

The bathroom was decent and I have been to hotels with smaller bathrooms and shower cubicles in other European Hotels so this was actually comfortable. It was stocked with everything I needed including a hair dryer, mineral water and the regular stuff. I read about a lot of people complaining about transparent doors for the bathroom but I did not have the issue. Maybe they took extra care for the ladies floor.

All the rooms are sound proof and there was pin drop silence in the room even though I was overlooking the road and an office complex. I could only hear soothing music once I stepped out of the room in the corridor. Being a Yoga Practitioner, I loved the melodious music, it had an instant calming effect in busy Warsaw.

Voda Collagen ~ Healthy welcome in the Ladies Room 

The pink bottle of Voda Collagen with a hint of pomegranate were pretty interesting. The subtle flavour of pomegranate in Voda Naturlna with a tinge of sweetness loaded with Vitamin C and Collagen (protein) kept me energised through the day. It was nice and relaxing after a long day around Warsaw too.

https://vodanaturalna.pl/en/

Warsaw Sound Garden Hotel Voda Collagen

Food at Sound Garden Hotel

The restaurant is on the ground floor right next to the reception. It is an open area with small wooden tables and candles all around. The counters serve sumptuous breakfast for a few hours in the morning, different cuisines at attractive rates during lunch hour and it is a-la-carte in the evening. I left too early on both days to experience breakfast and returned way after lunch so had the opportunity to experience dinner. The menu caters to different palates including Italian, Wok, Stir Fries, Soups, Salads and the local Polish cuisine. I indulged in the breaded Pork Chops locally known as “Kotlet Schabowy” which came with grilled potatoes and salad. It was well done and delicious for 8 EUR. Something similar in Warsaw or elsewhere in the continent was way more expensive. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised since I was warned in Krakow about the bland food in Warsaw. The desserts at the bar counter appeared pretty attractive but was way too full to go sample themSound Garden Hotel Kotlet Schabowy

Staff at Sound Garden Hotel

Warsaw is not particularly warm be it the weather or the people around compared to Krakow. Maybe language is a barrier or may be tourists are not as much appreciated on the streets of the modern business city but the staff at Sound Garden be it at the reception or at the restaurant were very forthcoming, friendly and spoke English. Thank You ladies and gentleman for the fine experience.

Airport Transfer To and From Sound Garden Hotel

The hotel provides free airport shuttle only for guests who directly book on their website. The hotel is located about 10 mins from the airport and easily accessible by bus no 175. On the way from the airport, the stop (Novotel) is just in front of the hotel. On the way back to the airport stop across the road can be reached by a footbridge which also has an attached elevator to transport luggage. The buses are available almost every 20 minutes from 5 am to midnight. In the interim period there is a bus no N32 which runs the same route. Bus 175 leads to Warsaw Central Station, Warsaw City Centre finally culminating close to Old Town.

It is better to buy the ticket for a Normal Single Way Journey from the Automat while boarding the bus since the drivers may not have change or tickets. Some buses have fitted ticket machines which do not accept coins and accept specific kinds of cards only. If you are traveling on the bus; ensure that you have been given a “Normal Ticket for a 20 minute Ride” at the minimum.

Online Booking for “Sound Garden Hotel”

The hotel is available for booking through different online partners. I booked through Make My Trip in India and got a deal. However, there are some added benefits if booked directly through them so click here http://www.soundgardenhotel.pl/en

The booking was done nearly 2 months in advance and for a weekend which may have led to a low rate for a cosy smart hotel which is primarily aimed at business travelers. Highly recommend for ladies who are visiting Warsaw solo for a day or two for business or tourism !! Having said that I recommend it for everyone 🙂

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