One of the best ways to jump into a new culture is through the local food. The sheer act of sharing food experiences also gives you instant conversation starter material with locals. At the same time, you’ll be looking for an array of gastronomic pleasures during your time abroad and Warsaw will not disappoint! Below are a few recomendations from students and staff who have previously been involved with SRAS programing in Warsaw.
Polish food can also be found at the chain Zapiecek which has various locations, but the one on Nowy Świat 64, one of the city’s main drags, is recommendable. Czerwony Wieprz is a sort of kitschy, retro restaurant in a Polish-Communist setting. Zapiexy is one of the most popular joints for Zapiekanki. Zapiexy, the name of the joint, is Warsaw slang for Zapiekanka, which are basically mini Polish pizzas on oval shaped bread and typically topped with cheese and mushrooms, although you can get nearly any toppings you want. “Milk bars” are Polish cafeterias known for being cheap sources of traditional Polish food. For more on these culturally rich establishments, click here.
Food Trucks are big in Warsaw. Foodies should check out Yelp Listings for Warsaw’s various trucks.
Coffee is also big in Warsaw. Kawiarnia Kafka is a hip student café near the campus of the University of Warsaw. You’ll find yourself surrounded by bookshelves lined with books (many in English) and students. F30, artfully named for its address (Francuska 30), is a popular café in Praga (east of the river) where you can drink coffee outside under a their famous canopy of umbrellas in the warmer months. Other major coffee chains scattered about Warsaw are Green Café Nero and Costa Coffee.
Sweet Tooth affectionados should check out E. Wedel, Poland’s most famous chocolate manufacturer. They have coffee shops with delicious European-style hot chocolate (basically melted chocolate in a cup) – the original store (opened in 1851 by E. Wedel himself) is in Warsaw at 8 Szpitalna. Grycan, a famed local brand of ice cream, has shops that offer ice cream and good coffee.
For the Homesick, the Pink Flamingo is a 50s-style diner tucked away in a park and a longtime staple for Warsaw’s expats.
Music can be found at Warszawa Powisle, a café/bar located in the old ticket office of the Warsaw Powisle train station. There is almost always live music playing there and is definitely recommended. Café Kulturalna is located inside the Palace of Culture and Science and certainly worth a trip. There is always good music playing there, often live.
Vegetarian food can be found around around Warsaw and even in traditional Polish cooking (look for cabbage or potato-based foods. Make sure to check out Krowarzywa has a couple of (delicious) vegan burger locations. There is always a line but it’s worth it. W gruncie rzeczy (ul. Hoża 62) have cheap and very tasty soups and vegan cakes.
ul. Marszałkowska 10/16
The Union of Lublin Square is a great place to hang out and study after a day of classes downtown at Collegium Civitas (CC). A short tram ride away from the Palace of Culture and Science, the square is where I have to transfer to get to the University (CC) dorm.
A number of nice cafes dot the square – not to mention the shopping mall, which is also a great place to study if you are looking for plenty of clean, quiet, open space. While the mall is home to mostly high-end, expensive shops, there are average-priced coffee shops that remain relatively empty aside from the occasional businessman.
The main reason, however, that I like to study at Plac Unii Lubelskiej is the nearby milk bar Bar Prasowy, located just a few blocks north at Marszałkowska 10/16. Milk bars are a type of establishment unique to Poland and are a remnant of the Communist era. They are essentially extremely cheap, government-subsidized cafeterias that serve traditional Polish food. You can’t get a cheaper or tastier meal – but you have to be prepared and know what you want. Lines can be quite long (especially around lunch time) and everything is only in Polish, so you have to know what the different types of food are and how to order in Polish.
Bar Prasowy is my favorite milk bar (thus far) in Warsaw. It has been “modernized,” meaning that unlike most milk bars that have extremely basic and functional seating, Bar Prasowy has sleek, comfortable furniture and lighting, as well as a young, casual atmosphere.
I usually order a soup (such as żurek – sometimes called barszcz biały – a sour rye soup with sausage, potatoes, and boiled egg inside) for 3 PLN (about 80 cents), a main dish (such as pierogi or bigos, a cabbage stew with various cuts of meat, sausage, and mushrooms) for 6 or 7 PLN, kompot (homemade Polish fruit juice, costs 1.5 PLN), and maybe naleśniki (a Polish take on crepes, cost about 6 PLN) for dessert. Thus for a delicious three course meal with a drink in a comfortable atmosphere, you wouldn’t pay more than about 18 PLN (currently $4.70) at Bar Prasowy. It doesn’t get better than that!
After eating my fill at Bar Prasowy and spending a few hours studying in a coffee shop in the Plac Unii Lubelskiej Shopping mall, I enjoy walking by the social realist architecture along Marszałkowska Street. Many of the buildings feature murals as well. Originally built in 1952 to bring the worker into the heart of the city, the Marszałkowska Dzielnica Mieszkaniowa (MDM) or Marszałkowska neighborhood housing stretches from Plac Unii Lubelskiej in the south, past Plac Konstytucji, to Wilcza street in the north and remains in good condition today. To truly enjoy the view, you need to know the history. To find out more about milk bars in general and the language you’ll need to navigate them, click here.
Grycan & Zielona Budka Ice Creams
Grycan is family-owned sorbet and coffee franchise with more than 60 flavors, both seasonal and static, and over 130 locations throughout Poland.
In 1946, after settling in Wrocław, Grzegorz Grycan opened the first ice cream parlor in postwar Poland with the humble sign: Lody MIŚ – Weronika Grycan (“Ice Cream BEAR – Veronica Grycan” – named after his daughter). Residents of the city queued up with their own cups, buckets and jars to buy their fill of the original flavors of chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, and lemon.
The brand gained massive popularity when Grycan’s grandson, Zbigniew, purchased the rights to the Warsaw’s famous Zielona Budka ice-cream parlor in 1980. The brand, which then became known as Zielona Budka, remained family-owned through the Soviet times, and gradually expanded until large enough to open a factory near Warsaw in 1993.
In 2000, Zbigniew decided to sell the company to Enterprise Investors, one of the largest private equity funds in Poland and the CEE. Zbigniew remained chairman of the board and served until 2003. In 2004, after a statute of limitations on the prohibition of competition ended, Zbigniew reopened his own brand, this time under the name Grycan – Ice Cream for Generations. Today, the company boasts more than 100 sales outlets and over 1,000 employees.
Zielona Budka also continues to manufacture ice cream. It was eventually sold to a major German manufacturer and then merged with a major UK manufacturer and is today a subsidiary of the international conglomerate R&R Ice Cream.
– Katherine Weaver