This is a review with a bit of a difference. I’m not really interested in reviewing the food that you can get at Familijny in Warsaw as it takes a back seat to what really matters at this canteen.
Familijny is a canteen that welcomes all customers, no matter their nationality, race, age, financial status, housing situation. There’s even an English menu behind the counter for those who don’t speak Polish. Once you order, you will find yourself seated next to middle-class families, poor students, homeless people – all tucking into a plate of Familijny’s cheap and simple homecooked Polish meals.
But not everyone is as fortunate. A single ‘meal’ at Familijny consisting of meat, potatoes or buckwheat and salad will set you back between 11 and 13 Polish zloty, or $4 in Aussie dollars. Nothing really for fortunate people like us. But for many of the Polish homeless community, it’s more than they can afford.
As K and I sat in the canteen eating our meals, I noticed an older weather-beaten Polish couple sitting a few tables away, nursing two cups of coffee between them ($1 AUD). They had chosen a table near the clearing station, where diners deposit their dirty dishes to be taken back into the kitchen for cleaning.
As dishes were placed there by diners, the couple got up and scraped together scraps from different plates into a full meal for themselves – half a dozen scraps of mashed potatoes, buckwheat and salad into a semblance of a meal. I felt incredibly guilty because by the time I’d noticed what they were doing, I’d already polished off my own meal.
I toyed with the idea of going to the counter and paying for two meals for the two of them. It would cost me nothing really, but at the same time, I wasn’t sure how it would be received. The couple were being very discreet about what they were doing and the staff at the restaurant were being discreet about waiting for a decent amount of time before clearing the dishes. All signs pointed to this being an accepted phenomenon, and I was afraid that buying meals for them outright would be a faux pas that would cause them shame or embarrassment.
If I was to return to Familijny for a meal, I think I would do things differently. Rather than ordering one meal per person, I think I would make the conscious effort to over-order so that there would be a significant amount of leftovers for anyone who wanted to help themselves. If discretion is how things are done here, then that’s what I would do to help those who need it.
If you feel lucky in being able to travel, then spread your good fortune where you can. Visit a canteen that welcomes homeless people if you go to Poland and order more than you need. Your leftovers won’t go to waste.
Familijny is located at Nowy Swiat 39 in Warsaw, Poland.