Food in Slovakia
Slovak cuisine is characterized by simple and substantial dishes. Historically, what is today called truly Slovak was the typical cuisine in northern communities where people survived off sheep grazing and little cultivation – many crops don’t grow in the hard circumstances, and herbs are more available than actual spices. As a result, the main meals are primarily (smoked) meat, cheese, potatoes, and wheat. This does not make the meal dull, and most of it is very substantial and flavorful, although a little hefty. Tasting local goods is a risk-free and enjoyable experience since no harsh spices or really unusual ingredients are utilized.
Some meals are genuinely Slovak, while many others are regional variants. A lot of cheese is usually eaten, and the most popular meats are pig and poultry items, with occasional beef and game meals, with the most common accompaniments being potatoes and different kinds of dumplings. Because Slovakia is a landlocked nation, the availability of fish and seafood is restricted (carp is served at Christmas, trout is the most common fish). Soups are popular as an appetiser and, since some are very substantial, as a main course.
If you are a vegetarian, the food options in the cities should be enough. However, if you go out into the countryside, the selection may be restricted since veggies are usually regarded a side dish and/or eaten fresh or in salads. Also, keep in mind that even though certain meals are listed in the vegetarian part of the menu, this just indicates that they aren’t mostly meat-based and may still be cooked with animal fats or even include tiny bits of meat, so make your preferences clear. Fried cheese with ham or Caesar salad (!) are two dishes that come to mind. Nonetheless, virtually every restaurant in the nation will offer fried cheese (the regular, non-ham kind) with fries, which is a universally popular option. Sweet foods such as pancakes, dumplings filled with fruits, jams, or chocolate, and sweet noodles with nuts/poppy seeds/sweet cottage cheese should be available. Finding the closest pizza is also a nice and convenient choice almost everywhere.
The major meal of the day is typically lunch, however owing to work schedules, this is changing, and supper is increasingly becoming the main meal in cities.
It should be mentioned that, with the exception of the most expensive restaurants, it is not usual for the staff to bring you to your table. So, when you go in, don’t linger around by the entrance; instead, choose a table of your choosing and relax. When you are comfortably situated, wait staff will come over to offer you the menu and allow you to order beverages.
Again, with the potential exception of the most expensive places, there is no dress code in restaurants, and casual attire is acceptable. Hauling oneself into a restaurant for a well-deserved dinner after a day of hiking/skiing may get a few frowns, but you will not be turned away. In general, whatever you’d wear for a walk around town is OK. There is no need for a jacket or closed shoes, and shorts are also appropriate in the heat.
Bryndzové halušky is a traditional Slovak meal consisting of potato dumplings with a kind of unpasteurized fermented sheep cheese known as ‘bryndza.’ This dish is unique to Slovakia and very appetizing (as well as unexpectedly satisfying), and you should not leave without tasting it. Please keep in mind that, although this meal is often featured on the vegetarian part of the menu, it is served with chunks of fried meaty bacon on top, so if you are a vegetarian, make sure to request haluky without the bacon. Haluky may be available at many places, although the quality varies since it is a difficult dish to make. If at all possible, seek out an ethnic Slovak restaurant (which may be more difficult than it seems), or at the very least ask locals for the finest spot in the area. In the northern areas, genuine restaurants named ‘Sala’ (this term means sheep farm in Slovak, and many take food straight from them) offer the most excellent and fresh variety. On sometimes, a variation with smoked cheese on top is offered. Strapaky, a different meal where sauerkraut is served instead of bryndza, may also be offered, although it is not as common (this will also come with bacon on top).
A sala would typically serve other traditional Slovak meals, and many will sell various types of sheep cheese. They are all locally made, delicious, and definitely worth purchasing if you like cheese. Bryndza (primarily used to make ‘Bryndzové haluky,’ but it is a soft spreadable cheese that is very healthy and often used as a spread), blocks of sheep cheese (soft and malleable, delicious on its own or with salt), parenica (cheese curled in layers into a small peelable roll, sold smoked or unsmoked), and korbáiky Some of these cheeses are also available in supermarkets, although they are mass-produced and not as excellent.
The majority of the other foods are regional, and their variations may be found across Central Europe. These include kapustnica, a sauerkraut soup that is traditionally consumed at Christmas but is available all year in restaurants. It’s flavorful and may be slightly spicy depending on the sausage used. Depending on the recipe, smoked meat and/or dried mushrooms may be used.
There are many types of big dumplings known as pirohy, which may be salty or sweet depending on the contents. Sauerkraut, different kinds of cheese or meat, or simply fruits or jam are examples of fillings. They are similar to Polish pierogi.
Goulash is a substantial and satisfying regional meal prepared with pieces of meat, onions, veggies, and crushed potatoes seasoned with spices. It may be eaten as a soup (with bread) or as a stew, depending on the thickness (served with dumplings). Goulash may occasionally be found outside at BBQs or at festival markets, when it is cooked in a large cauldron, often with game instead of beef – the most genuine version. There is also a kind of goulash known as Segedin goulash, which is cooked with sauerkraut. Goulash is a spicy dish.
Other soups are popular as an appetiser, apart from kapustnica and goulash, which are more of a main course. In many areas of the world, mushroom soup is a traditional Christmas meal, and there are many soups prepared with beans or bean sprouts. The most frequent soups in restaurants are regular chicken and (sometimes) beef broth, as well as tomato soup and garlic broth (served with croutons, extremely delicious, but don’t go kissing people after). Certain soups are served in a tiny loaf of bread (‘v bochniku’) in certain places, which may be a fascinating and delicious experience.
Other popular street foods include loke, which are potato pancakes (crepes) served with different fillings (popular variations include duck fat and/or duck liver pate, poppy seeds, or jam), and lango, which is a large deep fried flat bread with garlic, cheese, and ketchup/sour cream on top. Cigánska peienka (or simply cigánska) is a popular local variation of a burger. However, instead of beef, pork or chicken is utilized, and it is served on a bun with mustard/ketchup and (sometimes) onions, chilies, and/or chopped cabbage. If you’re searching for something sweet, spa towns like Pieany have booths offering spa wafers, which are typically two plate-sized thin wafers with a variety of fillings. Consider chocolate or hazelnut.
Loke may also be found in restaurants, particularly in the western regions, where they are offered as a side dish with roasted goose/duck (husacina), a local delicacy.
Other dishes to try include chicken in paprika sauce with dumplings (‘paprikas’) and Schnitzel (‘Reze’ in Slovak, a popular meal). ‘iernohorsky reze’ (a very excellent variation prepared with potato dumpling covering instead of batter) and Svieková (sirloin beef with special vegetable sauce, served with dumplings). Try the plum dumplings (occasionally other fruit is used, although plums are typical) from the dessert menu; this is a wonderful and substantial meal on its own as well.
In certain rural areas, there is a custom known as zabjaka, in which a pig is slaughtered and its different flesh and parts are eaten in a BBQ-style event. This is a far more historic festival than you’re likely to encounter in mainly contemporary Slovakia, but if you get the chance to go, it might be a fascinating experience, and the pork and sausages are home-made, excellent, and full of flavor. If you can get homemade hrka (pig meat and liver sausage with rice) or krvavnky (identical to hurka but with pork blood) somewhere, they are both excellent. Tlaenka (cold meat mashed together with certain veggies, served similar to ham) is also available in stores and is eaten cold with vinegar and onion on top. Other types of sausages and smoked meats are commercially available.
A popular Slovak meal is a big fried piece of cheese served with French fries and a salad. It is available in most restaurants and is well worth tasting, particularly the local version made with smoked cheese (‘den syr’/’otiepok’) or ‘hermeln’ (local cheese similar to Camembert). This is not considered a meat replacement.
There is a wide range of bakery goods available, including sweet pastries with local contents such as poppy seeds and/or (sweet) cottage cheese (tvaroh). Strudel (trdla) is another popular dessert; try the classic apple and raisin filling or the fancier sweet poppy seeds and sour cherries variant. Try pagá, which is a puff pastry filled with little pig cracklings, for something savory. Local bread is delicious, however please keep in mind that some of the types are strewn with caraway seeds. This may or may not appeal to you! Baguettes and baguette shops/stands are popular, and you may choose from a variety of fillings.
Visit the local cukráre for dessert. These businesses, which are gradually morphing into cafés, are only dedicated to satisfying your sweet appetite and offer a range of cakes, hot and cold beverages, and (sometimes) ice cream. The cakes are comparable to those seen in the Czech Republic or their Viennese counterparts. The variety is varied and on display, so simply choose one you like the appearance of, maybe a ‘kréme’ (a piece of dough at the bottom, thick filling of vanilla custard, covered with a layer of cream or plain chocolate) or’veternk’ (imagine big profiterole coated in caramel), torta choices, etc.
When you’re out shopping, don’t forget to pick up Tatranky and/or Horalky, two kinds of identical wafers with hazelnut filling and delicately covered in chocolate that the locals swear by.
Italian restaurants and pizzerias are very popular and have spread across Slovakia. Even if you don’t go to an ethnic Italian restaurant, nearly every restaurant menu will include a pizza or pasta dish. Ice cream from Italy (and elsewhere in the Mediterranean) is also extremely popular.
Chinese and Vietnamese food are also growing more popular, and kebab/gyros (a bun filled with chopped pieces of meat) stands are prevalent.
In larger cities, ethnic restaurants such as Chinese, Thai, Japanese, Italian, French, and many more are available. Furthermore, as previously stated, numerous Austrian, Czech, Hungarian, and Polish recipes with a Slovakian twist are popular.
Fast food restaurants may be found in Slovakia, just as they are everywhere else in the globe, including McDonald’s in many larger and smaller cities. However, since the other food is quite inexpensive in contrast to Western fast food pricing, this is not generally considered a genuinely affordable choice. A dinner at a less expensive restaurant will cost 1-1.5 times the price of a meal package (sometimes even less) and may be a better bargain. Nonetheless, these businesses are fairly popular, particularly among the younger population.
Drinks in Slovakia
Vinea, a soft drink produced from grapes that comes in both red and white varieties and is non-carbonated, is a good non-alcoholic option. Kofola, a Coke-like soft drink, is also popular among locals and is available on tap and in bottles. Slovakia is one of just three nations in the world where Coca-Cola is not the market leader.
Mineral waters are among the finest in the world; they come in a wide range of types, each with its own set of beneficial health benefits (e.g., relieving heartburn, aiding digestion, etc.) based on the minerals naturally present in the water. Budi, Mitická, Slatina, Rajec, Dobrá Voda, Zlatá Studa, Fatra, and more brands are available in stores and supermarkets. Others can only be obtained directly from the numerous natural mineral springs found across the nation. Because they are true’mineral’ waters, they will always include minerals, and the flavor will vary depending on the brand/spring. Try a new brand if you don’t like one! You may also get mineral waters flavored with anything from raspberry to’mojito.’
Unlike what you may be accustomed to, sparkling water is the default choice, so if you want anything else, you may have to search for it explicitly. The label indicates the degree of carbonation. A dark blue or red label generally denotes carbonated ones (“perlivá”), a green label suggests moderately carbonated ones (“mierne perlivá”), and a white, pink, or baby blue label indicates those that do not contain carbon dioxide (“neperlivá”). International brands are not as popular because to the great local selection and quality of the water.
In restaurants, offering a free glass of water is not customary, so if you request one, you will almost certainly be served (most likely sparkling) mineral water instead (and charged for it).
Coffee is available everywhere, usually in three kinds (city cafés will have more): espresso, ‘regular’ coffee (served medium-sized, tiny, and black), and Viennese coffee (‘normal’ coffee with a dollop of cream on top). Cappuccinos are also quite popular. Coffee is served with sugar and a side of cream or milk. Hot chocolate is also popular. In large cities, tea rooms are a popular location to unwind. These often feature a laid-back, vaguely oriental atmosphere and provide a wide selection of black, green, white, and fruit teas. Schisha may also be available. Part of this tradition has extended to other catering businesses, with the majority of them now offering at least a choice of fruit and black tea. In Slovakia, black tea is often served with sugar and lemon; milk or cream are not commonly offered. Some establishments may provide a beverage called ‘hot apple,’ which tastes like milder hot apple juice.
Drinking is an important element of Slovak culture, and alcohol is provided at almost all social gatherings. However, the natives often keep their booze well, and being obviously inebriated is frowned upon, so know your limitations. It’s worth noting that certain locally produced spirits may be stronger than you’re accustomed to, and that the typical shot glass in Slovakia is 50ml, which may be more than you’re used to if you’re visiting from Western Europe. If you purchase double vodka, you will get 1dl! In general, alcohol is less expensive than in Western Europe or the United States. There are no specialized stores, and alcoholic drinks may be bought at almost any local grocery or food store. If you are 18 years or older, you may legally consume and buy alcohol, although this is not rigorously enforced. However, if you seem to be extremely young, you may still be IDed at certain city clubs.
There is a broad range of good local brews that are comparable in flavor and quality to Czech beers (which are also readily available), and beer is the most popular local drink. Zlat Baant, Smädn Mnch, Topvar, and ari are all worth a try. Ari is also available in a dark variant, which is thicker and heavier on the stomach. If the native flavors do not appeal, “Western” beers are available in larger restaurants and bars.
Slovakia also boasts several excellent local wines, many of which are comparable to Germanic Riesling types. There are many wine-growing areas in the south with centuries of history, including one just outside of Bratislava. If possible, attempt to visit one of the local wineries’ wine cellars, since many are historical and provide a cultural experience in and of itself. If you visit these regions, you may be given home-made wine, since many people brew their own wines. Obviously, the quality differs. Every year, between the end of May and the beginning of November, an event called Small Carpathian Wine Road is held in the Small Carpathian Wine Region (between Bratislava and Trnava), during which all local producers expose their cellars to the public. If you purchase a ticket at the closest cellar, you will get a wine glass as well as access to any cellar in the area, where you will be able to taste the finest product from the previous year.
Sweeter wines, known as Tokaj, are cultivated in the south-eastern border areas. Tokaj is a sweet dessert wine made from the region’s indigenous Tokaj grape variety (part of which is in Hungary and half in Slovakia). Tokaj is a premium brand with a global reputation, and it is often regarded as some of the finest that Central Europe has to offer. Other Slovak wines may not be well-known outside of the country, but they are well worth a try. In Slovakia, the finest recent wine years were 1997, 2000, 2003, and 2006. Around harvest time in the fall, young wine called buriak is often marketed and popular among people in wine-producing areas. Buriak’s alcohol level may fluctuate greatly as it ferments (and becomes real wine).
Slovakia manufactures high-quality spirits. The plum brandy (Slivovica), pear brandy (Hrukovica), and herb liquor Demänovka are all excellent. Borovika, a kind of gin, is the most common alcohol. Czech Fernet, an aromatic bitter spirit, is also popular. In certain stores, you may sample a 25 or 50 ml shot for very little money to avoid purchasing a large bottle of an unknown flavor, then decide whether or not to purchase. International brands are also available, although at a higher cost (still cheaper than in most Western countries, however).
If you’re feeling brave, you may sample some home-made fruit brandies that the locals sometimes give to outsiders. Slivovica is the most popular, although pear brandy, apricot brandy, and raspberry brandy are all available. Drinking is a part of the custom, particularly in rural areas. If you are visiting locals, don’t be surprised if you are offered home-made spirit as a welcome drink nor that the host may be quite proud of this private stock. Homemade liquors are very potent (up to 60% alcohol), so proceed with caution. Slivovica may become a nice digestive drink after maturing for 12 years or more.
Mulled wine is offered at all winter markets throughout the winter months, and mulled mead is also popular. A mixed hot drink called grog, which consists of black tea and a shot of local ‘rum’ is very popular, especially in the skiing resorts, and really warms you up.