In Slovakia, food is fuel. Slovakia being historically an agrarian and mountainous society, traditional Slovak cuisine evolved to provide high-energy, low-cost sustenance to peasants and laborers. No surprise, then, to see Slovak food lean heavily toward potatoes, dough, cabbage, dairy, and pork.
For example, the Slovak national dish, bryndzové halušky, is potato-dough gnocchi smothered in salty sheep bryndza cheese, and topped with smoked bacon bits [see below in Entrées].
Yet despite the limited variety of traditional ingredients, Slovak dishes provide quite a range of flavors. This should become all the more obvious from our compendium of Slovak food.
We asked travel bloggers to share the best dish they sampled in Slovakia (Lindsay, as the non-Slovak half of Where Is Your Toothbrush?, added her own favorites). What we received pleasantly surprised us both in terms of variety and how much the travelers enjoyed Slovak cuisine.
Where Is Your Toothbrush? is proud to present 13 traditional Slovak dishes that will make you crave Slovak food.
Traditional Slovak food: Soups
Soup is the most quintessential of Slovak meals; every lunch or dinner begins it. That’s not a bad thing: soup in Slovakia is beautiful. Take clear chicken soup with homemade noodles, a Sunday lunch classic. What would be a gourmet soup at a high-end bistro is the most down-to-earth basic dish in Slovakia.
“Slovaks think it’s strange if you don’t have soup prior to every meal,” says Lindsay. “One way to identify a foreigner is that they don’t have soup as a first course.”
Otília Golis who runs the Facebook page Slovak Homemade Cakes [see below in How to…], where she features Slovak food recipes, says, “Slovaks love soups, we live on soups, we eat some pretty much every day. There is always a pot of soup in the house.”
Beware: If you come from a culture where soup is a meal in itself, as in the United States, you have to learn how to not fill up on soup in Slovakia, lest you offend your hosts or leave your restaurant meal unfinished. Particularly hearty soups like kapustnica (sauekraut soup) or fazuľová polievka (bean soup) can constitute a meal on their own.
Kapustnica (sauerkraut soup)
by Siya Zarrabi, Hopscotch the Globe
I’m about to scoop into a traditional soup called kapustnica. First, let me point out that I’m dining with a mayor of a town near Slovak Paradise National Park. She brought me to a local restaurant to get a taste of Slovakian history.
Let me give you the scoop on the soup: This is a cabbage soup brewed to succulent perfection, typically mixed with onions, dried mushrooms, sauerkraut, slices of sausage, and sour cream on top. I had the added bonus of having mine served in a bowl made of fresh bread.
Imagine the smell of standing in a bakery and cracking open a pot of amazing soup. Particles of allspice, nutmeg, garlic, paprika, smoked sausage and baked bread hit your palate at once.
This is a simple dish perfected over centuries. Many other countries have variations of cabbage soup, but they don’t compare to kapustnica, holding a spot in Slovakian cuisine across the country.
I’m not that big into soups, but this is one that I ordered repeatedly during my travels in Slovakia. The final spoonful of broth only meant the second meal was about to begin, and it looked vivid with flavour. The inside of my bread bowl had been absorbing the savour, while still remaining crunchy on the outside. It was like crackers and dip mixed into one delicious bite.
Fazuľová polievka (bean soup)
by Lindsay Sauvé, Where Is Your Toothbrush?
The first time I heard about fazuľová polievka was when my Slovak language school classmate Csaba searched for the best one to have in Bratislava, searching for one similar to his Slovak grandmother’s, of which he had fond memories. He finally found one in a dive-y pub near the dorm where we students were staying. He raved about it so much, I knew I had to try it, especially because I didn’t recall having had any at Peter’s parents’.
When I finally sampled the soup, I understood Csaba’s obsession. The soup is creamy, filled with butter-soft brown beans that melt in your mouth. It’s cooked with a hunk of smoked meat that flakes off into the soup and lends it a salty, smoky flavor.
Though Slovaks insist on having an entrée course to follow soup, fazuľová polievka is a standalone meal in a bowl if you have it with crusty bread and butter. It’s comfort in a bowl, and a perfect accompaniment to pint of cold lager in a dark pub or a mountain chalet.
Slovak food: Entrées
The second course at lunch or dinner, after soup, is typically a hearty dish featuring potatoes and meat. Traditional Slovakian food contains a lot of potatoes and cheese.
It is no coincidence that most of the traditional Slovak dishes travel bloggers contributed feature bryndza, a salty sheep cheese included on European Union’s Protected Geographic Indication list, along with Skalický trdelník [see below in Slovak desserts] and parenica and oštiepok cheeses [see below in Snacks and sides]. Bryndza centers the Slovak national dish, bryndzové halušky, and aside from its use in cooking, it makes for a tasty, tangy spread.
Vyprážaný syr (deep fried cheese), a staple of cafeterias all over Slovakia, is basically a slab of cheese that’s breaded and deep fried. You’ll see it served with potatoes or French fries and a dab of tartar sauce for dipping.
Another doughy goodness of Slovak cuisine are dishes in the category of múčnik, which derives from the word for flour, múka. Múčnik dishes are basically flour-based desserts [see below in Slovak desserts] served in a portion large enough to be an entreé.
Some consider pirohy [see below in this section] a múčnik, and the category includes parené buchty (steamed buns with a filling), šúľance (rolled potato dough with poppy seed), crepes filled with jam or fruit, lievance (pancakes served with jam or fruit) or dukátové buchtičky (small square baked buns with vanilla sauce), the sickly sweet scourge of my school cafeteria.
Bryndzové halušky (bryndza sheep cheese dumplings)
by Lindsay Sauvé
To be honest, bryndzové halušky isn’t much to look at. But when you consider its individual components—potato dumplings, tangy creamy sheep cheese, and crisp smoky bacon bits, what’s not to love?
Overwhelmed by information on my first trip to Slovakia, I don’t even remember my first bryndzové halušky. Later, on my many visits to Peter’s country, I fell in love with Slovakia’s national dish.
It’s basically perfect comfort food, best consumed after some hard work, such as hiking, biking, or plowing a field, and washed down with a pint of cold pilsner.
I’ve had it homemade, in restaurants, in cities, in villages, and in the mountains. It doesn’t matter: Slovaks know how to make this dish and make it well.
Bryndzové pirohy (bryndza sheep cheese pierogi)
by Miriam Risager, Adventurous Miriam
The absolute best dish I had in Slovakia was bryndzové pirohy (sheep cheese pierogy). It’s one of the Slovak national dishes and it’s de-lish. Now, this heavy Slovakian meal consists of potato dumplings (like gnocchi), filled with sheep cheese and topped with sour cream, fried onion, spring onion, and crispy bacon.
You can get cheese dumplings just about anywhere in Slovakia, but I had it in Košice, a lovely town in the eastern part of the country. Give it a try, you won’t regret it.
Mäsové guľky (meat balls)
by Toccara & Sam, Forget Someday
When it comes to food in Slovakia, the locals sure do enjoy hearty entrées. Like most traditional Slovak dishes, even their meatballs cannot be made without potatoes. Mäsové guľky is a Slovak-style meatball dish made with minced meat enclosed in potato dough, served over steamed cabbage, and topped with roasted onion and spring onion.
I first tried this scrumptious entrée at The Flagship Restaurant in Old Town Bratislava. Locals and tourists alike dine at this cozy establishment when seeking out traditional Slovak food and drink in a truly authentic atmosphere.
This dish, among the many others that I tried throughout my time in Slovakia, was among my favorites. It definitely left me satisfied…and full!
Slovak cuisine: Snacks and sides
What cuisine doesn’t have delicious snacks and sides? We’ve previously covered Malaysian snacks, and Slovak snacks aren’t that far behind, though again, cheese and potatoes rule in this food category as well. It’s quite amazing what Slovak cuisine can do with so few ingredients!
It goes without saying, that Slovak beer complements these typical Slovak dishes best.
Parenica and oštiepok (traditional Slovak cheeses)
by Andrea Anastakis, Rear View Mirror
I’ve known people who would cross the world for cheese. I’m sure you’re thinking of the pull of exquisite French and Italian cheeses, but would you believe I travelled for Slovakian cheese? Ok, I didn’t quite cross the world but I hopped in my car and drove 1,300 km from Como in Italy to the far eastern Slovakian town of Košice.
I was there to sample food from some of Slovakia’s best chefs at the Košice Food Festival. I got to try modern takes on traditional halušky [see above in Entrées], grilled local fish, and poppy seed ice cream.
But where was the cheese?
The cheese I discovered later at the Olive Tree restaurant. A delicious selection of Slovakian cheeses accompanied by a little fruit. Not all Slovakian cheeses are smoked but two of the most famous are. Both parenica and oštiepok are smoked. Both are so good they are protected by the European Union.
Oštiepok originates in the Tatra Mountains and is a cheese often found at the Christmas markets in Central Europe. Parenica is quite different, being made of strips and rolled into a spiral shape.
Slovakia has many great cheeses and intense, creamy butter, too—a surprisingly great destination for dairy products.
by Lindsay Sauvé, Where Is Your Toothbrush?
Central Europe’s answer to pizza, langoš is originally a Hungarian specialty. But it is also popular in Slovakia, Austria, Czech Republic, Serbia, Croatia, and Romania.
In Slovakia, langoš is street food that can be found where people want an easy and delicious snack—train stations, festivals, even bus-stop kiosks.
The flat bread—very similar to Native American fry bread—is really the highlight of langoš. It’s lightly fried, crispy and chewy, and it can be pulled apart or folded and eaten like a taco.
Garlic, ketchup, cheese, and tartar sauce are the typical choices in Slovakia, and some places also offer sour cream and chocolate. The garlic tends to be strong but nicely offset by the sweetness of the ketchup and creamy tang of tartar sauce.
Chlebíčky (small open-faced sandwiches)
by Rachel Davey, Very Hungry Nomads
Discovering a good sandwich is something that every traveller appreciates in any country. There’s something really comforting about a Slovakian open-faced sandwich, called chlebíčky.
This roughly translates to small breads. It’s no secret that a Slovakian staple ingredient is delicious rye bread, which is served with every meal, freshly baked from small bakeries and almost every supermarket. They’ve taken the humble slice of freshly baked rye bread and, on special occasions, the fancy white bread, and they dress them with some simple but moorish ingredients.
A standard chlebíčky is served at home for birthdays and family gatherings, but it can also be found in lahôdky, which means the deli. The bread is traditionally spread with butter and thin layer of mustard. Sometimes an egg mayonnaise or red pepper spread is used. It’s then topped with either fresh ham or salami, slices of fresh tomato and red capsicum, some pickles, a slice of boiled egg, and finished off with finely grated soft cheese.
Finished with some salt and pepper, this blend of ingredients just works!
Nowadays, the chlebíčky served in small eateries and cafes are getting pimped out with some really interesting combinations. If you’re happy to pay a bit more, you can indulge in tasty smoked salmon, potato salad, and prawns combos or imported hams and cold-cut meats from neighbouring countries.
I love eating these tasty Slovakian snacks all around this pretty little country. I always look forward to my next visit to see what I can eat next.
Zemiakové placky (potato pancakes)
by Katie Williams, Traveling Spud
As a potato lover from the American state of Idaho (home of the potatoes), I’m a pretty big potato critic. So, when I traveled to Bratislava I decided I had to try zemiakové placky to see what all of the fuss was about.
I headed to Slovak Pub in Bratislava to try them along with a bunch of other traditional Slovak dishes. Zemiakové placky happened to be one of the best things I tried. They are potato pancakes fried in garlic and oil and made with flour, grated potato, and egg. Similar to the Jewish latke, zemiakové placky have different spices and are usually eaten as a snack or a side dish to your main meal.
Let’s just say they are some of the most delicious types of potatoes I’ve ever had, and if I could get them as a side for every one of my Slovakian meals, I probably would!
“Pivo, Horalky, borovička”
by Lindsay Sauvé, Where Is Your Toothbrush?
One of the few things Slovakia is known for is the mountains, particularly the High Tatra range. There, alpine chalets serve hikers and mountaineers as places to rest, eat, and sleep. The chalets offer a very similar variety of snacks, dishes, and beverages, providing sustenance and energy for strenuous exercise.
My favorite way to cap a strenuous hike is a combination of items introduced to me as a trio by Peter’s father: beer, Horalky, and borovička.
Beer may not be the best way to hydrate. But at the end of a hike, a cold beer is the most refreshing reward you can have. Chalets serve Slovak beer, like Šariš, from a region near the Tatras, or the country’s most popular beer, Zlatý Bažant (Golden Pheasant), or Czech beers, like the famous Pilsner Urquell or Staropramen from Prague.
Horalky is a chocolate-glazed wafer with peanut filling. It’s popular with hikers who eat it as a break snack; the quick calories compacted into a neat little bar replenish your energy to keep you going. I love to eat one with a beer, sitting outside a chalet, decompressing after a hike.
Finally, a shot of borovička livens the spirit tired from overexertion. Similar to gin but with a more complex herbal flavor, borovička is a traditional Slovak spirit made from juniper berries. Bottoms up!
Slovak desserts and treats
Slovak food is not all meat and potatoes. The Slovaks’ sweet tooth has left many a foreigner a few pounds heavier when they left the country.
Slovak desserts come in two basic varieties:
- koláč is most often, but not exclusively, made with leavened dough. It’s hearty and doughy. Not to be confused with the Czech koláč, which is a specific type of dessert. Also called múčnik, from the word for flour [see above in Entrées].
- zákusok is fancier and more festive, usually containing lighter dough, creamy filling, and glaze or icing. Served at weddings, with coffee, or at confectioner’s shops.
With how much food you eat at a Slovak meal, you may not always feel like you have room left for dessert. But you do, trust us. How can you refuse a homemade strudel? You can also eat Slovak dessert as standalone snacks, like trdelník or Bratislavské rožky.
by Hannah Lahodny, Where’s Hannah?
It’s hard to say and hard to forget, trdelník is hands down my favorite Slovakian treat. Although you’ll find it all over Eastern Europe, especially in Prague, trdelník‘s roots are truly Slovakian, with earliest recipes dating back to 1783. Its name is indicative of its cooking process: a trdlo is a wooden tool for imprinting and a stoupa is a hollowed out log. Add those together and you get trdelník—an irresistible, hollow pastry.
You will smell trdelník before you see it; just follow the enticing aroma of cinnamon, sugar, and chocolate around the corner to the nearest food stall. It’s not hard to track down a hot roll of this doughy goodness, especially in the touristy areas of Bratislava, as food stalls are ubiquitous.
The trdelník itself is made by wrapping dough around a stick and roasting it over a fire. The outside is then coated with cinnamon and sugar while its inside is coated in melted chocolate. What’s not to like?
There is a plethora of other toppings you can add to your trdelník, from nuts to ice cream filling, but I found the traditional way the best. If you ever find yourself in Slovakia, do not miss the trdelník!
Bratislavské rožky (Bratislava rolls)
by Dana Zeliff, The Talking Suitcase
The Christmas Market in Bratislava teased our senses with the scents of sizzling meats, spicy mulled wine and freshly baked Slovak pastries. Of the many foods to try in Slovakia, one of my kids’ favorites was the traditional Bratislavské rožky, a crescent shaped pastry.
Although poppy seed is wildly popular in Slovakia, we chose the walnut filling. The delicate flaky pastry was the perfect envelope for the sweet filling. If you are traveling to Slovakia, Bratislavské rožky should be high on your list of Slovak foods to try.
Višňová štrúdľa (sour cherry strudel)
by Laura and Lance Longwell, Travel Addicts
Slovakian sour cherry strudel (višňová štrúdľa) combines three items quite common in Central European cuisine: sour cherries, poppy seeds, and strudel pastry. The filling mixes sour cherry compote (not terribly different from American cherry pie) with brown sugar, butter, and poppy seeds. This goodness is combined and spread out on super-thin pastry before being rolled up in the traditional strudel fashion. It’s often served warm with a topping of whipped cream.
One of the best ways to try sour cherry strudel is in a traditional restaurant. Near the town of Ružomberok, we stopped at one that was built like a log cabin and had a giant wood-burning grill inside. With goats roaming the grounds and a view of the Tatras in the distance, it felt like the ideal place to try sour cherry strudel for the first time.
How to enjoy traditional Slovak food on the road and at home
We enjoyed collecting these Slovak culinary experiences from fellow travel bloggers (they hail from the United States, Canada, Puerto Rico, Australia, and Denmark). To see your own “pretty little country’s” cooking through the eyes of this many foreigners is, for a Slovak, a unique experience. And to learn something new as well is even better.
Whether they ate Slovakian food at a Slovak family’s home or, more often, at a restaurant, the dishes and stories the travelers shared reminded us how delicious Slovak cuisine can be, even as its heft taxes your system.
Eat, eat! AKA Extreme Slovak hospitality
If it isn’t obvious yet, the best way to have Slovak food is at a Slovak household (this is probably the same for every cuisine). Slovak cooking of the home variety is hearty, tasty, and generous. So much so, that some of the key phrases to learn if you are visiting Slovakia are
- Enough / no, thank you = Stačí / nie, ďakujem [stah-chee / nyeh, dya-koo-yem]
- I am full, I can’t anymore = Som plný (male) / plná (female), už nevládzem [sohm plnee/plnaah, uzh nye-vlahd-zehm]
Alternatively, you can also place your hand, palm down, over your plate, shake your head vigorously, and slap your full stomach.
Either way, Slovaks put their best foot (or is it plate?) forward when hosting visitors from abroad. Slovak hospitality is truly something to behold.
Eating Slovak food in restaurants
Many restaurants serve traditional Slovak food. With the proliferation and popularity of world cuisines, it may be harder and harder to find Slovak national dishes. Koliba (literally, shepherd’s hut) or slovenská reštaurácia (any place with “Slovak restaurant” in its name) are a good bet.
You can find restaurants serving Slovakian dishes in busy downtown areas, on roadsides, or in/near popular natural areas like national parks. A good way to recognize a restaurant offering traditional Slovak cuisine is log cabin-like exterior and interior and folk decorations or even agricultural tools on display.
Make Slovak food at home!
You don’t have to wait to visit Slovakia to eat Slovak food: you can make it at home! Check out these websites featuring Slovakian recipes:
Slovak Cooking is a “cooking site dedicated to the natural and wholesome lifestyle of our Slovak grandparents.”
Though the site isn’t updated often anymore, the archive is chock full of best Slovak recipes written by Ľuboš Brieda, a Slovak from the central part of the country who moved to the U.S. with his parents as a kid (read my extensive 2011 interview with him).
We particularly love the slogan, “There is a bit of Slovakia in all of us!”
Slovak Homemade Cakes
Otília Golis hails from my hometown Košice, in eastern Slovakia. On her Facebook page Slovak Homemade Cakes she features more than just Slovak pastries and other desserts, sharing recipes for a variety of Slovak dishes, of the traditional variety.
Almost Bananas stands out because it’s a cooking and lifestyle website written by a Canadian expat living in western Slovakia. Aside from recommending off-the-beaten path spots around the country, Naomi Hužovičová (her married name) writes about Slovak food and presents Slovak food recipes with the love and kindness of a foreigner who married into the culture.
Check out her two cookbooks, 10 Slovak Recipes: Free E-Book of Comfort Food and A Bowl of Comfort: Slovak Soups and Stews.
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