Slovak food has been a part of my life since I was born, but not a large part. My family has always had a few standard recipes: pierogi, kapustnica (sauerkraut soup) for Christmas Eve, halušky (though that died off when I was young), and stuffed cabbage, which I learned on my travels was more Hungarian than Slovak—but close enough. Other than that, though, there wasn’t much. All the women in the family receive a First Slovak Ladies Association cookbook, but it’s just a compendium of whatever recipes anyone wanted to submit; a quick glance shows there’s really nothing Slovak about it.
This was the main drive behind checking out Bratislava Food Tours—I wanted to be able to try my family favorites and see how they differed between the motherland and my mother’s house, and I also wanted more insight into some of the traditional foods we had been missing out on over the years.
We met Linda (who at the time was very pregnant) at Bratislava Castle, where she started off the food tour with a shot of Čučoriedkovica, a delicious low-alcohol liquer that is made by mixing plum brandy with a pile of blueberries and sugar and letting it sit forever. Needless to say, it’s a great way to start a food tour.
As was our first stop, which was the Zámocký Pivovar (“Pivovar” being Slovak for “Brewery”) to sample a light beer (svetlé 10°) and a dark beer (tmavé 12°), as well as a few traditional Slovak small bites: pečeňová paštéta (liver pate) and restované hribiky na hrianke, which were sautéed forest mushrooms on toast. I pretty much automatically love anything on toast, and anything that deals with mushrooms, and these were no exception—the sauce they were in had a deep, rich flavor that would’ve made me happy had the tour ended right then. I hadn’t had previous experience with either of these foods as traditionally Slovak, so learning more about the cuisine of my people was off to a great start.
We then moved on to another brewery (joy!), but this time only for food and not for beer. Bratislavský Meštiansky Pivovar served up a vianočná kapustnica (Christmas sauerkraut soup) that was slightly different from the one we had at 1. Slovak Pub the previous night. This one left out the potatoes, but had more meat (including sausage and pulled pork) and was just as delicious—maybe more so. This only secured my love for the sauerkraut soup in Slovakia above the version I’d been having at home all those years (sorry, mom).
We stopped briefly for a savory pastry called pagáč (a word I had heard before, but apparently applied incredibly incorrectly at home) and then to a small specialty food store called Sklizeno for one of our favorite things: cheese and meat. We were able to sample bravčová klobása (a pork sausage), ovčí syr (a very fresh sheep’s cheese) and oravský korbáčik, known as “little whip cheese” which came in small strings.
Next was the main course: a stop at Zylinder, a nicer restaurant, for a traditional Bratislava Sunday dinner. Being so close to Austria, the cuisines were surprisingly similar, with a prešporský schnitzel (a Bratislava schnitzel with potato salad) and kačací konfit, which is roasted duck leg with potato pancakes, knoedel, and a terrific savory and slightly sweet stewed cabbage that had us dying for the recipe. One top of that was a plate of špenátové pirohy(spinach pierogi topped with bryndza cheese sauce).
Our final stop was at a coffee shop called Moods for Bratislavské rožky, which are small local rolls with a poppy seed and nut filling. We’d had so much food, we could hardly finish these small bites, but we made a good show of it.
All in all, the Bratislava Food Tour was easily my favorite part of Bratislava: I had gone there to learn about the local cuisine, and I had done just that. It didn’t only show me differences to my own family’s way of doing things, but greatly expounded on that, as most of the food on the tour I had never heard of or tried, or didn’t know was part of a typical Slovak menu.
Linda was a fantastic guide; knowledgeable, well-spoken and very engaging. I have even been in regular contact with her over the past year to ask her repeated questions about food and recipes, and she always gets back to me quickly and patiently answers all of my questions. When I find myself back in Bratislava, I would go back on the tour if for no other reason than to just hang out and talk about food with her. Well, and to eat it all again.