When visiting different countries, I always check if there is a food tour available. This is a great way to taste many dishes, and get to know the food culture.
Meeting by the Opera house, we had a short walk to our first stop; Café Škodovka. The cute cafe is named after the car, and the interior include half of an old Skoda. The furniture’s are vintage style from the 70s, and the guide could remember having the exact same in their living room when growing up, as there very limited choices during the Soviet era.
The food also had its offspring from that period, and soon three different dishes stood before us, accompanied with white bread.
Treska v majonéze is a cod fish salad with mayo, made to make fish more attractive so more people would eat it as it was important as nutrition.
Parižsky šalát, or Paris salad, is sausage mixed with mayo, peas and gherkin.
Oškvarková pomazánka is a spread made of crushed crispy bacon with mustard, onion, herbs and spices.
The first one was my favorite, and the latter took a bit of time to get used to.
For drinks we were introduced to the Slovak red wine Dunaj.
During the Communist times, farms owned by private persons were also part of the nationalization program introduced by the Communist party. Collectivization of farms meant small, independent farmers were forced to become part of agricultural mass production based on cooperative principles. The cooperative agricultural system was perceived as an aggressive measure which interfered with the traditional way of life of people in rural Slovakia. Quantity was more important than quality, including when it came to wine. After the fall of the Communist Regime, the people had to prove their rights to get back the land that was previously theirs.
Nowadays, many small winemakers make high quality wine, winning international prices. The production is still low though, and as the local consumption is higher than the production, nothing is exported. Yet another reason to visit Slovakia, to get to try the local wines that are not found outside the country. For me, it was unfortunately limited to this one glass, but they also offer more specific wine tasting tours as well, or paired with food.
Some local varieties are the result of crossbreeding popular grape varieties. A nice curiosity is that all new white crossbreeds are named after Slovak castles, while the few new red wines are named after Slovak rivers.
Moving on, we had a quick stop outside the old market hall. In addition to the Saturday market, events and concerts are also held here. This interesting building from 1910 was inspired by the Eiffel tower, and was used as a TV studio during the Communist times.
Our next dishes were served at Flagship Bratislavská reštauracia. I actually had my dinner here the day before, but had absolutely no problem with returning, as it was a great experience. I had already tried the Bryndzové halušky, sheep-cheese dumplings, that is also the national dish, but the Kapustnica (sauerkraut soup) was new to me.
The soup is a very popular dish, especially in winter and for Christmas and New Years. It is often eaten as a starter on Christmas Eve, before the carp is served as the common main dish. This is where it becomes interesting… Apparently, it is Christmas tradition to buy a live carp, bring it home, and let it swim around in the bathtub for a few days! The kids even name it and play with it! I must admit I found it hard to believe, but I had no reason not to trust what the guide told us. It is however a reason for the tradition; carp is a freshwater fish and a bottom feeder, so it is believed that by swimming around in clean water, the mud will be cleansed out, and it will taste better. I have only tasted carp once in my life, and that had certainly not ended its days swimming in a bathtub… But as I strive to eat whatever food is common where I am travelling, I would be willing to give it another try. Especially if it had gone through the second traditional treatment, being soaked in milk overnight to make it taste even softer.
Enough about the food. For drinks we enjoyed a local lager craft beer, brewed in the micro brewery at the ground floor. While lager still is the most popular beer, more and more micro breweries has popped up, introducing the Slovakian people to other types of beer. And the locals sure love their brew; the average consumption is 75 liter beer per person yearly!
Do you think that sounds a lot? Their neighbours in Czech Republic has the worlds highest yearly consumption of beer, and drink 120 liter per person…
We only had half a liter beer, though, before moving on. This time we were served the non-alcoholic Kofola, the local version of cola. During the communist era, they could not import Coca Cola, so all the former Soviet bloc has made their own variety. The Kofola is made by 20 different herbs and spices, and can be found on tap basically in every bar.
Roast duck is a very popular dish, especially in fall when it is the main season. It is traditionally served with red cabbage and potato pancake. In general you will find a lot of potatoes in the Slovak diet, but it was not introduced to the country until the 1700s, and made popular by the Austro-Hungarian Queen Maria Theresia.
I was getting quite stuffed, so after just tasting a bit of the Sviečková na smotane, beef with steamed bread-dumpling and carrot-parsnip sauce, we got going to walk off a little of the food.
Heading to the old town, we went through the north gate of the once fortified city.
After learning a bit of history along the way, we entered Obchod v múzeu, a combination of a small shop formed as an old general store with a museum in the back with old shop artifacts. Among them was also a bottle of sparkling wine from back in the days when wine was still exported. This particular wine, Palugyay, was actually to be found on the wine list on board Titanic.
We were soon taken back to present time, and the Bratislava rolls (Bratislavské rožky) filled with either poppy seeds or walnut paste was up next. Surprisingly, I found space for them as well, with the walnut flavored being my favorite.
With sweets, came also the bitter-sweet black currant wine – Ríbezlové víno. And salty and smoked sheep cheese. By then I had for real reached my limit for solid food, and only had a taste of it. Personally I figured it would match better with beer anyway, so good thing I was planning to continue to a beer festival after the tour, since they would not allow me to leave without the rest of the cheese. The hand made chocolate with sour cherry liqueur also found its way to my purse and was saved for later.
Just a stone’s throw away, we entered a honey shop to taste the products made from their own beehives. I found myself amazed that it was at least 20 different flavours available, and tried a few of them. The combination of honey and ginger would do magic for sore throats!
They of course also produce honey wine, also known as mead. Good thing a small amount of fluid easily can fit in a stuffed stomach.
In a back alley in the old town, we found “The white mouse”, a shop selling wine and liquor, including the local tea-herbal liquor. There are several varieties of the Tatratea, ranging from 72 % down to much lower % with more fruity flavor. We tried the original with 52 % alcohol and I must say, I much prefer that one to the more known equivalent Jägermeister and Fernet Branca.
Stuffed, happy, and a little bit tipsy, I thanked the guide for her knowledge about the food and the city, and ventured off to explore more on my own.
PS: I only had a light snack for dinner in the evening. And the smoked sheep cheese sticks with the festival beer….
The Traditional Food Tour can be booked through Taste Bratislava. Booking in advance is essential.
Price: 59 € per person
Duration: 3-4 hours
Meeting place: Depends on the group, but in a central location downtown. Please ask when you book.