It occurs to me that I only ever mentioned Slovak food in passing while writing an Eastward Exchange, or, at most, a brief mention when it came up during my various hikes or trips. Most Slovaks would tell you there isn’t much to say, and it is true that Slovak cuisine doesn’t have the same illustrious history of French cooking or the global impact of Indian, Mexican, or Mediterranean foods and so on.
Instead, Slovak food is simply informed by the recent agrarian history of Slovaks. Prior to WW1—and a lesser extent WW2,—the majority of Slovaks lived in villages and practiced subsistence farming, producing mostly wheat, potatoes, milk and milk products, pork meat, sauerkraut and onions.
Slovak food reflects not only these products, but the labor-intensive lifestyle required to create them. Slovaks still swear by the hardiness of their food, assured that it will fill you with the energy needed to summit on of the Tatra’s iconic peaks or toil through a long day of work.
The perfect Slovak dish to warm you up and give you that sorta of boost is the national dish of Bryndzové Halušky. Essentially the Slovak version of mac & cheese, this dish somehow takes comfort food to a whole new level. A potato and flour pasta, like a lighter version of gnocchi, the Halušky part of the dish is a component in several other traditional dishes, featuring toppings of sauerkraut, as well as chocolate and poppy seeds!
The adjective of the dish (Bryndzové) refers to the central/east European cheese of Bryndza. Produced from the milk of sheep, traditionally raised in the mountains, this tangy and salty cheese is dolloped generously onto and then mixed into the Halušky. This cheese tends to be a problem abroad, because its characteristic taste is lost when pasteurized. That said, I have managed to find a Romanian version in the USA, though it is certainly easier to just substituted a blended mixture of feta and sour cream until you have a slightly pasty texture.
Finally, some crispy bacon and chives are added as garnish and you’re ready to eat. Of course, that was far from a recipe, so here is a link to the one I’ve used when making Halušky in the USA.
I love Bryndzové Halušky, however, it is not my favorite Slovak dish. That distinction belongs to a traditional Christmas stew known as Kapustnica.
Like many dishes the world over, Kapustnica began as a celebratory dish to liven up the bleak winter months when folks were subsisting on ever slimmer stocks. As the snow fell outside in the darkest days of December, families would ignore their normal rationing as they dug into their supply of dried meats and the small quantities of lavish spices they held onto for special occasions.
Full of meat, herbs and spices, and sauerkraut, kapustnica is a hearty stew that still strains our wallets today, so its easy to imagine the immense luxury it must’ve been in the distant past.
I first had the dish after a hike up to Teryho Chata in the Tatras. It was a warm day at the base of the mountain, but I was unprepared for the chill we’d face as we climbed higher up. Slipping into that cottage, which rests between two peaks, I was greeted by the rich smell of this dish and was soon warmed by the large bowl sat before me.
Kapustnica is no longer just for the holidays, as its common in alpine cottages and in traditional restaurants, but it still crops up most frequently at holiday gatherings. Places where you want your guests to be warm, full, and happy.
Here is a link to the recipe I use. Try and save it for a special occasion, even if that is just an especially chilly day.
Hi, Andrew! So glad you made it safe to Slovakia and we’ve enjoyed reading about your adventures so far. Thanks so much for adding the links to the recipes. We’ve saved them to try—they both sound delicious! It’s turned cold here today and a bowl of the stew would have really hit the spot this evening for dinner. In fact, they’ve forecasted a bit of snow here overnight tonight—how crazy is that? Especially after the temps were so warm and sunny this past week! Take care, safe travels, and enjoy your journey! Love you so much! ❤️