34 DISHES THAT WILL MAKE YOU CRAVE SLOVAK FOOD (WITH RECIPES)

In Slovakia, a historically agrarian society, food is fuel. Traditional Slovak cuisine provided high-energy, low-cost, and recipe quick-prep sustenance to peasants, herders, and laborers. Slovak food, therefore, leans heavily toward potatoes and wheat (dough, bread), cabbage and onions, apples and plums, dairy (milk and cheese), and poultry and pork.

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Typical Slovak dishes are simple, filling, comforting, and homey—and they pair well with beer.

For example, the Slovak national dish, bryndzové halušky, is potato-dough gnocchi smothered in salty sheep bryndza cheese, and topped with smoked bacon bits.

With Slovakia’s territory located in the heart of Europe and the lands historically ruled by outside powers, traditional Slovak cuisine is heavily influenced by Hungarian, Austrian, and Czech cuisines, with some Turkish influences. Of course, the greatest influence is American by way of the potato.

Moreover, there are quite a few regional variations to the traditional dishes, and some regions developed their own dishes not found elsewhere. From the mountains in the north to the plains in the south, Slovak cooks traditionally used efficient produce from their gardens and fields and products from animals they raised or tended to. Goose is popular in Western Slovakia, Hungarian dishes along the border with that country, and sheep milk specialties in the mountainous Northeast.

As for eating habits, Slovaks eat three main meals every day, with desiata (a ten o’clock elevenses) and olovrant (afternoon snack) sometimes squeezed in between, particularly for children.

Bread is the foundation of breakfast, served with butter and jam or honey, and more and more frequently with meat products like ham and salami. Fried or boiled eggs sometimes accompany the meal as well. In recent decades, a growing number of health-conscious Slovaks add fruits and vegetables, and substitute the gluten and fat-heavy stuff with cereal like muesli and yogurt.

Lunch is traditionally the main meal, eaten at noon, with soup and the main course (some main courses are sweet dishes, see below). With accelerating lifestyles, Slovak lunches have shrunk, and dinner, traditionally eaten at 6:00 p.m., has gained in importance.

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.

In addition to our own descriptions of Slovak cuisine, we asked our fellow travel bloggers to share the best dish they had sampled on their travels 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.

With that, we are proud to present 34 traditional dishes of Slovakia that will make you crave Slovak food.

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Traditional Slovak food: Soups

Soup in Slovakia is beautiful.

Traditionally, soups in Slovakia were standalone meals. Eaten with bread, soups like goulash can satiate on their own.

Over the years, Slovak soups have thinned out, with vegetable soups and broth-based soups gaining popularity.

And though Slovaks eat less and less soup, the dish remains the most quintessential of meals: almost every lunch or dinner in Slovakia begins with soup.

Slovaks think it’s strange if you don’t have soup prior to every meal. One way to identify a foreigner is that they don’t have soup as a first course.
Lindsay Sauvé

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.

Soup is also part of old traditions: for example at weddings the newlyweds eat soup from the same plate to symbolize their unity.

Slovaks love soups, we live on soups, we eat some pretty much every day. There is always a pot of soup in the house.
Otília Golis, Slovak Homemade Cakes

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 (sauerkraut soup) or fazuľová polievka (bean soup), can constitute a meal on their own, so fill your plate with moderation.

In addition to the aforementioned, these traditional soups are popular in Slovakia:

  • cesnačka (garlic soup)
  • chicken noodle soup
  • demikát (bryndza soup)
  • lentil soup
  • sour mushroom soup
  • tomato soup

Kapustnica

Kapustnica is the most traditional and common Slovak soup. It’s the ultimate comfort food, made with sauerkraut, potatoes, dried mushrooms, onions, and sausage and other smoked meat.

No other national(ish) dish elicits as much passion as kapustnica. Every Slovak region or town has its own variation; every Slovak cook makes it slightly differently, swearing theirs is the best version.

To Slovaks, the Christmas holiday connotes a lot of things—Baby Jesus, the tree, presents, snow (if you’re lucky), watching old movies with family—but what really makes it is the Christmas Eve dinner. And, as the first course, kapustnica brings the family together for the celebration.

You can have kapustnica any time of the year, but Christmas is when you must.


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.

Kapustnica. Photo by Siya Zarrabi.

Slovak recipe for kapustnica

by yours truly, Peter Korchnak (SVK), American Robotnik

Ingredients

  • 1.5 qt sauerkraut. Home-made rather than store-bought (canned or bottled) sauekraut is best, as it’ll be more flavorful.
  • 8 oz crimini mushrooms
  • 3 lbs Russet potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • 1 lb or 4 links smoked pork sausage
  • 3/4 large white onion
  • fine flour
  • Spices: ground smoked paprika, black-and-white peppercorn mix (black-only is fine, too) wrapped in a cheese cloth pouch, 6 medium-size bay leaves, 1 tbsp caraway seeds, salt to taste

Instructions

Boil sauerkraut in 3.5 quarts / liters of water in a big pot and cook on low for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, sauté onions and mushrooms, then add them, sausage, and spices except paprika to the big pot. Cook everything on low for 20 minutes.

In a separate pan, fry flour in oil until light brown, add paprika, fry some more for a total of 20 minutes until the rue is creamy. Add rue to the soup and bring to boil again. Let simmer for 80 minutes.

Bring potatoes to a boil and add them to the soup. Let simmer for 10 minutes and turn off.

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.

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Guláš (Goulash)

A staple of backyard picnics, camping trips, and town fairs, goulash soup is a traditional Slovak dish of Hungarian origin.

Based on potatoes and beef chunks, and eaten with wheat or rye bread, goulash is a whopper of a soup.

While you can make it in your kitchen, the best variations are made outdoors, in a large kettle or cauldron over open fire.

As with kapustnica, every Slovak cook believes his is the best goulash (the soup is particularly popular with men). Goulash cookoffs are held all over the country to find the best local goulash.

Traditional Slovak recipe for goulash

by Lubos Brieda (SVK/USA), SlovakCooking.com

Ingredients

  • 1.5 lbs beef
  • 1.5 lbs potatoes
  • 1 onion
  • 1 garlic clove
  • beef bullion
  • 1/2 green pepper
  • 1 tomato
  • butter
  • spices: ground paprika and black pepper, caraway seeds

Instructions

Chop the beef into cubes, discarding as much tendon tissue as possible, and brown it in a large pot with butter.

Add diced onion, then the spices and a mashed-up clove of garlic.

Add water, cover and let simmer on low for about 2 hours, until the beef softens. Optionally, make broth from the bullion to thin the soup as needed.

Peel and cube the potatoes, and add them to the soup. Add a sliced pepper and diced tomato.

Simmer until the potatoes soften.

Prívarok

Impossible to translate, prívarok is a vegetable or legume soupy stew thickened with flour. Sour cream, corn starch, or tomato paste can also be added for taste.

A hearty Slovakian dish, prívarok is most often made from beans, cabbage, cauliflower, lentils, peas, potatoes, spinach or winter/butternut squash, and accompanied with meat or fried eggs.

Some variations, particularly those made with less popular vegetables like squash, often constitute a bane of Slovak children’s dinnertime.

Recipe for squash prívarok

by Varecha.sk

Ingredients

  • 1 winter/butternut squash
  • 100 ml milk
  • 1-2 tbsp sugar
  • 1-2 tbsp fine flour
  • 250 ml whipping cream
  • oil
  • spices: dill, ground black pepper, salt to taste

Instructions

Peel the squash, halven it, scoop the seeds out, and grate it roughly.

Mix the grated squash with salt and pepper and add it to a light rue, made with with oil and sugar. Cover, and let simmer. Add water, if needed.

Mix flour in milk and add to the pot to thicken the contents. Cook for a few minutes and add whipping cream.

Bring to a boil and add dill.

Serve with cooked diced potatoes and fried egg. Add sausage or smoked meat for additional protein.

Slovak food: Entrées

Following soup as the second, main course at lunch or dinner is typically a hearty dish featuring potatoes and meat or cheese.

In entrées, Slovak cuisine shows its fatty colors, with many dishes using lard as the base and meat (chicken, pork, beef, and sometimes venison, rabbit, lamb, or goose) featuring prominently.

Potatoes are a staple, either in a boiled diced/mashed form as a side or made into halušky (gnocchi), mixed with bryndza, cabbage, or tvaroh (curd cheese).

Most Slovak main-course dishes also include onions as a base, and wheat or rye bread accompanies many
dishes as well.

It is no coincidence that many 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, and parenica and oštiepok cheeses, see below). Bryndza centers the Slovak national dish, bryndzové halušky, and aside from its use in cooking, it makes for a tasty, tangy spread.

Another category of Slovak entrées are doughy múčnik, which derives from the word for flour, múka. Múčnik dishes are basically flour-based desserts served in a portion large enough to be an entreé. Some consider pirohy (see below) a múčnik.

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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.

Photo of bryndzové halušky, Slovakian national dish, by Sonia Belviso.

Recipe for bryndzové halušky

by Otília Golis (SVK), Otilia’s Slovak Kitchen: A Collection of Recipes

Ingredients

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 egg
  • 1 potato
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 5 oz bryndza OR sheep feta mashed with 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 5-7 slices of thick bacon
  • salt to taste

Instructions

Finely grate the potato into a bowl, keeping the juice. Add flour, egg, and salt, and stir with a wooden spoon. Add water and stir until all the lumps are smoothed out. If the dough is too runny, add flour; if too thick, add water.

In a large pot, bring water to a boil and add salt. Transfer the potato dough into the boiling water by cutting off small chunks with a spoon or using a spaetzle maker. Gently boil all halušky for 7 or 8 minutes, until they all float to the top.

Meanwhile, fry the bacon and dice it into cubes.

Strain the halušky and mix with bryndza. Sprinkle the bacon on top and pour the rendered bacon fat all over. Salt to taste and serve immediately.

Pirohy (Pierogi)

Pirohy would likely share the title of the Slovak national dish with bryndzové halušky were it not more complicated to make.

Flattened potato dough is carved into circles, dabbed with a variety of fillings, closed into shape, boiled, and served smothered in butter with a variety of optional toppings.

As for the pirohy filling, every Slovak has their favorite. Bryndza is the most traditional; potatoes, cabbage, and tvaroh (curd cheese) are further savory options. Jam is my childhood favorite.

Nowadays, health-conscious Slovaks use buckwheat flour to make the dough for pirohy.