Slovakian food resembles what we like to call ‘crossover cuisine’. While it has its own distinctive culinary character, influences from around Central Europe play a role too. The country has its own takes on the trademark dishes of neighbours Austria, Hungary and Poland.
We spent a few days in Bratislava sampling some of the local dishes in various recommended restaurants. We returned home still full, but satisfied to the extent that we bought ourselves a Slovak cookbook to make ourselves some of this awesome comfort food over the UK winter. In this article, we explore the highlights of Slovakian cuisine and the best places to eat in Bratislava.
If you’re looking for things to do in Bratislava during your visit, take a look at our ideas and sample itinerary.
A quick guide to Slovakian food
Slovakia’s national cuisine is closely entwined with its rural, down-to-earth origins. Food in the country has always been about sustenance rather than indulgence. The farmers and peasants of old rural Slovakia built diets around whatever would keep them going in the fields.
As such, Slovakian dishes tend to be cheap and easy to make, and wholesome to eat. Ingredients usually derive from the land, most commonly pork, chicken, potatoes, cabbage, peppers, cheese, fruit and bread.
It can be quite heavy going if you’re not used to this type of diet, so we would recommend trying a different dish each day. You certainly don’t want to order a starter and a main. We made this mistake when we thought the traditional Slovakian sharing platter in Flag Ship restaurant wouldn’t be enough, so we ordered a large sausage and mustard to go with it. We ended up rolling back to our hostel for a good night’s sleep almost as soon as we’d finished!
It’s rare to find a restaurant in Slovakia that doesn’t offer soup on the menu. It’s an essential element of the country’s eating culture.
Soup served inside a giant bread roll is a common quirk of Central European and Scandinavian countries. In Slovakia, krémová cesnaková polievka is a peculiar version of this, comprising creamy garlic soup served in a bread roll. It’s great to see a dish served in an edible bowl.
This is a filling dish and you probably won’t be able to eat much more afterwards. We ordered it with some other sides, and still couldn’t finish the delicious bread roll. If you want to try the creamy garlic soup but aren’t up for the carb overload, you can also order it in a standard, non-edible bowl with a few croutons. This is what we would choose next time.
For a lighter variation you can try cesnaková polievka, a clear garlic soup typically prepared with cheese and croutons in it.
A more filling soup, often eaten as a main meal, is kapustnica or sauerkraut soup. It’s a warming, hearty concoction of cabbage, onions, mushrooms, potatoes and smoky sausage. It’s the perfect hit if you need a comforting boost.
Finally, a mountain favourite, demikát is a soup made of sheep cheese. We tried this in a local restaurant in Ždiar after some mountain hiking, and we saw it on the menus in Bratislava. It’s an extremely filling, salty soup, but would be a great try for any cheese lover.
Dumplings made with potato or flour are a key feature of many Slovakian main meals. In the simplest form, steamed dumplings are served with lashings of pork shoulder or knuckle and piles of cabbage.
An absolute must-try when visiting the country is bryndzové halušky (potato dumplings with sheep’s cheese, often topped with sour cream and crispy bacon pieces). It’s a homely dish with a sharp and tasty flavour, and in our experience, quite hard to finish a full plate!
A closely related dish with a similar taste is bryndzové pirohy (doughy, pierogi-style dumplings with sheep’s cheese). Pierogi is a more commonly associated with Polish cuisine, but this Slovakian variation incorporates the distinctive tang of sheep’s cheese. This was Lisa’s favourite dish of the trip, as it reminding her of a comforting plate of mac and cheese. Perfect for any hangover, but not advisable before a heavy night of drinking!
Zemiakové knedličky s údeným mäsom (potato dumplings with smoked meat) is another form of filled dumpling popular in Bratislava. It’s delicious served with stewed sauerkraut, sour cream and fried onions.
As an alternative to dumplings, pancakes are a slightly less stodgy accompaniment for main dishes. Zemiakové placky (potato pancakes) can usually be ordered as a side, and are great for dipping in soup.
You may see these potato pancakes paired on menus with balkanska pochúťka, a stew of pork meat, tomatoes, peppers and onions. The stew is wrapped inside a large pancake with cheese sprinkled on top and salad to garnish. This was my my personal favourite of the dishes we tried in Slovakia. The ones we tried were usually served with a side salad, and with the pancake being as big as the plate you probably won’t be walking around much once you’ve finished. If you finish.
Meat, meat, meat!
Slovakian food is a meat-heavy cuisine. The focal point of a meal is almost always pork or game, complemented by a combination of dumplings, bread, cheese and cabbage.
In addition to the staples of pork shoulder, ribs or knuckle, roast duck breast is a slightly more deluxe option. Its rich flavours work perfectly with the fruity tang of cranberry sauce.
On appetiser menus it’s likely you will encounter pečená klobása (roasted sausage). This is the aforementioned dish we ordered with a sharing platter in Flag Ship. Served with mustard, horseradish sauce and pickled chilli peppers, it’s a highly comforting and indulgent treat to kick off your meal. As Lisa observed, it “tastes like Christmas markets”. It’s pretty salty, so order a small dark beer to wash it down.
Slovakian variations of regional dishes
I’ve already mentioned how Polish-inspired pierogi dumplings with sheep’s cheese are a popular delicacy in Slovakia. There are also examples of national dishes from Hungary and the Czech Republic with a Slovakian twist.
Hungarian gulaš (goulash) has crept across the border and is hugely popular in Slovakia. There are different variations to be found throughout the country, but most revolve around the basis of pork, paprika, onions, peppers and tomatoes. As you may expect, the standard accompaniment is dumplings. We love this dish and we’re going to be making it again at home.
Svíčková na smetaně is a classic Czech dish consisting of beef sirloin in a creamy, peppery sauce served with cranberries, whipped cream, and – you’ve guessed it – steamed dumplings. It’s a well-liked dish in Slovakia, too, and available in many restaurants.
If you somehow make it through your main dishes and still have room for more (I’m genuinely impressed), there are desserts you can try that are unique to Slovakia. Šúľance s makom (poppy seed dumplings) is perhaps the most popular.
Another dumpling-based dessert is slivkové knedle, filled with plums and dusted with sugar on top.
If you really can’t stomach the idea of more dumplings, then štrúdľa (strudel) is a classic alternative. This sweet treat of apples baked in layers of puff pastry with sugar and cinnamon originating from the old Austrian empire is popular around the world, and a Slovakian national favourite.
Best places to eat in Bratislava
Let’s get this straight: we are not luxury travellers. If you’re looking for fine dining restaurants where you can blow a millionaire’s weekend budget, this is not the article for you.
But if you’re travelling on a low-to-medium budget and want to know where you can sample the best of the city’s traditional cuisine without spending a fortune, then you’re in the right place. Read on! The experience is always better when it’s down-to-earth and rustic anyway, right?
We spent three days and nights gorging our way through Slovakian food in Bratislava. These were our favourite five restaurants that we tried during our trip.
Located on Obchodná, a hotspot for restaurants and bars just outside the Old Town, Slovak Pub is popular with both locals and tourists. It’s a labyrinth of small rooms and booths set inside a large building, with the feeling of an old-style countryside cottage.
Slovak Pub has a great selection of homemade Slovakian cuisine, and the prices are very reasonable – other establishments that draw similar tourist crowds charge a lot more.
The bill: we paid €15.80 for a large bowl of traditional soup each, a plate of fries to share, a large beer and a large fruit wine.
Viecha U Sedliaka
Viecha U Sedliaka is a much smaller and less discernible outfit almost directly opposite Slovak Pub on Obchodná. A quaint and homely place, it has intimate seating downstairs, and a larger upstairs area with tables looking out onto the street.
We had a hearty lunch at Viecha U Sedliaka of Slovakian classics. We struggled to walk afterwards, but it was worth it! This was the best value traditional food we found in Bratislava.
The bill: we paid €18.60 for one starter (garlic soup with cheese), two mains (potato pancake with pork stew, and pork shoulder with cabbage and dumplings), a side salad, and a large beer each.
You wouldn’t know it by looking from outside, but Flag Ship in Bratislava is one of Europe’s largest restaurants. After entering the modest doorway and walking through some passageways, you emerge into a giant restaurant inside an old theatre.
Flag Ship is a great place to sample Slovakian delicacies like homemade roast sausage with mustard and dumplings with sheep’s cheese. We tried a mixture of local specialities in a large sharing platter. It was a little pricier than Slovak Pub or Viecha u Sedliaka, but the food was great.
The bill: we paid €23.80 for a roast sausage appetiser and mixed Slovak sharing platter, plus a large beer each.
Prazdroj, located more centrally in the Old Town, serves wholesome Slovakian classic in large, satisfying portions. It’s not quite in the same low-budget bracket as other restaurant we visited, but worth a stretch for a little treat.
The roasted duck with cranberry sauce was superb. The menu also has a section for Czech classics, so you can get your fix of svíčková na smetaně here.
The bill: we paid €22.50 for a main dish each (pork with cabbage and dumplings, and roast duck breast with cranberry sauce and potato) and a jug of water and lemon to share.
We finished our Bratislava food trip in style with a slap-up, all-singing, all-dancing feast in Meštiansky Pivovar. Aside from being the oldest brewery in Slovakia, it also serves fantastic authentic Slovakian cuisine. The brewery has two restaurants in Bratislava; one slightly outside the Old Town on Drevená, and the other round the corner from Hostel Blues (where we stayed).
The restaurant on Drevená is the only one that serves the traditional soups (as we found out by visiting the other restaurant and leaving, because Lisa really wanted to try the garlic soup in the bread roll!). We thought the traditional Slovakian food here was the best we had in the city, and in particular the hard sheep’s cheese with forest chanterelles was outstanding.
The bill: we paid €26.10 for creamy garlic soup in a bread roll, sheep’s cheese with chanterelles, potato dumplings with smoked pork and sauerkraut, a potato pancake side, and a dark beer each.
Have you had a taste of Slovakian food in Bratislava? Let us know about your experiences in the comments below.
Looking for great places to eat in the Czech Republic? Take a look at this article on Our Awesome Planet, with a guest contribution from yours truly.
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