The first thing I wanted to do in Bratislava was, of course, try the food. I’d been having bits and pieces of Slovak food from my grandmother’s kitchen, passed down to our own, and I wanted to see how it stacked up. I got a preview of stuffed cabbage in Hungary, and now I wanted all things Slovak. From the looks of things—and with the help of Linda from Bratislava Food Tours—1. Slovak Pub was the place.
With eleven rooms—each representing a different era in Slovak history—the pub is much larger than you would expect. But, as it is divided up into smaller rooms, if still retains a homey feel. And for a bar and restaurant so dedicated to Slovak history and traditional Slovak food, the bar is surprisingly forward-thinking: they have their own biofarm 25 kilometers outside of Bratislava that the chefs receive produce from daily. The farmers also send homemade bread to the bar.
The menu’s first few pages are dedicated to information about each of the rooms, the farm, and Slovak history. It is clear the owners are proud of Slovakia, and go so far as to take care of their own: there are discounted lunch options for all Slovak university students and teachers, and if a student comes in to study on any exam day, the bar will give them a free soup and soda. They also have a discounted student price for their house-made beer, Dobré Pifko.
While we didn’t come close to qualifying for the student discount, we did get plenty of traditional Slovak food, and I couldn’t have been happier. We started with a platter for two, which should have specified that the two people needed to be very hungry (there are no light meals in Eastern Europe) and some of the aforementioned Dobré Pifkos. The platter had pierogi covered in bryndza cheese, as well as one portion of halušky (huh-LOOSH-key) covered in bryndza and another portion mixed with sauerkraut and bacon.
For those unfamiliar with Slovak food (which I assume is most people outside of Slovakia), bryndza is a type of strong sheep’s milk cheese that starts off tangy and ends extremely salty. It can come in slices that are similar in texture to feta, but unlike feta the cheese melts well and makes a great sauce. Halušky are small, soft potato dumplings that have the texture of gnocchi but are similar in size and shape to spaetzle. I’d never had bryndza before this (and immediately fell in love as someone who loves salty foods), and while my mom made halušky when we were younger, I don’t remember it ever being as refined as what we were served. Two wins for traditional food.
Afterwards, we had what I was looking forward to most: traditional sauerkraut soup (kapustnica). This has been a Christmas Eve staple in my home my entire life, and I was dying to try the real thing. As it turns out, as much as I love the one my mother makes (which is basically mushrooms and sauerkraut juice—shut up, it’s delicious), I came to find out she makes a northern style soup. The southern style, which we had, was so much more—there were potatoes, smoked pork, paprika, sauerkraut, a huge dollop of sour cream! This was more of a stew than a soup, and it almost made me giddy thinking I had unlocked some next level to our Christmas celebrations.
Eating Slovak food in Slovakia was one of the highlights of any of my travels, and it expanded and deepened my love for my family’s cuisine. While the idea that mom makes it best is certainly true in a lot of cases, in this one I have to give it to the old country—they opened my eyes and filled my stomach and made me as happy as I’ve been finishing a meal.