Stereotypes about meat-heavy, farmhouse cuisine hold true: menus burst with bryndzové halušky (potato dumplings with sheep's cheese and bacon), pirohy (stuffed dumplings), smoked pork ribs and meat-and-cabbage soups. The dining scene's cosmopolitan in Bratislava, Košice and Banská Štiavnica, with veggie and vegan choices among refined Slovak, Italian and French-inspired restaurants. Tatras hike-and-ski hubs are carborific, with sophisticated options in Poprad and Štrbské Pleso. Expect country cooking with some gourmet surprises.
It's wise to reserve ahead when dining out in Bratislava, and for Friday or Saturday nights in most destinations. Life is easiest for vegetarians and vegans in Bratislava and Košice.
- Canteens Self-service counters often found in mountain resorts (particularly at ski lifts), preparing cheap eats like schnitzels, meat soups and pasta.
- Pubs Often have good menus of beer snacks (hello, fried cheese) and substantial meals of dumplings, steaks and more.
- Salaše/koliby Rustic eateries specialising in mountain cuisine such as baked sheep's cheese.
- Restaurants Everything from cosy Italian joints to gourmet fare in high-rise hotels is covered, especially in Bratislava.
Bryndzové halušky National dish of potato dumplings with sheep's cheese and diced bacon.
Guláš Known elsewhere in Central Europe as goulash, a thick shepherd's stew often rich with venison.
Kapustnica Thick sauerkraut and sausage soup, commonly with ham or mushrooms.
Lokše Potato pancakes stuffed with cabbage, mince or other fillings.
Pirohy Pillowy dumplings with a crimped edge, crammed with cheese, meat or mushrooms.
Šulance Walnut- or poppyseed-topped dumplings.
Trdelník Barbecued cone of sweet pastry sprinkled with nuts and sugar.
Vývar Chicken or beef broth often with noodles, vegetables or dumplings.
Žemlovka Bread pudding with stewed fruit, frequently pears or apples.
Slovakia Drinking Guide
Fruit brandy is a common welcome drink or digestif, but be warned: it's potent. Slivovica is plum-based firewater, hruškovica is a pear-derived variant, while borovička has a sharp, ginlike taste, flavoured with juniper berries. Demänovka's herbal ingredients give the spirit an almost medicinal taste (if not effect).
A Saturday night in Bratislava gives the impression of a flourishing pivo (beer) scene, but many beers are mass-produced in the neighbouring Czech Republic. Nonetheless, Slovakia has brewed beer since medieval times. Zlatý Bažant (Golden Pheasant) is the so-so national beer but try Šariš brand dark lager and ERB, which excels at pale lagers. A craft-beer culture is emerging, with the occasional pivovar (brewpub) found in large cities. Get a feel for the scene at Bratislava's Stupavar, Bratislavský Meštiansky Pivovar and 100 Piv.
Slovak wine is very good quality: Western Slovakia's Malé Karpaty (Small Carpathians) region is renowned for its whites (on the dry side of fruity), as well as dry medium-bodied reds. Best-regarded is Tokaj, an amber-hued dessert wine from the east (very similar to the neighbouring Hungarian wine region, Tokaji). There's also l'adové vino, wine concocted with frozen grapes foraged after the first snows and thus extremely sweet.
Slovakia may appear to be a nation of beer lovers but there are a few alcohol-free drinks offering interesting insights into local culture. Kofola is a caffeinated, caramel-tasting soda, rather like root beer. Production began in the 1950s to meet the demand for a certain soft drinks brand, unavailable under communist rules. It's the epitome of retro Czechoslovak cool. Žinčica, meanwhile, is the shepherd's choice, a salty, sheep's-milk drink – savoury and immensely refreshing.
Dairy Delights: A Spotter's Guide
bryndza – crumbly in texture, pungent in taste, this cheese adds flavour to dumpling dish bryndzové halušky
hermelín – soft, rinded Czech cheese popular in mountain areas, especially when baked whole
korbáčiky – dangerously moreish plaits or twists of chewable cheese, served in little paper bags
parenica – string cheese in a peelable snail's shell shape (a favourite with kids)
oštiepok – smoked sheep's cheese; it's salty, rubbery, and often stamped with pretty patterns
žinčica – refreshing sheep's milk whey, best served in a traditional clay mug