If you made a list of ingredients that most frequently appear in typical Slovak dishes, cabbage would certainly come in a prominent place. Cooked or fermented, it is a staple we use in our kitchens all through the year.
To experience the best of Slovak cabbage cuisine and tradition, you need to be in the Záhorie region on the first weekend in October. It is when the harvest season for the late varieties of white cabbage comes to a close, and the annual cabbage festival (Dni zelá) takes place in the town of Stupava.Stupava is just a 20-minute drive from the capital city of Bratislava and very well served by public transport. Back in the 19th century it was a village that, together with other farming communities in the area, produced highly-valued sauerkraut known as ‘Slowakische Salat’ at food markets in Vienna.
Stupava’s sauerkraut soon became an important trading commodity of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and its fame spread further beyond when a railway was built connecting the rural communities of Stupava and Mást with the rest of the Empire.
Two centuries fast forward and despite the advance of modern European cabbage cultivars, a few family farms in Stupava still grow the traditional krajová cabbage variety with a distinctive shape and very specific sensory qualities.
To preserve the precious cabbage variety and the unique way of making sauerkraut from it, Stupavské zelé (as Stupava’s sauerkraut is called in the local dialect) received a Protected Designation of Origin and Protected Geograpgical Indication from the EU in 2017.
The Traditional Zone of Stupava’s cabbage festival is located in Mást, once a self-standing farming village that was later merged into Stupava town. Here you can still see the krajová cabbage heads being shredded, layered with salt and stomped down into large vats, where the cabbage is left to ferment for up to 5 weeks.
It’s in this part of Stupava town where you can also taste some of the oldest and most typical regional specialities, like strapatý zemiak (baked potato with braised cabbage), chlpaté knedlíky (sauerkraut layered potato dumplings), guľky s kapustou a údeným (cabbage and ham meatballs), or kapustová štrúdľa (cabbage strudel).
In other festival spots local farmers display their garden produce and various competitions take place, like that for the best kapustnica (sauerkraut soup).
Naturally, crowds flock to Stupava’s festival to taste cabbage culinary delights, buy the traditional Stupavské zelé, or even the shredded krajová cabbage, which they take home to ferment themselves in small earthenware pots. Homemade sauerkraut remains the pride of a Slovak household and a valuable source of vitamins in the winter.
Yet there’s a lot more to be tasted at the festival’s food corner. Have you heard of Slovak goose and duck specialities, or do you feel like trying our national dish of Halušky s bryndzou? You can see it being made from scratch at one of the many street food stalls.
Read more about Slovakia’s capital of cabbage and the history of sauerkraut production in Stupava in the recently published book. You can also find a few inspiring cabbage recipes there.