How traditional oštiepok cheese is made

The best place to see traditional Slovak cheeses being made is definitely Zázrivá Salash. There are quite a few salashes (or kolibas) around Slovakia, but none of those I have been to provided such a complex experience of our folk culture and cuisine as the salash between Zázrivá and Terchová – two villages well-known for their rich folklore.

Oštiepok (pronounced as oshtyiepok) is an egg-shaped, usually smoked cheese with a decorative pattern on its surface. Like other Slovak cheeses, oštiepok is made on a large scale in our dairy factories mostly from cow’s milk. Fortunately, there are quite a few private farms (called salashes) around Slovakia, where oštiepok is still hand-made in the traditional way. Some of these farms use a mix of cow’s and sheep’s milk, and only a few make oštiepok from a 100% sheep’s milk, which is much more nutritious and deliciously creamy. Zázrivá Salash is one of them, and I went there last month to document Zázrivá oštiepok production for you.

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Oštiepok cheese is hand-made by shepherds at Slovak salashes

I was met by bača Laco and his son Maťo at a charming little koliba close to the pastures, where oštiepok cheese is made every day from fresh milk of either their own sheep herd, or the sheep farms in the close vicinity.

Bača (pronounced as batcha) is the highest rank in the Slovak salash hierarchy. It’s a senior, most experienced shepherd, chosen by the village community. Batcha organizes the life at the salash, is responsible for the sheep herd, and makes the cheese. He is aided by two or more valasi (or valachs), young shepherds who help with all sorts of salash jobs, including cheese making, cooking and cleaning.

The charming little kolibas have compelling stories to tell

Inside the neat and spotlessly clean koliba batcha Laco presides over a stainless cauldron filled with curds and whey. I am told the sheep’s milk had been treated with rennet at the temperature of 32ºC to curdle. The curds were then stirred and broken into pieces of about 1cm. Now the actual oštiepok shaping starts:

  1. Batcha Laco gathers up the curds in his hands and squeezes out the whey. He then fills a calibrated mug with the mass, transfers it onto a sieve, which is then passed to his son Maťo, who dips the sieve in another cauldron filled with water heated to 80ºC. At this temperature, the cheese goes through the first sterilization, and also becomes pliable enough to be shaped. That is Maťo’s job, and he moulds the cheese into an egg, while pushing the excess whey out. 

  2. Maťo passes the cheese back to his father, who puts it in a two-part wooden mould with a carved ornament in it (he made the whole thing himself), and fastens the mould with a special binding. Two wooden pieces are pressed into both ends before the cheese is dipped in the hot water again for a few seconds. 

  3. When the mould is taken away, batcha Laco soaks each cheese ‘egg’ in brine, which not only ensures its long shelf life, but also gives the cheese a typical salty tang.
  4. Finally, each cheese ‘egg’ will be placed in a phloem bag, and hung in a smoking hut for 2 – 3 days to get its unmistakable smoky flavour and a nice, golden crust. 

It’s wonderful to watch the harmony between the father and son as they create these unique cheese pieces. They explain the particulars of each stage, they regale you with compelling stories of the salash life, and their family’s long tradition of shepherding. Yes, this is a valued skill passed from generation to generation. Batcha is a respected wise man, who has to display a lot of knowledge and experience, as well as courage in face of danger. He must show good judgement and a cold head when confronted with unexpected, and quite frequent, visitors to the salash, like bears and wolves.

Maťo is training to be a batcha, and he does it with all the pride, conscience and responsibility of his father. When he takes over, he will be the fifth in the family line to pursue the vocation.

At Zázrivá Salash

This year’s shepherd’s season is drawing to a close with days getting shorter and nights palpably colder. Summer greens are still a prominent colour in our countryside, but they are slowly giving in to a rich array of autumnal hues. It’s a wonderful time to be out and about, especially when the weather is as agreeable as on this crisp, sunny day, which I decided to spend at my favourite salash in northern Slovakia.

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Goats grazing the luscious pastures at Zázrivá Salash

For those unfamiliar with the term, salaš (pronounced as salash) is the Slovak word for a wooden cottage close to sheep pastures, where shepherds live and work. Most of these pastures are in the mountains, and some of the farms have adjacent restaurants (often referred to as kolibas), which serve traditional Slovak specialities made from locally sourced ingredients.

Zázrivá Salash is seated on a hillside above the road between two distinctive Slovak villages of Terchová and Zázrivá. Apart from the salash and the restaurant, there’s only a couple of chalets below the forestline skirting the vast, green spaces dotted with trees.

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Photo credits: Jana Kollárová, http://www.janakollarova.sk

Delicious, homey food is far from the only attraction that pulls me back to this place. I love to walk around the farm, watch the sheep, goats and horses grazing the luscious pastures, see the shepherds at work and listen to their stories. A shepherd’s life is not as bucolically carefree as it seems at first sight. Shepherds face everyday challenges, too, yet theirs are completely different from what most of us experience in between office walls.

Today I’ve come to learn more about oštiepok (pronounced as oshtyiepok), an artisanal cheese hand-made by the shepherds. I’m not surprised to hear they’ve been up and working since 4:30. Apart from the flocks of sheep, goats, ducks and geese, the farm also houses rabbits, cows, hens, pigs and even ostriches. All the animals have to be fed and taken care of the first thing in the morning.

They provide high quality meat for the restaurant, as well as fresh eggs and milk, which is locally made into dairy products like butter, yoghurt and cheese.

The reputed Zázrivá oštiepok is not only a delicious experience for your taste buds, but also a feast for the eye. Each piece bears the farm’s logo and a specific design carved onto the surface. You can see the cheese being made on the spot if you arrive at the right time, or arrange your visit in advance.

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Zázrivá oštiepok cheese is hand-made by the shepherds at Zázrivá Salash

Despite their daily work commitments, I’ve always found the shepherds welcoming and more than happy to talk to visitors. It seems that this kind of socializing is a perfect counterbalance to the otherwise solitary life on the farm. They will show you how to make oštiepok cheese or žinčica drink, they’ll walk with you around the farm and let you feed or cuddle the animals. They will teach you things about their flocks that you won’t find in biology books. Theirs is the practical knowledge that comes from first-hand experience, years of observation, and from deep understanding of the workings of Mother Nature.

If your luck is in, you’ll be taken for a horse-and-carriage ride, and if you’re brave enough, the shepherds will let you try milking the sheep. At the end of the excursion, you’re most likely to head to the restaurant, a cosy place with a beautifully carved wooden decor that perfectly matches the traditional Slovak menu.

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After a meal, I always end up in the shop next to the restaurant, where they sell all their artisanal cheeses together with other products from the farm. In the showroom adjacent to the shop you can see how parenica (parenitza), korbáčiky (korbaatchiki), and other traditional Slovak cheeses are made.

I never leave the shop empty-handed. On my last visit I succumbed to buying a chunk of traditional bacon, a lump of house-made butter, and a loaf of wonderful potato bread baked on the premises. I resisted the temptation to buy their kremeš (a kind of cream cake) simply because I was too full after the meal of Šúľance s makom I’d had before.

The great thing about Zázrivá Salash is that it’s isolated enough not to attract big crowds. Regulars and hungry (or curious) drivers will stop for a meal or look-around, but the place is not served by public transport, and so it retains its tranquil atmosphere and rustic charm. It was a perfect setting for the cover photo of A Taste of Slovakia book, wasn’t it?

For more details on the services and accommodation they provide at the salash, the events they organize throughout the year, or products they make, see the link below:

http://salas.syrex.sk/#video

Unfortunately, there’s no English version of their website at the moment. If you’d like to have your queries answered, drop me a line below and I’ll contact the managers on your behalf:

What’s cooking in Košice

Most tourists and visitors to our country will naturally head to Bratislava – the capital of Slovakia. Not only does the city have its own (albeit small) airport, but it’s only an hour drive from a larger Vienna airport, which is a convenient gateway to other European cities and holiday destinations. There’s a very good shuttle bus service between Vienna and Bratislava, in addition to regular trains joining the two cities.

Košice (pronounced as Koshitze), on the other hand, is a little off the beaten path, but that’s exactly what many tourists are looking for when coming to Slovakia. With the population of almost 250 000, Košice is the second largest city in Slovakia, as well as the industrial, commercial and educational centre of its eastern part. That said, Košice has all the features and amenities of a European city, including an international airport and a modern train station, yet it preserves its unique atmosphere and exudes charm Bratislava doesn’t possess. Mind you, Košice served as the European Capital of Culture in 2013.

St Elisabeth’s Cathedral on the Main Street (Hlavná ulica), Košice

Apart from its rich cultural heritage, the city boasts a well-preserved historical centre with such impressive buildings as Gothic St Elisabeth’s Cathedral – the largest church in Slovakia dating back to the 14th century, St Urban’s Tower, the exquisite State Theatre, and a number of beautifully renovated aristocratic palaces skirting the promenade of the Main Street.

When I went to Košice a few weeks ago, I was recommended to try the regional cuisine in the Republic of the East (Republika východu) restaurant at 31 Main Street (Hlavná ulica), just opposite St Elisabeth’s Cathedral. It was a warm day at the end of June, so some diners were taking advantage of the outdoor seating and enjoying the sunshine.

I liked the coolness and the casual look of the interior, nicely furnished with bookshelves on one side. I chose to sit at a table by the window giving onto the street, which let in plenty of soft afternoon light – perfect for taking pictures.

When the menu arrived, I understood this wasn’t just another main street restaurant, but indeed a place with a very ‘regional’ feel. The menu was written in a very strong East-Slovak dialect that broke all the spelling and grammar rules of the standard Slovak language. It did look peculiar to someone coming from outside the region, but with a little bit of imagination I could guess what was behind the names – and the funny comments accompanying them. I’m not surprised though they haven’t tried to provide the menu in English, as is now the case in all major Slovak towns, not to mention cosmopolitan Košice. Much of the local folklore and genuine East-Slovak humour would be lost in translation. Fortunately for those unfamiliar with the vernacular, all the entries on the menu are illustrated with great photos, so you have a really good idea what to expect.

https://www.republikavychodu.sk/listek/

It seems that the restaurant caters for all tastes and diets, so alongside traditional Slovak dishes like halushki, letcho or pirohy (both sweet and savoury), you’ll find steaks, prosciutto, duck burgers or braised quail. There’s a good choice of salads, speciality cheeses, home-made desserts and ‘healthy foods’ like quinoa, buckwheat or millet. I was taken aback by an impressive selection of pancakes (both classical and gluten-free), and as I leafed through the beverage list, I realized the place also serves as a cafe, a pub and a wine bar.

But I was hungry and wanted to try something I wouldn’t get in a regular restaurant, so after some deliberation I chose Buckwheat Groats with Grilled VegetablesAnd I had no regrets when it came about 15 minutes later.I left nothing on my plate, but was left feeling happier and inspired after the meal. Yes, I’m going to try and recreate it at home. But before I leave Košice, I can’t forget to say hello to the famous singing fountain on the Main Street.

The singing fountain of Košice

Within a short walking distance of the Republika východu restaurant, there’s a nice and cosy Artforum bookshop in Mlynska Street (Mlynská ulica), where they sell A Taste of Slovakia cookbook. So if you wander off to Košice on your travels around Slovakia, do call round and have a look inside. I’m sure you’ll love the bookshop’s ambience, and I’d be more than pleased to have your thoughts on the book.

Where to buy ‘A Taste of Slovakia’

Since it was published several months ago, A Taste of Slovakia has landed in a number of selected bookshops and stores around Slovakia, as well as some other parts of the world. I thought you might want to know where the book can be found, so here is a list of places that sell it:

Slovakia

Kníhkupectvá Artforum (Artforum bookshops):
https://www.artforum.sk/katalog/99614/a-taste-of-slovakia

Oxford Bookshops (Bratislava, Banská Bystrica)

Bratislava flagship restaurant, Námestie SNP 8, Bratislava

Včelco Smolenice shop, Továrenská 10A, Smolenice:
http://www.vcelco.sk/kontakt.php

Podpolianske múzeum Detva, Námestie SNP 1, Detva

Kníhkupectvo Slobodníková (Slobodníková Bookshop), Tatranská Lomnica

Tatranská informačná kancelária (The High Tatras Information Centre) Starý Smokovec

Turistické informačné centrum Vlkolínec – UNESCO (Tourist Information Centre Vlkolínec, UNESCO site)

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The picturesque village of Vlkolínec is one of the Slovak UNESCO sites.

Knihkupectvo Rajec (Rajec Bookshop), Námestie SNP 2/1, Rajec

Kníhkupectvo Christiania (Christiania Bookshop), Námestie sv. Egídia, Poprad

Leštáchovo kníhkupectvo (Leštách Bookshop), Námestie SNP 4, Zvolen

Turistická informačná kancelária Hriňová (Hriňová Tourist Information Centre)

Turisticko-informačná kancelária Prievidza (Prievidza Tourist Information Centre), Námestie slobody 6, Prievidza

Infocentrum Bojnice (Bojnice Information Centre), Hurbanovo námestie 47, Bojnice

Levická informačná agentúra (Levice Information Agency), Ľ. Štúra 3, Levice

Mestské informačné centrum Prešov (Prešov City Information Centre), Hlavná 67, Prešov

Piešťanské informačné centrum (Piešťany Spa Information Centre), Pribinova 2, Piešťany 

United Kingdom

The Sonam Halusky Shop, 132 Upper Richmond Road West, London:
https://www.halusky.co.uk/czech-slovak-foods/a-taste-of-slovakia.html#.WW-lj4iGPIU

Australia

The Marie Linke Photography Shoppe:
http://phototreks.net.au/product/a-taste-of-slovakia/

Photo courtesy of Marie Linke (www.phototreks.net.au)

United States of America

National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library, Cedar Rapids, Iowa:
http://www.ncsml.org/product/taste-slovakia-cookbook/

I’ll be adding to the list as/if it grows in the future. If you know about a bookshop or a store that would like to sell the book, or if you wish to have your copy delivered to your postal address, please leave a message at

cookslovak@gmail.com

or in the contact form below:

 

Bytča Palace – food for the mind, body and soul

You’ll probably agree that the best way to learn about a country is to explore it through all your senses. Whether it’s sightseeing, visiting festivals and listening to local folklore, learning traditional crafts or tasting regional specialities, you’re bound to get something new and exciting.

The manor house in Bytča and an adjacent wedding palace have quite a few stories to tell, and a great deal of architectonic features to feast your eyes upon. On top of that, there’s an elegant restaurant with a wine bar right next to the palace – a mystique place steeped in history offering a very authentic dining experience.

‘U Palatina’ or At the Palatine’s restaurant and wine bar in Bytča

Once a home of the noble Thurzo family, the manor house was designed by an Italian master builder and completed in 1571. When Juraj Thurzo took over the estate after his mother’s death, he added a beautiful Renaissance building to the family residence. Built in 1601, the wedding palace served representative purposes, as well as a wedding place for Thurzo’s six daughters.

Juraj Thurzo was a powerful Hungarian magnate with a strong interest in the arts and sciences, who spoke 5 languages and was appointed the Palatine of Hungary under the reign of King Rudolf II.

Wedding Palace in Bytča (Photo courtesy of Bytča Town Council)

Much of the palace’s original beauty was lost under the succeeding proprietors, whether it was for careless, incompetent use of the premises or inept restoration. It appears that the latest major repair between 2008 – 2009 has brought this architectural gem closest to its original state – at least that’s what experts say.

The palace grounds, including the grand Renaissance gardens, are open to the public all year round. The palace interior can be seen free of charge from Tuesday to Sunday (9am – 5pm). In the spring and summer months there’s a host of events organized both outside and inside the palace, like the traditional food and crafts markets, concerts, educational programmes and, as you might expect, wedding ceremonies for the general public.

Of course I couldn’t leave the palace without trying the ‘U palatína’ (At the Palatine’s) restaurant. They offer international cuisine, regional specialities, house desserts and a fair range of salads, altogether with a wide selection of wines from Slovakia and abroad. Yet I was more tempted by their seasonal menu, which featured asparagus in a variety of light, nutritious dishes, so I went for Steamed Asparagus with New Baby Potatoes in Hollandaise Sauce.

I had to give it a definite thumbs-up, as the asparagus had been cooked to perfect tenderness and the buttered potatoes melted in my mouth, not to mention the sublime hollandaise sauce. It was exactly what I wished for on this warm spring day – a simple yet satisfying late afternoon meal that would keep me going for the rest of the day.

On leaving the restaurant I made a mental note to try and make hollandaise sauce at home while asparagus is still in season.

Wine tasting at the castle

I’m planning to include a chapter about Slovak wines in the next cookbook – a daunting task for someone as inexperienced in the field as I am. All I knew about wine until recently was that it came in two colours – red and white. After last weekend’s wine tasting event at Červený Kameň Castle (Red Stone Castle) I feel a little more knowledgeable.

Yet the wine alone wouldn’t have exerted such a pull on me. There would have to be more on the list if I was to take a combined train-bus ride there and back again within one day. The public invitation on Malokarpatská vínna cesta (Malokarpatska wine journey) website which, unfortunately, doesn’t have an English version, promised local home-made specialities and traditional crafts markets in the castle courtyard. Plus the weather forecast was for a dry, balmy Saturday – such a rare and precious phenomenon this spring that it finally became the deciding factor. I had no desire to stay within the walls of our urban home.

I went down to the castle cellars straightaway in the hope of doing some decent photography before the crowds arrived. I knew it would be a challenge. I have a good camera, but no special lighting equipment, so shooting in dark places is a nightmare. I took dozens of pictures trying to figure out what would work best until I finally settled with the camera’s two built-in programmes.

The famed castle cellars were subtly illuminated in some corners, but that was barely enough for good photography. I discarded half of the pictures on the site, and half of the rest back at home.

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More than an hour into my troubled shooting experience, and I felt drained. When I let myself taste what I had paid for at last, my spirits were immediately lifted. Not that wine is my wish drink, mind you. I hardly ever drink booze, but if I have to choose, I always go for red wine. That said, I only needed a glass to make me feel merry, especially when that glass had come from different varieties.

Fortunately, there was some excellent food being served with the wines, and I did help myself to quite a few titbits which, together with cold fresh water, took the edge off the booze.

If you accept that no wine sampling in Slovakia will ever be complete without wholesome food, or vice versa, then the same goes for music, singing and dancing. After all, it’s another joyful way to effectively blunt the intoxication. Supposing you manage to make it to the dancing floor, of course.

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Yet I couldn’t stay to document the final stages of wine tasting at Červený Kameň Castle. I had to set on a walk to catch a bus connecting to my train. Too complicated? No, it wasn’t. The weather followed the plan and happily kept to the forecast. Before I left the castle cellars, I stopped to buy a bottle of red wine at one of the stalls. The young couple wouldn’t let me have it without sampling. OK, while I was at it, they explained the vintage’s special features, which I quite understood then and there, but couldn’t remember when I was back home.

 Their Alibernet is now sitting in our bar waiting for the right occasion.

Decorating Easter cookies

As Mother Nature is awakening after a long winter sleep, so is our need for more warmth, sunshine and brighter colours. Not only do they show on the streets, in the parks and more still in the countryside, the spring colours also enter our kitchens, land on our tables and brighten up our food.

I have always wanted to show you the art of traditional honey-cookie decorating in Slovakia, but couldn’t find exactly what I was looking for. Then I came across Alžbeta’s fanpage and I knew she was the right person to tell the story.

Alžbeta is the Slovak name for Elizabeth and her honey cookies are as divine as the name suggests. When I got in touch with her to make an appointment, I didn’t know what a beautiful corner of Slovakia this would take me to. Perhaps that is where Alžbeta finds inspiration for her work?

Alžbeta is a mother of four and a busy housewife, who turns into a cookie fairy in the quiet of night.

She and her family live in Kremnické Bane – a village close to the spot that was declared the geographical centre of Europe back in 1815. The ride through the vast, undulating meadows dotted with fir trees and charming chalets leaves me wondering how many more treasures like these I have not seen yet – despite my extensive travels around the country. I make a promise to return, as there is no time to explore the place now. I have come for honey cookies, and I want to make the most of the visit. A batch of freshly baked cookies is already waiting to get a festive coating.

Alžbeta gets her gear ready. The first step is making the white icing. All you need at this stage is:

  • 1 egg white
  • icing or castor sugar (about 130 g)
  • a bowl and a whisk or fork
  • plastic zip bags (10 x 15 cm)

The exact amount of sugar will depend on how thick you want your icing to be. The more sugar, the thicker icing you get.

Method: 

Now that you’re ready to start decorating, follow these tips from Alžbeta to achieve the best results:

  1. Take the bag with the icing in one hand and twist it slightly with the other one. Press the icing down towards the tip of the bag, and use sharp scissors to cut a hole in it. A small hole is good for criss-cross patterns, ’embroidery’ or ‘painting’, you’ll need a bigger one to cover or fill in larger spaces.
  2. If you don’t use all the icing, zip it up in the bag and store at room temperature for up to 24 hours. Remember to stir it well, or place the icing in a new bag before you use it again later.
  3. For colour patterns, use natural food colourings, which come in the form of powder or gel in Slovakia, and stir them into the white icing evenly. Be careful to let the colour pattern on the cookie(s) dry for at least 24 hours before applying another layer or a different colour.
  4. To create a nice, clean pattern, hold the bag closely above the cookie, move your hand slowly as if drawing, and let the thread of icing fall down while fixing or turning the cookie with the other hand.

I’ll be sharing the recipe for our traditional honey cookies on a different occasion, but the tips & techniques given above can be applied to any cookies, so if you want to channel your creative energy onto your favourite ones, feel free to experiment.

Traditional honey cookies from Slovakia

 Good luck!

Easter eggs

They symbolize spring, fertility, new life, and in the minds of the Slovaks (as well as other Eastern European cultures), they are closely linked to Easter holidays. Eggs can’t be missing on the festive table in Slovakia. They come in all possible forms – boiled, fried, scrambled or made into hrudka (egg cheese), dyed, waxed, hand-painted or wired. Yes, apart from being an important food staple, the egg is also a popular artistic medium associated with our Easter traditions.

Easter eggs woven in copper wire

Perhaps the most unusual decorative technique among those mentioned above is wire wrapping – a very old and unique craft that originated in northern Slovakia in the 18th century. Back then, wire was used to repair old pots, cracked bowls, broken jugs and other objects of everyday life. Over the centuries, the wire craft has evolved into an exquisite art that produces decorative bowls, intricately woven silver baskets, or the finest jewellery. I was lucky to meet an amiable, chatty lady who was presenting this traditional Slovak art at a food event I’ve been to recently. And guess what was the main object of her work?

Before the wire is woven onto an egg, its contents must be blown out through two diminutive holes made on both ends. Sure, it takes a lot of skill and years of practice to weave the wire onto the fragile eggshell afterwards, but on top of its decorative function, the wire pattern also serves as a protective layer.

Wire-wrapped eggs are available at most Easter markets around Slovakia.

While wire weaving is not for everyone, there are much simpler yet effective techniques to decorate your Easter eggs with. By wrapping the whole egg in a net and boiling it with peeled outer layers of an onion, or a piece of beetroot, the eggshell will acquire a natural reddish hue. If a herb or a leaf is placed on the shell under the net, the resulting pattern will be even more interesting.

A little more difficult but still doable is hand-painting and waxing – the two most popular techniques that are often taught at egg-decorating workshops before Easter.

Then you have crocheted, carved and lace-covered eggs, each of which is a masterpiece itself. Whatever technique is applied on the shell, the egg insides will never go to waste. We’ll use them in cooking (see Bird’s Milk) and baking or, in case of the dyed boiled eggs, eat them as part of our Easter feast after removing the shells.

Decorated Easter eggs (kraslice) from Slovakia

Ready for a cup of tea?

Chai, tchai, le the, te, caj, cha, che, herbata, tae, el te, tea – how many different words for this popular drink do you know? And how strong is your penchant for a really good cup of tea when travelling around the world? Surely the tea in England will be served in a different way from that in Russia, Morocco or Sri Lanka, not to mention countries like China, India or Japan, where tea drinking has taken on a spiritual dimension.

Dobrá čajovňa (Good Tearoom) in Žilina

Although Slovakia hasn’t got a strong tea culture, it does have some nice and cosy places for tea lovers to enjoy high-quality tea in. The Slovak word for tea is čaj (pronounced tchai), and if you want to get it with the right decor, look for a čajovňa (tearoom). They’re not as common as pubs or cafés, but you are quite sure to find one in every major Slovak town. Dobrá čajovňa (Good Tearoom) is certainly worth visiting for its wide choice of teas from all over the world, and a very homey atmosphere. It’s a Czech franchise based in Prague that is also operating in two Slovak cities – Žilina in the north of Slovakia and Košice in the east.

https://www.facebook.com/dobracajovnaZA/

I went to the one in Žilina to find something that would restart my immunity system after a bout of flu I’d experienced two weeks before. The tea lady suggested Lapacho and I was happy to take her advice. She lit up a candle on my table and while she was preparing the tea, we chatted about workshops and events they organize at this new venue.

The tea was served in beautiful dark blue crockery on a custom-made wooden tray. I laid back and while I was sipping my brew, I leafed through an impressive choice of teas on their menu. There was a selection of delicate white teas (such as yao bao from South China), rare yellow teas, green teas like the Japanese matcha or sencha, Indian spiced and British-style milk teas, red teas from the Chinese province of Yunnan, several varieties of black darjeeling tea from India, as well as rich, dark pu-erh teas from China. I literally got lost in all the more or less familiar names, when a young couple came in and installed themselves on the colourful cushions in the elevated area. They chose their favourite tea and a pitta bread filled with goat cheese and vegetables. I found out that Dobrá čajovňa also offers sweet and savoury snacks, some of them having exciting exotic flavours and tongue-twisting names.
Aside the tearooms like these, you’re very unlikely to get freshly-prepared loose-leaf tea in Slovakia. When you ask for tea in a regular restaurant, they will usually give you a choice of black, green, fruit or herbal tea (one type in each category) in teabags. Your teabag will be served with a glass of hot water and sugar, occasionally honey, and you’re supposed to do the brew yourself.

In mountain resorts like that of The High Tatras, you can treat yourself to a very special Slovak tea that comes with slices of lemon on the side or a shot of rum/vodka in it. Don’t confuse it with Tatratea though, which is a strong tea-based liquor made with various herbs, spices and fruit flavours. It’s a nice pick-me-up after a day’s skiing or walking in what is considered our most beautiful mountains.

How ‘A Taste of Slovakia’ was born

Although we are getting more English-speaking visitors to Slovakia than before the Fall of Communism, this little country in the heart of Europe is still largely unknown by a mainstream tourist. Yet those who come and stay long enough to explore and make friends will often return for more.

Luke Waterson – a travel writer and a great fan of all things Slovak – has recently published this piece about ‘A Taste of Slovakia’ on his website. It gives a short account of what lay behind the book birth.

http://www.englishmaninslovakia.co.uk/2017/02/20/spotlight-on-jarmila-hlavkova-author-of-the-first-slovak-recipe-book-to-be-published-in-the-english-language/

Žinčica is a refreshing countryside drink, which is often served in hand-carved mugs. It’s a by-product of sheep’s milk cheese.