These articles were published in the Spectacular Slovakia travel guide, published annually by The Slovak Spectator since 1996. The latest editions can be obtained from our online shop.



On Vegetarians and Vegetables in Slovakia

Vegetarians - and non-vegetarians used to a variety of vegetables in their diet - face a struggle as they travel through Slovakia. As in the rest of Central Europe, the cuisine is heavily meat-based, and in restaurants there aren't many vegetables on offer beyond cabbage and potatoes.

In fact, vegetarianism is so exotic that waiters can hardly believe that someone would eat no meat, and thus they often direct vegetarians to bryndzové halušky, despite its lashings of chopped bacon and pork fat.

On many menus, the only truly meatless option is - brace yourself - fried cheese (vyprážaný syr) with french fries (hranolky), usually served with a mayonnaise-based sauce. I've had this dish several times in restaurants, and it was never once tasty enough to justify its extreme greasiness. Made at home by an experienced Slovak cook, however, it can be delicious.

The first thing a vegetarian - or anyone who likes to eat vegetables - should do is learn to love cabbage (kapusta). Green salads in Slovakia, especially outside of cities, are rarely worth eating, but fresh cabbage salad almost always is. I arrived here in high winter, and whenever a sudden need for fresh vegetables came upon me, I would always order the red-cabbage salad. Packed with vitamins and almost always fresh, it makes you feel like you've eaten something healthy.

For full-on vegetarians, the most convenient path is to find a vegetarian restaurant. I didn't come across many in my travels, but I did find a couple of good ones. In Bratislava, there's the canteen Vegetariánska Jedáleň Divesta , on Laurinská street in the old town. It serves good, cheap food; unfortunately, it's only open weekdays, and then only for lunch. And in Košice, there's the excellent Reštaurácia Ajvega (Orlia 10, just off the main square), which serves both Mexican and traditional vegetarian specialities.

For those times when a vegetarian restaurant isn't an option, take the advice given to me by a Slovak friend who avoids meat:

  • Always ask whether a dish contains meat, even if the menu implies that it's meatless. Fried cheese, for example, sometimes arrives with an unannounced slice of ham tucked in. To ask "Is this dish meatless?", say "Je to jedlo bez mäsa?" The answer you're looking for is "áno."
  • Put a meal together with side dishes. My friend sometimes orders steamed vegetables (dusená zelenina) with roasted potatoes (opekané zemiaky). That, plus a cream-based soup (because clear soups contain meat broth) and a lot of bread, is how she fills up.

- Tom Philpott


These articles and related information were published in Spectacular Slovakia 2003.

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