Let’s eat! A commonly heard phrase, especially among travelers. Certainly a big part of travelling, especially in foreign lands, is sampling the cuisine while soaking up the culture and maybe a glass of the best local wine.
But what and where?
There is certainly no lack of eating establishments in Bratislava and to the hungry and often overwhelmed traveler, finding that “memorable meal” can be a challenge, especially if you don’t speak the local language. But the rewards of choosing correctly, especially in a sophisticated “foodie” city like Bratislava, can be really rewarding.
Bratislava’s cuisine is difficult to define in one word. This cosmopolitan European capital has been forged from the Hungarian, Austrian, German and Slovak cultures that have, at one time or another, dominated the city. Maybe a little history lesson will help to explain it further.
During the communist era, cultural variations in food took second place to filling hungry bellies. Would-be chefs were given the same recipe book with a standard list of easily-available ingredients and standard food preparation guidelines. Variety was not to be found in the food.
Today, you can still find reminders of this area. With lunch being the main meal of the day, hearty “Daily Menu” meals (denné menu) consisting of a hot soup and a main meal are offered during lunchtime by most restaurants. A “Daily Menu” is used by luxury restaurants to attract diners too, so this might be your chance to fill your belly at bargain price.
With the end of communism and opportunities to travel, the Slovaks put pressure on Bratislava restaurants to go above and beyond what has been “good enough”.
So, what’s available? References to “Pressburg cuisine” generally indicate the spicy Hungarian stews, goulashes, roasted pork, poultry, and fish. Austrian eateries feature deep fried meats – schnitzel – and amazing deserts. Germans influenced our roast – fancy wild boar and deer, sausages, goose or duck? Slovak traditional food consists of mainly different types of roast and grilled meat, grilled fish, fried cheese including the iconic sheep cheese and fresh vegetables.
Roast goose accompanied by lokše is considered a signature dish here. It’s accompanied by a potato pancake and red or white stewed cabbage and the meal is eaten mainly in autumn. You must not forget ‘Bryndzové halušky’, potato dumplings meal with sheep cheese and crispy streaky bacon, which can be found at almost every Bratislava restaurant. Actually potato, cabbage, and sheep or cow cheese are ingredients found in many traditional Slovak meals like ‘zemiakové placky’ (potato fried pancakes) or ‘kapustové halušky’ (potato dumplings with cabbage).
Current Bratislava cuisine distinguishes one dining experience from another with references to quality. While many restaurants still seem to adhere to the old communist-era cookbook, others have discovered the rewards of using fresh, local ingredients and the power of seasonal cooking. The menus have shrunk from the old eight-page books to elegant three-page binders. Spring menus will typically feature asparagus and other vegetables accompanied by light wine-based sauces; summer menus offer light soups and freshly picked garden vegetables; autumn menus boast chestnuts, squash, and pumpkin flavored dishes and berry-flavored sauces. Winter menus lean towards hearty bean and lentil soups, dark meats and root vegetables.
Along with fresh, local ingredients, there is also a new breed of chefs trained abroad emerging in the city. Five-star hotels are hiring experienced international chefs to propel their hotel restaurants into competition with independent restaurants and these hotels today offer some of the best eating experiences in the city.
Restaurant districts have also sprung up in the shopping centres. The most trendy one is the Eurovea Gallery along the river Danube (where young professionals go to be seen) and in Hviezdoslavovo Square in Old Town. The area around the university along Obchodná Street and nearby SNP square features student pubs, traditional restaurants popular among visiting and local diners and trendy microbrewery pubs featuring craft beers.