Slovakia has a long history of farming and sheep breeding. This is why the main ingredient in our national food is a sheep cheese called bryndza. Dairy products, not just from sheep but also cows, are essential ingredients of many traditional dishes, as well as meat products such as sausages and bacon. If you don't have any dietary restrictions and want to experience authentic Slovak cuisine, it is best to come directly to the source. Come to a traditional farm and restaurant called salaš or koliba. Here you can play with animals, see how locals make cheese and other products, eat delicious food, and experience authentic Slovak farm life.
Salaš is a traditional type of farmland, usually far from the main cities or villages, typical for a region of Central and Eastern Europe. Farmers inherited the important job of breeding herds and taking care of land from generation to generation. Sadly, families who live in salaš and have their livelihood depending on selling animal products are slowly disappearing from the modern world. The reason for this is that it's hard to compete with big food chains and mass-produced food. Nowadays, a significant part of income for those families comes from tourism. Usually, there is a little shop where you can buy home-made dairy or meat products. Sometimes you can even book a guided tour or attend a workshop. Many farms also have a restaurant called koliba. Koliba is the name of a traditional old-fashioned restaurant, meaning that you can find koliba also in the city center, not just in the remote areas.
If you are visiting salaš or koliba, in order to eat a full meal, definitely ask the staff for a recommendation. They will happily help you choose the best seasonal dish. For example, the bryndza (sheep cheese) is best to try during spring or summer; that's when they milk the sheep and make such products. Most likely, they will offer you bryndzové halušky (a national dish) or bryndzové pirohy; which are variations of dumplings with sheep cheese. Sometimes they will serve a sheep-cheese soup called demikát in their menu and many more cheese specialities. These specialities vary from place to place, and region to region. Of course, these delicious dishes are also available in the winter, but the restaurants make them with frozen bryndza; that's why it is best to ask about the seasonal menu.
If you don't have time to eat lunch and are just passing by, then stop at a shop and buy cheese products such as korbáčiky, cheese strings, or a thicker version called parenica. Usually, you can choose a natural or smoked version. To drink, I suggest you try žinčica, a drink made out of sheep milk that, according to a legend, will give you enormous strength. Other products to try are oravská slanina, a special kind of bacon, or škvarky, roasted pork rinds. In some places, they also have home-made bread and my favorite, pagáče. It is a bun made out of cheese or škvarky-flavored sourdough. Slovak traditional food is full of meat and dairy products because that's what people used to eat back in the day. Vegan options in such places are usually not available. Even if you are a vegan, I still suggest that you visit shops like this for the authentic atmosphere.
There are many salašes and kolibas that you can visit in Slovakia, especially if you have a car and you are traveling across the Liptov, Orava or Spiš regions. Usually, they are located near the main road, but still quite far from civilization. In most of these places, you can see sheep and other animals walking around, with shepherds dressed in traditional clothes. One of the biggest salašes is Salaš Syrex, located in the Žilina region. You can also book a night in a salaš-hotel and enjoy the folk atmosphere for even longer. Salaš Krajinka in Liptov has probably the best bryndza, which was once the main product imported to the royal family in Vienna. In Salaš Krajinka, they also have their own bakery, so don't miss out on trying their pagáče!
Experience authentic Slovak farm life in the best salašes and kolibas across the country. It is a unique experience to see traditional farmers and restaurants, as well as the whole process behind making our classic products. Not to forget, the delicious food will make it impossible to leave disappointed.
Cover Photo © iStock/heebyj
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