Sunday, 25 October 2015

"Budapest eat finger's!!!"

We said our byes to Patrick and his family, then hopped on a bus, then a train then another train into Hungry.

Our destination was Budapest, to see Jess. We planned to arrive for her birthday, and luckily things worked out. She met us at the train station, then took us to her gorgeous flat in the Jewish District. After being in the countryside for just under a week, it did feel a little bit discombobulating being in a new and unfamiliar city. But being a city girl, I soon adjusted. I fell in love with Budapest instantly. It was vibrant, unpretentious and oozed charm. Everywhere I looked, I found myself being awestruck, either by the architecture, street art, interiors and even the people. Little pockets of the city stood frozen in time, as if going into movie set.

Three-D Tree
Naomi, Jess’s sister also joined us in Budapest for birthday celebrations. We went out in town, had a few drinks, a nice Greek dinner and finished of with some super fancy cocktails at the Warm Up bar.

Birthday cake from mama wise!

Budapest Eat Finger's!!!... ?

Great cocktail bar serving fancy cocktails and shots in the Jewish District
In the morning Jess and I went to the local shops to pick up some food. It was a bit of a strange combination of ingredients: bread and hummus from the Jewish shop, Hungarian sausage from the butchers, and pomelo from the green grocers. Nonetheless, it was perfectly pleasant, and set us up for our busy days.

Laura and I went to explore the town whilst Jess went to classes and Naomi worked from home. We went to the Hungarian House of Photography where we found this guy outside. I couldn’t resist, I had to take a picture:

Homeless man peacefully asleep on statue
We did some food shopping on our way home, to make bryndzové halušky in the evening as Jess and Laura had both brought some bryndza from the festival. Wilson, a friend of Jess’s also come over for dinner and was interested in seeing the process.

Wilson helping Laura in the kitchen
Bryndza (sheep's cheese)
Laura’s bryndzové halušky

Laura’s bryndzové halušky
Despite buying the wrong type of flour, the halušky turned out great. We made a few alterations, like making a sour cream and chive sauce to accompany the dish. But it worked pretty well. That night some of Jess’s friends came over and later we went out till the wee hours of the morning. I don’t remember feeling hungry once. It’s a workingman’s dish and can make you feel very sleepy after. Portions don’t have to be too big, although often it’s hard to resist as it taste so good. I find drinking palinka whilst cooking, and before and after the meal helps.

Ingredients (Feeds 6):
4 medium sized potatoes
4 cups of wholemeal flour
1 egg yolk
Bryndza, or a soft sheep's cheese
Smoked pork belly 400g, cubed (must be very fatty)
Sour cream
Chives, finely chopped
Salt and pepper

1. Start by putting the cubed pork belly in a frying pan on a very low heat. It doesn’t require any oil. Check on it from time to time
2. Grate the potatoes on the finest side of a grater. It is hard work, but worth it. I recommend doing it with friends and taking turns. Also have some palinka on the go, it helps
3. Mix in the flour and egg yolk into the potato mixture till it resembles the consistency of mashed potato
4. Bring water to boil in a large sauce pan. Add a pinch of salt
5. Using a flat grater on the smooth side, slowly press through the potato mixture into the boiling water. The halušky will sink at first, so be paitent, and wait till it floats on the surface. You will have to do this in batched. Keep the cooked halušky in a warm container/pot
6. Once all cooked, add the bryndza to the halušky and mix through
7. Make sure your belly lardons are crispy and golden, and that there is enough hot fat in the pan. This is especially important and it melts the cheese a little
8. In a separate bowl mix the sour cream and chives together
9. To serve, spoon some of the halušky mixture onto a plate, add some of the sour cream and chive mixture and top with the belly lardons and some hot fat

Saturday, 24 October 2015

Sebechleby and Krupina

The morning of our last day in Slovakia was spent chilling in Sebechleby, a quaint little village where Patrick’s mum lives. We were sat in the village square when suddenly a soviet style song was played over loud speakers, followed by an announcement. A few people came out of their homes and headed towards a parked white van. Laura, who had already been to Slovakia a number of times before, told me it was to let people know there was someone passing through the village with goods to sell. It seemed a little bit bizarre at first, but when I thought about it, it actually made perfect sense, as I doubt twitter and facebook are used much by the elderly women of Sebechleby. I couldn’t imagine public announcements going down well in a place like London though. 

War memorial in Sebechleby town square

We headed towards Krupina, the nearest town to do some shopping. On the way we stopped for lunch. Feeling a little bit sniffly, Laura and I opted for the garlic soup. It sorted us right out. 

Garlic soup

Once in Krupina, our first stop was the pharmacy. Not for medicine, but for tea! It seems that if you have an ailment, the first subscription is a wild herb tea. They have over 300 blends in the pharmacy, each for a different ailment. It was really interesting to talk to Vlado, who is a botanist for a herbal tea blending company, about the medicinal qualities of mountain and forest plants. It has definitely made me think more about looking more locally for healing plants. 

Slovakian pharmacy

Tea blends for ailments

We stocked up on tea, then went up to our final viewpoint in Slovakia, where you could see the entire town of Krupina. 

View of Krupina from a watch tower

Knackered and feeling sad that our Slovakian adventure was coming to an end, we retreated back to Patrick’s mum’s house where we were treated to a lovely homemade dinner of stuffed peppers and bread dumplings. 

Stuffed peppers

Patrick had borrowed a book on Slovakian food from a friend that was filled full of quirky illustrations. We made hot toddies and looked through the book. It was a little bit emotional, as it made me realise how much more there was to discover in the country, but how little time we actually had. 

I learn’t a great deal about the Slovakian culture through their cuisine, and realised that often language barriers can be broken through food and drink. I must admit, I was a little apprehensive about traveling to Central Slovakia, as I wasn’t sure how and whether small town Slovakians would receive someone from a non-european background, especially since the government made their views clear on where they stood with regards to taking in migrants so recently. But, all my fears were proved wrong. Not only are Slovakians welcoming and hospitable, they also have a lot of respect for the natural world. Their resourcefulness and appreciation for their environment is admirable and something we could all learn from. From my short time in the country, I will take away a new philosophy: take care of nature and nature will take care of you. 

Slovakian Illustrations
Fork in pig
Slovakian kitchen
Making wine

We hit the sack, to get up early in the morning to make our way to Hungry. 

Friday, 23 October 2015

Rolling in the hills

To make most of our day we woke up early, made a quick breakfast and headed out in Patrick’s car with his friend Michel. Our destination was Banská Štiavnica, a small medieval town in the central region of Slovakia. It’s known for its historical buildings and is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. On the way, we made a few pit stops at scenic viewpoints. 

Rolling hills of Central Europe

We stopped at a restaurant on our way into town, which was recommended to us. Unlike the more traditional Slovakian restaurants that had similar menus, the Penzion Na Kopci not only had a female chef, but she was known to brake a few rules when it came to Slovakian cuisine. Her menu is less conventional, as it combines traditional dishes with a more international flair. We all started with some venison pate served with wildberry compote. The boys followed this up with the Pyramida: roasted chicken breast, pork fillet, chicken liver, Ermine cheese and a roquefort sauce. Laura had the baked camembert served with a creamy blueberry sauce, whilst I was glad to see some fish on the menu, so ordered potatoes stuffed with smoked salmon and sour cream.  

Venison pate
Baked camembert
Stuffed potatoes

The food was fantastic. It was fresh, different and really well thought out. The flavours were well balanced and the meal didn’t feel overly heavy compared to more traditional Slovakian cuisine we had tried before. Our view from where we were sat on the terrace of the restaurant was also rather breathtaking. 

Banská Štiavnica

After lunch we went to a cute little coffee shop where we ordered coffee as well as every cake on the menu. We had two cakes each. Gluttonous? Not at all! 

Time slipped away fast, and there was still so much to see. We hopped back in the car and headed to one of the nearby lakes, Velka Vindsachta. We chilled there for a little bit, then headed back towards Krupina to pick up Michel’s girlfriend then headed over to his family farm. 

Velka Vindsachta

On arriving to the farm, we were greeted by three of Michel’s family members sat outside around a large vat of boiling water, plucking three plump headless chickens. Their father was in the barn milking the family cow. We had a tour of the farm, but unfortunately I was unable to take any decent pictures as it was already dark by now. This is the best of a bad bunch. Some very cute curious sheep.

Curious sheep

Thursday, 22 October 2015


The next day I woke up with a hangover. The best cure for a hangover? Pickles!

We had a simple breakfast of pickles, cured meat, cheese, tomatoes and bread. The day went by slower. We helped with the cleaning, which was a bigger task than we expected. We had a break, and Matush, a professional archer showed us how to use a bow and arrow. We killed a fair bit of time doing this. It was extremely addictive.

Shooting Rainbows

By the end of the day the cottage was looking cleaner, and the outside area had nearly returned to normal.

Patrick's cottage

In the evening we went for a walk up one of the surrounding mountains where there was a large white cross. Although no-one really knew why it was there. The view from the top was outstanding. The walk down in the dark really wasn’t!

View from the white cross

That evening we had Kapusta left over from the festival. It was especially delicious a few days after. To top of an already very tasty soup, Matush sliced up some raw garlic very finely and garnished the hot soup with it. It added a very subtle acidity to the dish, without being overly garlicky. The Slovakian really like their garlic, but unlike the pungent stuff we get in our supermarkets, Slovakian garlic has a far more modest flavour. We played dice outside by the fire and had a reasonably early night. The next day we would be going sightseeing around the mountain towns.

Warming up by the fire

Patrick's Kapusta

Patrick's Kapusta
This is a simple stew that is thickened using skin and bones. Patrick used lamb that had been reared, and and smoked, on Vlado’s farm. The sauerkraut was also homemade.

Game/red meat of choice with skin and bones
Bay leaf
Whole onion
Good quality sauerkraut
Potatoes chopped
Dried mushrooms, soaked in water overnight, drained than sliced
Sweet paprika
Garlic, thinly sliced
Sour cream to serve

1. Boil the meat with the skin and bones in water with a few bay leaves on a slow fire for a couple of hours
2. Skim the impurities and remove the skin and bones
3. Add the sauerkraut, potato and mushrooms to the soup
4. Add the smoked paprika and season
5. Leave a couple of days if possible
6. Serve with the garlic and sour cream

Every family has their own recipe for sauerkraut. It’s eaten a great deal in Central and Eastern Europe that there are bound to be many variations. Although I have eaten my fair share of sauerkraut, I have never made it. This is Patrick's recipe which is tried and tested.

White Cabbage
Caraway seeds
Bay Leaf

1. Thinly slice the cabbage
2. Place in a large bowl and salt. Allow to sit for 15-30 mins till it starts to release water.
3. Add the caraway seeds and bay leaf
4. Take the cabbage and place it in a jar, packing it down so that the liquid rises to the top
5. Continue to do this so that all the cabbage is submerged in the liquid. It may take a couple of days
6. Leave to ferment for a few months, or until bubbles stop forming

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

The Clean Up

The day after the night before. I should have woken up to a banging headache. Fortunately I didn't. I felt pretty fresh. Maybe it was the clean air, or the quality of the brewed drink, or maybe even the amount of food we ate. I have no idea, but it wasn’t too bad. Great, because we started our day with… yep, some more burciak. Because it only lasts a week, we had to get through it all before it went bad. I didn’t mind, I actually liked the stuff.

For breakfast we had Perkelt, which was also on Patrick’s menu the day before, although we hadn’t had the chance to try it. It is a meat stew, in this case it was local venison, that has a tomato and pepper base and is served over halusky. This particular perkelt was made by Vlado, Patrick’s friend who, like me, has a passion for all things spicy. Nice! The perkelt was spiced with home grown naga morich chillies. It was the best thing I had eaten on the whole trip. The depth of flavour, the slight tang from the tomatoes and the kick from the chilli pepper was refreshing and vastly different from the other food we had tried in Slovakia.


Naga Morich Chilli Pepper

I had to get the recipe. I knew my attempt to make perkelt would never compare to Vlado’s, but it was worth a shot. It was clear when talking to Vlado, that his process of cooking perkelt didn’t really follow a recipe as such, but rather had some important elements to it. For example, he stressed the importance of using pork fat instead of cooking oil. This changes the structure of the stew, so it is thicker and gives the whole dish a richer and deeper flavour. He also said that the peppers and tomatoes had to be cooked right down so that only the skins are left and the excess water from them evaporates. Also, for every kilo of meat a kilo of onions should also be used. (Recipe below).

So after breakfast, the day continued. Jess had to leave to go back to Budapest and there was a great deal of clearing up that needed to be done. Patrick and his buddies got down to this, whilst Laura and I went for a stroll around Stara Hora. The place seemed so different. People were packing up, shifting bits of outdoor furniture, and trying to sell their last gallons of burciak. There was also a massive clean up session that started and finished before we even had time to help out. It was incredible to see the village come together in a joint effort. On our walk, we bumped into Patrick’s older brother, who is also the mayor of the local village. Again in true Slovakian fashion, we were offered a shot of palinka, a bottle of burciak and some food. This time it was cold pork soup with vinegar onions. Weird as it sounds, it was really good.

We got back to the cottage to find ribs cooking on the the barbecue. We weren't complaining. A bottle of Jack Daniels was open and the burciak was put to rest (for a while).

Ribs on the barbecue
Everyone was in a bit of a celebratory mood. The boys had been busy the day before, so didn’t really have time to enjoy the festival, although they did really well and took in nice profit. Some of the older guys from the village popped by. Stories from the festival were shared and a few laughs were had. I had no idea what was being said. I couldn't help but laugh anyway.

It got to that point in the night when everyone was getting a little bit peckish. So, Matush, Patrick’s friend set about cooking. A frying pan was graced with a large spoonful of goose fat, in which a potato pancake was shallow fried and topping with cheese and chives. A jar of pickles was opened and some more JD was poured. I remember wondering at this point when I had my last fresh vegetable. But I didn’t ponder on that thought for too long.

Vlado's Perkelt
So here is as the recipe as suggested by Vlado, and interpreted by me. Apart from ratio of meat to onions, I have not used measurements:

Pork fat
Onions, finely chopped (Equal ratio to meat)
Venison, or an other red/game meat of choice, small pieces (Equal ratio to onions)
Celery, shredded
Carrots, shredded
Parsley root, finely chopped
Blanched tomatoes, chopped roughly
Peppers, three different colours, chopped roughly
Paprika, hot and sweet
Tomato paste
Red wine, good quality and strong
Naga morich chilli 
Crushed garlic
Parsley leaf finely chopped

  1. Fry onions in pork fat till golden turning brown, then add the chillies and cook till the onions turn golden brown
  2. Add the celery, carrots and parsley roots and cook till they melt down
  3. Add the meat, and when nearly cooked through add the tomatoes and peppers
  4. Let the tomatoes and peppers cook down to a thick sauce. This will take a while. Drink some palinka to kill the time
  5. Add the tomato paste and paprika, and cook out the rawness of the spice
  6. Pour in the wine, and some water if needed, and allow the mixture to cook on a low heat for as long as possible
  7. Add the crushed garlic, marjoram and parsley towards the end
  8. Let it rest for one day (ideally)
  9. Heat again and service with halušky

Monday, 19 October 2015

Stará Hora, Festival Time

We took the train from Bratislava to Zvolan, where Brian, Patrick's brother, picked us up. It was an hour-long drive to the festival in Stará Hora, where Patrick was running a food and wine stall. Patrick, a friend from Oxford, but originally from Slovakia, had returned home to start a catering company with a couple of buddies, and for them, the day at the folk festival was their biggest gig to date. On arriving I was impressed by the length of the que that ran for a few dozen people to Patrick’s cottage. Excited to see old friends and also hungry to try everything, we sat down to sample the menu:

Laura, Jess and Patrick
Duck leg, with loksami (potato pancake) and stewed red cabbage
Pork chop, with vegetables and beans, served with caraway bread
Kapusta (Smoked lamb and sauerkraut stew)

To accompany the food, we had homemade burciak (young wine), made by Patrick’s dad. This would be the first of many glasses we would drink throughout the festival, which was an opportunity for local wine makers to shift large quantities of the burciak that only lasts for about a week. The chocolate box cottages open up for one day selling food, burciak, wine and crafts. People come from all over Central Europe to the festival, as wine is fantastic quality and is reasonably priced. There is also loads of traditional live music and dancing to keep festival goers entertained.

Cottage dining
Traditional Slovakian gypsy band

We left Patrick to get on with his work, whilst we went exploring the festival. We didn’t make it very far before we were commandeered by a two big Slovakian blokes who had clearly been drinking a lot of burciak. Talking in Slovakian, we had little to no idea what they were saying, but went with the flow anyway. They took us to a table where their friends were sat around drinking and eating and invited us to sit down for some pálinka (home made fruit spirit). One shot, then two, then three. It seemed the more we drank, the more we were able to understand each other. It turned out that one of the guys, Ivan, was a big chef in the area and was also a sponsor of the festival. Ivan was an interesting character. His bolshie attitude was entertaining, but also occasionally crossed the line. Every now and then, he would point to a woman in a pink tracksuit, who was clearly busy, and shout “woman!”. We were like, “yeah… that’s a woman”. Only after Ivan said “tonight me and woman have boxing match” did we realised that she was actually his wife! Everyone laughed. We laughed uncomfortably, not sure if he was serious or not.

Jess and Ivan

We ate some really tasty home-made pastry, supposedly made by Ivan… or his wife, with custard and whipped cream, drank some more palinka, said our dakujem (thanks) and dovi-dina (good day) and set off, to explore a little bit more.

Tasty Slovakian pastries
During the festival cottages open up their wine cellars to visitors, so they can see how the wine is made, try some, and even buy a few bottles to take home. The cellars have to maintain a high level of humidity to produce the right environment to produce the wine. This creates a thick layer of moss on the walls and ceiling, into which you can stick coins. By doing so you promise to come back to buy some more burciak the following year.

Wine cellar, trying some wine
We're coming back next year!
We bought some more burciak and were soon on our way again. We followed the sound of music and stumbled onto a gypsy band playing some very upbeat folk music. We had a little dance, dropped them some coins, then continued on our wonder.

Gypsy band
Soon enough we walked pass another cottage and got some waves from a group of people sat outside. It was Brian, Patrick’s brother and a few of his friends. We went over for... yes, some more burciak, palinka and food. Although Brain and his friends spoke very little English, and our Slovakian was pretty non-existent, we managed to communicate well enough. We mainly talked about food, joked about the village idiot and did a great deal of “na zdravie!” (cheers/good health).  Brian’s mum even stopped by with a some tasty savoury pastries, filled with garlic cream.

Patrick's mum's garlic pastries
We decided to go watch the sun set when the warm fuzzy feeling from the palinka kicked in. We walked through Patrick’s father's vineyard and on the other side came out to rolling hills where a young boy was herding cows. We sat there for a while and watched as the cows were led over the hills.

Walking through the vineyards

Herding cows over the hills

Once the sun had set, we made our way back to the festival to further line our stomachs before drinking some more. At this point we all knew we wanted some bryndzové halušky. A traditional mountain dish that we had made a few times before with Laura’s Slovakian house mates. It uses bryndza, a sheep cheese made locally in the area. The cheese is mixed in with warm halušky, small potato and flour dumplings, and topped with pork lardons and hot pork fat. It’s the perfect drinking food. We managed to stumble upon an ornately decorated cottage selling the dish. We drank some more burciak, made some new friends, and before we knew it, there was a warm bowl of stodgy bryndzové halušky in front of us. We dived in and demolish our serving in no time at all. It was creamy, salty and did the trick in soaking up all the excess palinka. It was delicious, and everything I could have hoped for from my first authentic bryndzové halušky experience.

Waiting for brynzove halusky
brynzove halusky

Bellies filled we headed to the live stage to watch some live music and dance off the burciak. We made some more new friends, ate a spicy sausage, and then headed back to Patrick’s cottage where we hung out a little bit longer, before calling it a sweet night. I remember going to bed with a big content smile on my face.