Slovak cuisine is an edifice resting on three mighty columns: the potato, the pig and the cabbage. Because of their many neighbours, you’ll find hints of Polish, Hungarian and Ukrainian delights as well. Main courses are usually a combination of meat with potatoes (zemiaky), or dumplings. Slovak dumplings (halušky) are small and smooth, like gnocchi. Meat is usually breaded and fried, or cooked in a sauce. The main meal of the day is lunch, which starts with soup (polievka) – perhaps garlic (cesnaková) or sauerkraut (kapustnica). You can often find game meats, like boar, rabbit and venison, on menus, as well as pork, beef, chicken, duck and goose.
A classic mid-morning snack is párok, a hot frankfurter. A Slovak delicacy is jaternica, made from pig’s blood and rice. Bryndza, sheep’s cheese made in the region since the Middle Ages, is light, salty and delicious. Bryndzové halušky, the national dish, is dumplings served with bryndza and bacon. Another favourite is pirohy; unleavened boiled dumplings stuffed with cheese, a little like ravioli. Hungarian goulash is popular, and so is langoše – deep-fried dough topped with crushed garlic, cheese, ketchup or sour cream.
Some popular desserts are strudel (apple or curd cheese), palacinky (crêpes filled with chocolate, fruit or jam, and usually cream) and lievance, which look like Scotch or American pancakes, and are served with hot fruit. An unusual Slovak speciality is sweet noodles (rezance), with poppy seeds and butter or curd cheese and sugar.
Outside the major cities, closing time is usually 9 or 10pm. Pubs often have cheap lunchtime deals from 11.30am to 1.30pm.
The Romans brought wine to Slovakia. Vineyards in the southeast produce good whites, the most distinctive being Tokaj, a sweet dessert wine. For a few weeks in September you can get fresh burčák, a fruity, bubbly semi-fermented white with which Slovaks and Czechs toast the harvest. Slivovica, made with plums, and borovička, made with juniper berries, are popular spirits, but Slovaks will gladly make alcohol from any fruit. The national soft drinks are Kofola, an aniseedy Coca-Cola substitute, and Vinea, made with red or white grapes. The best-known bottled beer is Zlatý Bažant (Golden Pheasant). You’ll find a pub (krčma – pivnica is different) in every town, as well as a wine bar (vináreň), which will usually have later closing hours and often doubles as a nightclub. The legal drinking age is 18 and you may be asked for ID in shops, pubs or clubs. Coffee is traditionally served strong and black, but American-style coffeehouses are popularizing cappuccino, latte and the like. Teahouses (čajovňa) are popular, especially with young people, and stock dozens of types of tea.