The truth is, traditional Slovak food isn’t the most appetising I’ve ever come across. There are a lot of soups, stews, dumplings and cabbage roll type dishes which by nature aren’t the most visually appealing of foods. They’re tasty of course, the rich flavours typically seen in Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic are going strong in this part of Europe too.
But Kosice isn’t about traditional food, the locals love different flavours and different cuisines. Local chefs are looking for innovative ways to put a new slant on old recipes as well as coming up with fresh ideas. There’s a lot of experimenting going on in Kosice which is becoming a hub for gourmet food in the region.
Modern Slovak Cuisine
I was surprised by how many high end restaurants there are in a city the size of Kosice. Even more surprising is that these restaurants are producing modern, delicious food at half or a third of the price you’d find elsewhere. Some of the tastiest Slovak food I tried was at the Olive Tree which was rightfully voted as the best restaurant in Kosice. Try their modern take on the traditional Slovak dish Halušky which is similar to German spaetzle. It’s typically tossed in rendered bacon fat but the chef made a vegetarian version for me.
Much of the Olive Tree menu is determined by what is local and in season so the local lake fish is always going to be a good choice. I loved the lightly cooked spring vegetables which came with my fish and would happily go back for the sweetest, smoothest carrot puree I’ve ever tried.
Cafe Slovan is also using traditional ingredients in a modern way. One of their specialities is poppy seed ice cream. Poppy seeds are often used in Eastern European cuisine, most often in cakes and strudel but this was my first time having it in ice cream. It adds a very unique flavour and it was not as overpowering as I find it to be in other desserts.
Traditional Slovak Food
Halušky, fried cheese, dumplings, cabbage rolls, soup (cabbage, spinach, bean), privarok, goulash, langos, pierogi type dishes. Traditional Slovak food either comes from their long culinary history or from their neighbours. Some of it’s good, some not so much.
- Halušky – provided it’s not made with bacon it’s the one Slovak dish I’d always go back for.
- Fried cheese – sometimes crumbed in cornflakes (weird) and usually served with cranberry sauce. It’s nice as an entree but too rich as a main.
- Langos – I’m aware that langos is Hungarian but it’s the most popular street food in Slovakia.
- Sheep cheese – I couldn’t get enough of Parenica and Oštiepok cheeses.
- Dumplings – no matter where I try dumplings I always find them heavy and bland. I’ll never try them again.
- Cabbage rolls – a typical peasant food which should be tasty but seemed to be lacking in any kind of flavour.
- Soup – in Kosice I tried spinach, bean and lentil soup and like the cabbage rolls they were bland. Quite strange for soup which you usually can’t go wrong with.
Chocolate in Slovakia
I never pictured Slovakia as a destination for chocolates but the owner at the Urban Cafe learnt from the famous Belgian chocolatier Leonidas and it shows. Honey, honey/lemon and honey/mango are all recommended as an afternoon snack. I went to Urban Cafe a few times for coffee and I can also recommend their ice creams which are made using fresh fruit and no preservatives or colourings. See my Foursquare list for other cafes in Kosice.
Around the back of the DoubleTree Hotel is a very cool Japanese restaurant serving some of the best sushi I’ve had in Europe this year. I am curious as to where they get their fish in the very far from the sea Kosice but I always have vegetarian dishes when I’m at a Japanese restaurant so I wasn’t too concerned. The avocado, cucumber and omelette sushi rolls were so fresh and tasty plus I had a huge serving of tempura veggies. I loved this place so much we went back a second time.
Stumbling across an Indian restaurant run by Indian people in Eastern Slovakia was a bit of a surprise. But I later discovered Kosice is a very multicultural city, even if it doesn’t look like it on the surface. There are people from all over the world including South East Asia, the Middle East and the Caucasus. We got takeaway from Passage 2 India on three occasions while in Kosice. Yeah, we loved it. It’s not as popular as some other restaurants in town as it’s a bit pricey for your average Slovak but I found it to be good value for money.
There are a couple of places on the main street where you can get a huge slice of pizza for 1 euro. Wash it down with a 27 cent beer and you’ve got yourself a bargain meal.
Pretty flowers, sweet smelling local strawberries and seasonal veggies I’ve never seen before. Kosice’s farmers’ market on Dominikanske Namestie is a great place to wander or to pick up some picnic items. Look out for the nearby langos food truck if you’re looking for a snack.
Also on Dominikanske Namestie is the Brewery Golem where you can drink the local brew and read up on the crazy legend of the Golem. It’s another good spot in the centre of Kosice for eating traditional Slovak food at ridiculously cheap prices. Main meals start at €4!
Tokaj wines aren’t just a Hungarian thing, the Tokaj region crosses over both countries. On the Slovakian side they are producing some very nice wines and not just the sweet Tokaj wines typical of the region. To taste some for yourself, head to the Macik Winery, about an hour outside of Kosice (on a bit of a rough road!) and stay for their very affordable traditional Slovakian lunch.
Kofola became my drink of choice in Kosice. It’s the local soft drink, kind of like Coke but really not. It was first produced in the 60s to compete with Coke and Pepsi and after a decline in popularity after the fall of Communism it’s now making a great comeback. What I didn’t get to try is the Kofrum cocktail, a mix of Kofola, rum and lemon juice. Speaking of cocktails, you can get them from €2.50 to €3 at different bars around the city. I don’t think there is anywhere in Europe where you can get cheaper cocktails.
When to Visit
Like in most of Central Europe, the Christmas markets are a big event for Kosice and a December visit will keep you busy. But it will be cold of course, very cold, most likely snowing so a spring/summer visit is probably a better idea. If you’re going for the food, visit in June for the Kosice Food Festival. There you can sample food from all the local restaurants, growers and wineries while taking in the atmosphere at the botanical gardens.
Where to Stay
Picking the right neighbourhood is important. Read my guide to help you find the right accommodation for your trip to Kosice.4