Traditional Food & Music in Slovakia

Instructor: Erin Carroll

Erin has taught English and History. She has a bachelor's degree in History, and a master's degree in International Relations

In this lesson, you'll learn a little bit about the traditional music and food you can find in Slovakia. First, we'll look at some of the folk music, and an important instrument in Slovak music. Then, we'll look at traditional food, and some special holiday meals you can find in Slovakia today.

Traditional Music

The Slovak people love music. Slovakia has seen many tough times, and music has been an important escape and a way to celebrate life's small joys. Traditional music can be traced way back in time. In the Middle Ages, they created beautiful liturgical, or religious worship, music. But, perhaps more importantly, folk music grew in Slovak villages.

Because Slovaks usually lived in villages that were quite separate, the music varied greatly from region to region with different songs, instruments, and ideas. Some regions use brass bands, while some love string instruments. Folk music is still beloved in Slovakia and major folk music festivals are held in Detva and Východná. Especially in North and Central Slovakia, in the mountains, you can find some of the best examples of folk music.

In the 19th century, nationalism and Romanticism were sweeping across Europe; that meant that people were trying to rediscover and celebrate their traditions. Slovak people wanted to celebrate their musical heritage, so composers like Jan Levoslav Bella wrote Romantic music using Slovakian themes and styles. In addition, the Slovak national anthem was written to the melody of the famous folk song, Kopala studienku.

Special Instruments & Songs

Slovak music is known for its small groups of three to five people, with a two string bass or an accordion, that sing harmonies. Slovak music has benefited from many outside influences, such as Hungarian and Roma. Slovak music also features interesting things like chromatic scales. In addition, folk songs were often about liberty and freedom, but sometimes about hard work and toil. You might even hear songs about Janosik, who was like Robin Hood!

Man playing the fujara

When it comes to traditional instruments, nothing says Slovakia like the fujara. The fujara is a shepherd's flute, about two meters long, that's been recognized as a masterpiece of the oral and intangible heritage of humanity by UNESCO. It has been played since the 12th century, and originated right in the heart of Slovakia.

Food Traditions

If you're going to eat traditional Slovakian food, you're most likely going to have some potatoes, cabbage, and milk. Since most people used to live in separated villages and most people didn't have refrigeration or a way to keep food good for a long time, there were no big city centers to go to and get different kinds of vegetables and meats.

However, crops like potatoes and cabbage grew well through the seasons in Central Europe. Potatoes also kept well, while cabbage could be turned into a kind of sauerkraut and kept for a long time. Milk was a common beverage, and other dairy products are mainstays of the Slovak diet.

For many years, the territory of Slovakia was ruled by the Austro-Hungarian Empire, so they also absorbed many of their traditional dishes. From Austria, they took wiener schnitzel, and from Hungary, they took goulash, a kind of hearty, paprika-laced stew.

Traditional Dishes

The national dish of Slovakia is Bryndzové halušky, which is a dish of potato dumplings sprinkled with melted sheep's cheese and bacon. Slovakians also enjoy many dishes made with potato, like potato pancakes, called lokše; potato dumplings stuffed with cabbage, called strapacky; and fried potato pancakes, called zemiakové placky.

Bryndzove halusky
bryndzove halusky

Traditionally, the big meal of the day is lunch. Dinner can be a simple meal like open-faced sandwiches or a soup like kapustnica, which is made of sour cabbage and sausage. Snacks like salted pastries, which are kind of like British pasties, called pagác, are made from pork rinds and potatoes, and usually enjoyed with a beer.

Most meals are washed down with a kind of sour milk called žincica. Slovakians also drink buttermilk and fresh milk, and often eat braided string cheese, smoked cheeses, bryndza sheep's cheese, and cottage cheese.

There are a few foods that have been recognized and given a specialty trademark. One of these is Bratislavské rožky, which are rolls filled with nuts or poppy seeds. Two types of salami and two types of sausages have also been registered as unique trademarked foods.

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