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CULTURE SHOCK

You Want Me To Eat That?

ONE Friday night, I was invited by some friends to a restaurant in Nízke Tatry (the Low Tatras) to experience a national phenomenon called husacie hody. It is a tradition that originated in southern Slovakia, but is now practised all over the country.
In English, husacie hody means "goose feast," and it entails cooking and eating every last part of the poor bird, leaving nothing to waste. Basically it's just a big feast with lots of food, lots of drink and plenty of dancing, often to the sounds of a two-piece gypsy band. I'd never realised it before this evening, but the violin and accordion can produce a surprisingly danceable beat. That sudden insight may have had something to do with the free-flowing wine and hard liquor Demänovka I was drinking.


CATCH your own dinner: Some regions in Slovakia hold "duck feasts" as well as "goose feasts" during the autumn.
photo: Ján Svrček

ONE Friday night, I was invited by some friends to a restaurant in Nízke Tatry (the Low Tatras) to experience a national phenomenon called husacie hody. It is a tradition that originated in southern Slovakia, but is now practised all over the country.

In English, husacie hody means "goose feast," and it entails cooking and eating every last part of the poor bird, leaving nothing to waste. Basically it's just a big feast with lots of food, lots of drink and plenty of dancing, often to the sounds of a two-piece gypsy band. I'd never realised it before this evening, but the violin and accordion can produce a surprisingly danceable beat. That sudden insight may have had something to do with the free-flowing wine and hard liquor Demänovka I was drinking.

Luckily for the 60 or so guests present that night, there was more than just one goose on offer, and most bits of each bird were quite delectable. Arguably the best part of the whole meal, the meat that was presented for the main course, was similar to rotisserie chicken, but darker in colour and richer in taste. In fact, it was so good that one of my buddies went back for more time and again throughout the night. Even when there were only about six people left, there was Marek going back for more goose.

Another prominent dish was what I presumed to be chopped-up goose livers. A dark grey colour, this rather unsightly food had one of those flavours that at first you're surprised that you like. Then a bitter aftertaste creeps in from behind the walls of your mouth, and each bite collaborates to cause a rather unpleasant sensation that can only be quelled by large quantities of red wine. Finding myself in the uncomfortable position of being a guest with too much of something I don't like sitting on my plate, I discovered that wrapping the bits of liver in flat, oily potato pancakes made them tolerable.

For something lighter on the side, guests could choose from - or partake of all - the various salads at the serving table. I opted most often for the cucumbers and tomatoes in vinegar and water, but I also grabbed several helpings of the ubiquitous cabbage-based salads on offer.

I'm ever the adventurer when it comes to my taste buds, and yet there was one part of the husacie hody that even I couldn't choke down more than half a bite's worth. At the end of the meal, for a sort of dessert, the waiters brought out small plates with rye bread on them. That in itself was not a problem, but it was what was on the bread that put me off (and many others, I must note.) Greasy, grimy, slimy goose fat had been generously spread on each piece, with sliced raw onions on top.

I suppose that normally at this point in the feast, guests may have worked up enough appetite from all the dancing - or consumed enough booze - to swallow anything. From what I could tell, though, at our gathering there hadn't been nearly enough wine drunk or dances danced. To the credit of my companions, just a select few dared to touch the stuff, and only a minority of those managed to eat an entire piece.

Because a large amount of these morsels went uneaten, the stench of raw onions and goose fat wafted around the room for the remainder of the evening. No matter how far away you pushed the plate, the scent would return with a vengeance.

After my initiation into the wine-swilling, body-twirling world of husacie hody, I was more convinced than ever that the appeal of Slovak cuisine varies; not only for foreigners such as myself, but also for native Slovaks. If you look at husacie hody as an attempt to stomach every last part of the poor geese that were sacrificed, then I suppose we failed. However, if you wish to view it as an excuse to get together and have a grand ol' time, in true Slovak style, consider our mission successful.

Na zdravie!

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