EVER WONDER why so many North American house parties end up in the kitchen? Maybe because the New World kuchyňa barely resembles its European forebears, being more zap and beep than grunt and chop, more television glitter than murk and steam.
In Slovakia, house guests, and even male members of the household, are still not welcome in the kuchyňa. If you are both foreign and male, you thus face two strikes against your being allowed even to make the coffee. A solid knowledge of cooking lingo, however, may just get you through the door.
Start by offering to perform menial kitchen tasks, such as peeling potatoes (šúpať zemiaky); for this you'll need a peeler (škrabka na zemiaky), but don't betray surprise if you're offered a sharp knife (ostrý nôž). You could also volunteer to chop vegetables (nakrájať zeleninu) or wash dishes (umyť riad, with riad being the collective noun also for pots and pans).
As you build trust in your abilities, if not your motives, you may be asked to perform more skilled tasks, such as stirring (pomiešať) or draining (odkvapkať) cestoviny (pasta) or whatever else is boiling on the stove. Incidentally, the general word for "to cook" is the same as "to boil" - variť.
But for these activities you'll need to know the difference between a stove (sporák) and an electric hotplate (varič, such as president Schuster claimed to use when he moved into the presidential palace); between a pot (hrniec) and a pan (panvica); between a tablespoon (polievková lyžica), a teaspoon (čajová lyžička) and the wooden spoon (varecha) which, by the way, is also used by Slovak mothers to spank their kids. To this knowledge you should add (pridať, as in salt to water) familiarity with "action words" such as bake (piecť), boil (variť, or vrieť, as in vriaca voda, boiling water), grill (opekať, grilovať) and fry (opekať, smažiť).
It's not hard to understand why you are so much cooler in the kitchen when you can talk the talk. After all, cooking has given some slang staples to everyday speech, from the old chestnut 'dough' (cesto if it is to become bread, prachy if you mean cash) to cooking your books (sfalšovať účty) or sifting the wheat from the chaff (oddeliť plevy od pšenice).
Incidentally, sift, like pour, has many subtle Slovak variations depending on what it is you're sifting - with flour it's osiať, while you posýpaš vrch koláča práškovým cukrom (sift icing sugar over the top of the cake). If you're pouring liquids you use naliať, while it's nasypať if you're pouring solids like sugar or sand. Hence, when the rain is pouring down outside, you say vonku riadne leje.
Beware of striding into the Slovak kitchen and asserting yourself, however. You could find you grate on people's nerves (ísť na nervy) if you offer to grate the cheese (strúhať syr). You may be regarded as interfering (miešať sa do niečo) if you propose to mix the ingredients (zmiešať prísady). You may, in the end, find you've jumped from the frying pan into the fire (in Slovak, z blata do kaluže, or from the mud into a puddle), if you don't take this column with a pinch of salt (štipka soli in kitchen parlance, brať niečo s rezervou in the rest of the house).
Slovak Matters is a regular column devoted to helping expats and foreigners understand the beautiful but
difficult Slovak language.
20. Jan 2003 at 0:00 | Tom Nicholson