When in Slovakia, don't order the "fat sandwich."
Neither is it a misnomer nor a treat. But more on that later.
I just returned from three weeks of backpacking and hosteling across Central Europe, specifically Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Austria and Germany: beer land, bread land, meat land.
I'd promised my editors a culinary story upon return, maybe a recipe or two as well. After all, the best part of world travel (unless you're in England) is eating a lot. That, and how else was I to b.s. a tax write-off?
Well, the recipes fell through due to translation troubles, and then lack of time to test English-language versions found on the Internet. So the best I have to offer today is a description of dining high and low points, with hopes that they provide a little flavor of cuisine with which you are perhaps unfamiliar.
Let's start with the sweets. Chocolate milk and dark in bar, cake and drinking form, was everywhere.
The most memorable was a tar-thick, roughly 70 percent cacao sludge generously doled out (for just a couple dollars) in a downtown Krakow, Poland cafe. This was the inarguable pinnacle of what we sad, just-add-water Americans call "hot chocolate." My girlfriend and I clawed at our mugs with demitasse spoons until they were shiny white again, then returned the following day to relive the moment and to recover from a day trip to Auschwitz-Birkenau.
Did I mention I was on vacation? (Even a lazy Jew feels compelled to add suffering to his pleasure.)
Outside the chocolate spectrum, a delicate cream cake called kremowka (pronounced "kree-move-ka") became our second obsession, again in Krakow. Our server in the famed Art-Nouveau salon Noworolski, which Lenin once frequented, told us that it was Krakow-born Pope John Paul II's favorite dessert. It's essentially a sweet, firm, vanilla pudding sandwiched between layers of paper-thin, flaky pastry dough.
Our last sweet fascination was found throughout Christmas markets in Prague, Czech Republic: medovnik, a tiramisu-like, not-too-sweet honey cake with a hint of coffee flavor. After pleading with several Czech friends to turn over a recipe, they assured that their home attempts had been failures compared to caf offerings.
On to savory dishes: Each country we visited relied heavily on pork products (sausages, bratwurst, tripe, pig's legs, baby suckling pig ...) as well as cabbage and beet salads, potatoes, potato pancakes and various dumplings. Look for bigos (spiced cabbage stewed with meat, pronounced "be-gosh") recipes online for fine examples. We also developed strong addictions to pierogi, ravioli-like Polish dumplings stuffed with meat, mushrooms or cheese.
And now, the lowest point of culinary exploration: the fat sandwich.
The quick story is that we ordered a piece of bread out of a Slovak stall that looked to be topped in a mashed potato-like spread, garnished with a few onion slivers. We assumed that when the guy said "fat" in broken English, he must have meant something else delicious. He did not.
Think Crisco. Think frying a whole pack of bacon, then only eating the congealed grease, on bread.
I never found out this abomination's proper name, but I can't imagine you'd want to try it anyway.
If you possess any good recipes for kremowka, medovnik or pierogi, know of any place in the Springs that serves pierogi, or know the fat sandwich's name (just for the record), write to firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll print the info in our Side Dish section.