Language and duck (!) in the Czech Republic and Slovakia

We took a 4-hour train ride from Prague to Bratislava yesterday morning. During the train ride, I thought about how interesting it was that when I was born, the Czech Republic and Slovakia did not exist; they were once a country known as Czechoslovakia; but what’s more notable is that if you ask anyone who identifies with either nationality, it was considered an “amicable split” (unfortunately, we cannot say the same for North Korea and South Korea….). And as I was studying basic words and greetings in Czech and Slovak, I thought it was also interesting that although they are two distinct languages, many words and sayings overlap. Plus, it’s similar to how if you speak Cantonese, you can also understand some Mandarin because of overlap of sounds. So even if someone is speaking Czech to someone who is speaking Slovak, both can understand each other and converse without ever properly speaking the other’s language. So, if you want to say “thank you” in Czech, it’s “dekuji,” but in Slovak, it’s “dakujem.” The sound is similar and if you say it quickly, they can almost sound the same to an untrained ear.

While researching food for both countries, I was excited to learn that duck is a popular dish eaten during this time of year as we enter the colder months. We don’t have duck very often at all, and when we do, it’s usually Chinese style from our favorite Cantonese style roastery in Manhattan Chinatown. We had our first meal at a restaurant in the Old Town of Bratislava shortly after we arrived, and to our delight, both of the seasonal specials on the menu included duck. The first was a seared duck breast served with duck au jus, pumpkin puree, and oddly enough, crumbled gingerbread. The second was fried duck pirohy (dumplings) served with two dipping sauces. We also ordered garlic soup with egg “noodles” (they were shredded omelet strips), which is a popular Slovak dish, as well. All our food was washed down with a local Slovak beer (beer is just as refreshing and delicious in Slovakia as it is in the Czech Republic!) and a hot pear “lemonade” (not lemonade at all, but a warm fizzy dink with pear juice and warming autumnal spices). The dishes were all delicious: the duck breast was perfectly cooked, though I did wish the skin was a bit crispier; the duck pirohy really blew me away. They were clearly fried in duck fat to make them even more decadent, and when you sliced one of the dumplings in half, they were stuffed to the BRIM with shredded duck. There was certainly no skimping here! Chris I both marveled over how relatively inexpensive these duck specials were at less than 20 euros per dish. In New York, we’d likely pay double what we paid here.

Kaia didn’t really eat the duck breast, but she did enjoy the duck pirohy, as well as the gingerbread. It was a delicious first meal in Bratislava, followed by a trip to the main square Christmas market, which was our first Christmas market this season!

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