Monday, 19 October 2015

Stará Hora, Festival Time

We took the train from Bratislava to Zvolan, where Brian, Patrick's brother, picked us up. It was an hour-long drive to the festival in Stará Hora, where Patrick was running a food and wine stall. Patrick, a friend from Oxford, but originally from Slovakia, had returned home to start a catering company with a couple of buddies, and for them, the day at the folk festival was their biggest gig to date. On arriving I was impressed by the length of the que that ran for a few dozen people to Patrick’s cottage. Excited to see old friends and also hungry to try everything, we sat down to sample the menu:

Laura, Jess and Patrick
Duck leg, with loksami (potato pancake) and stewed red cabbage
Pork chop, with vegetables and beans, served with caraway bread
Kapusta (Smoked lamb and sauerkraut stew)

To accompany the food, we had homemade burciak (young wine), made by Patrick’s dad. This would be the first of many glasses we would drink throughout the festival, which was an opportunity for local wine makers to shift large quantities of the burciak that only lasts for about a week. The chocolate box cottages open up for one day selling food, burciak, wine and crafts. People come from all over Central Europe to the festival, as wine is fantastic quality and is reasonably priced. There is also loads of traditional live music and dancing to keep festival goers entertained.

Cottage dining
Traditional Slovakian gypsy band

We left Patrick to get on with his work, whilst we went exploring the festival. We didn’t make it very far before we were commandeered by a two big Slovakian blokes who had clearly been drinking a lot of burciak. Talking in Slovakian, we had little to no idea what they were saying, but went with the flow anyway. They took us to a table where their friends were sat around drinking and eating and invited us to sit down for some pálinka (home made fruit spirit). One shot, then two, then three. It seemed the more we drank, the more we were able to understand each other. It turned out that one of the guys, Ivan, was a big chef in the area and was also a sponsor of the festival. Ivan was an interesting character. His bolshie attitude was entertaining, but also occasionally crossed the line. Every now and then, he would point to a woman in a pink tracksuit, who was clearly busy, and shout “woman!”. We were like, “yeah… that’s a woman”. Only after Ivan said “tonight me and woman have boxing match” did we realised that she was actually his wife! Everyone laughed. We laughed uncomfortably, not sure if he was serious or not.

Jess and Ivan

We ate some really tasty home-made pastry, supposedly made by Ivan… or his wife, with custard and whipped cream, drank some more palinka, said our dakujem (thanks) and dovi-dina (good day) and set off, to explore a little bit more.

Tasty Slovakian pastries
During the festival cottages open up their wine cellars to visitors, so they can see how the wine is made, try some, and even buy a few bottles to take home. The cellars have to maintain a high level of humidity to produce the right environment to produce the wine. This creates a thick layer of moss on the walls and ceiling, into which you can stick coins. By doing so you promise to come back to buy some more burciak the following year.

Wine cellar, trying some wine
We're coming back next year!
We bought some more burciak and were soon on our way again. We followed the sound of music and stumbled onto a gypsy band playing some very upbeat folk music. We had a little dance, dropped them some coins, then continued on our wonder.

Gypsy band
Soon enough we walked pass another cottage and got some waves from a group of people sat outside. It was Brian, Patrick’s brother and a few of his friends. We went over for... yes, some more burciak, palinka and food. Although Brain and his friends spoke very little English, and our Slovakian was pretty non-existent, we managed to communicate well enough. We mainly talked about food, joked about the village idiot and did a great deal of “na zdravie!” (cheers/good health).  Brian’s mum even stopped by with a some tasty savoury pastries, filled with garlic cream.

Patrick's mum's garlic pastries
We decided to go watch the sun set when the warm fuzzy feeling from the palinka kicked in. We walked through Patrick’s father's vineyard and on the other side came out to rolling hills where a young boy was herding cows. We sat there for a while and watched as the cows were led over the hills.

Walking through the vineyards

Herding cows over the hills

Once the sun had set, we made our way back to the festival to further line our stomachs before drinking some more. At this point we all knew we wanted some bryndzové halušky. A traditional mountain dish that we had made a few times before with Laura’s Slovakian house mates. It uses bryndza, a sheep cheese made locally in the area. The cheese is mixed in with warm halušky, small potato and flour dumplings, and topped with pork lardons and hot pork fat. It’s the perfect drinking food. We managed to stumble upon an ornately decorated cottage selling the dish. We drank some more burciak, made some new friends, and before we knew it, there was a warm bowl of stodgy bryndzové halušky in front of us. We dived in and demolish our serving in no time at all. It was creamy, salty and did the trick in soaking up all the excess palinka. It was delicious, and everything I could have hoped for from my first authentic bryndzové halušky experience.

Waiting for brynzove halusky
brynzove halusky

Bellies filled we headed to the live stage to watch some live music and dance off the burciak. We made some more new friends, ate a spicy sausage, and then headed back to Patrick’s cottage where we hung out a little bit longer, before calling it a sweet night. I remember going to bed with a big content smile on my face.

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