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My Site: Day 102: Slovakia

My Site

 
 

Day 102: Slovakia

Well everybody, it looks like the day has finally come. After 102 consecutive days of eating a different country’s food, I’m out of options. I could do one more drive down to San Diego, try my hand up in San Francisco, or of course, go to New York— but those all, at this point, seem just a bit unreasonable. So barring some unforeseen developments, this is in all likelihood the final true meal of Man Bites World. Considering there was a point where I was concerned that we wouldn’t even make it to Thanksgiving, I’ve got to say I’m pretty happy about how it all turned out. If this is indeed the final meal, I’ll be putting out a postmortem in the coming days, in which I’ll try to sum up my thoughts, give some rankings, list some favorites and even hand out a few awards. But for right now, it’s time to focus on where the heck I found Slovakian food.




Peter Simon, a native of what is now Slovakia, escaped in 1984, when he was just 19 years old, then went on to get married, have a child, see something on the news about a weird guy eating Czech food, go to the guy’s website, e-mail him and then finally, invite him over for a true Slovakian dinner. Originally, Samoa was supposed to be the last day, but after some things went wrong and some options fell through— thankfully, things changed, and we can now close things out with a home cooked meal in Santa Monica. Peter’s wife, unfortunately, has to work and can’t make it tonight, but he and his lovely 6-year-old daughter Gloria have welcomed GirlfriendBites, Mr. Meatball and me into their home. Peter begins things by offering up shots of Slovakian schlivovitz (plum brandy), which comes in at a whopping 52% alcohol. He serves us some homemade rolls and sliced radish with a dish called bryndza— a sheep’s milk feta mixed with paprika and caraway. The sheep feta gives it a much more robust flavor and really offers that true European feel you don’t find in cheese spreads at your ordinary dinner parties. “The real stuff doesn’t have all the preservatives though and is much fresher. It has a consistency like cottage cheese. But this is the best we can do in the U.S.” Gloria hides for a few minutes from the new guests, but after getting comfortable, crawls under the table and tries to slide playing cards into our shoes. I hope that means she thinks we’re okay.




Next, Peter gives us some roasted chestnuts. “This is a typical street food in Slovakia.” Between the chestnuts and the schlivovitz, I’m feeling really warm and toasty inside (sitting by the fireplace also helps). Then Peter brings out the traditional Slovakian Christmas soup. Chicken stock, sauerkraut, dried mushrooms, pork sausage and some other pork meat fill the gorgeous pot, as he removes the meat (to be served on the side). While the soup cools, I munch on the tasty, fatty soup meat, popping a few chestnuts in my mouth and bracing myself for the Slovakian beer that looks like it’s about to join the party. We each lift a mug of beer, say “na zdorovia”, then knock back a big gulp. I start in on the soothing soup, which has my current favorite flavor combination in the world of savory and tart (with a little umami thrown in there for good measure). Gloria gleefully shakes her head “no” at the prospect of the soup, then performs some spin moves in front of the television as Peter says “You want pasta with cheese, right?” Gloria laughs, then smiles and nods. “At least there’s something she likes to eat,” Peter adds with a dry smile.



“I’d like to open a restaurant some day. I think that would be fun,” says Peter, while boiling the small homemade gnocchi. “Like I said before, the feta here is not the right consistency, so I add a little bit of this kefir [a yogurt beverage] to get it a little closer. It won’t be perfect, but it’s much better than without it.” After sitting out the last course (she doesn’t eat pork) GFB is eager to have these tiny homemade potato dumplings, which have been tossed with the delightfully tart (there’s that combination again!) feta sauce. “Should I add some fried bacon pieces as well?” Mr. Meatball and I laugh, wondering if there was any need to ask. I spoon the little fried bacon chunks, as well as some of their fatty juices, onto my plate of dumplings and suddenly, after taking a bite, I’ve fallen in love. “Some people don’t eat pork,” says Peter, just before Mr. Meatball adds “They should.” GFB gives me a shrug and half smile, as we have a silent conversation that basically amounts to:

Me: Pork is delicious.
GFB: Are we married?
Me: No.
GFB: Then I’m not eating pork, am I?
Me: No.
GFB: So we can drop it then.
Me. Yes.



Everyone at the table, including Gloria, scarfs down the immensely tasty gnocchi dish. Peter then offers us his final can of a very special Slovakian beer which can’t be purchased anywhere in the U.S. “This is my favorite beer. You guys like beer, so I want you to try it. If you were wine people, I wouldn’t bother. So, on my most recent trip to Slovakia, I bought a whole case of this stuff. This is the last can.” We urge him not to waste such a special product on us, but he insists and hands it to me— so I crack the can and pour it into three equal glasses (GFB is being the responsible driver tonight and Gloria, again, is only 6). The beer, which translates to “thirsty monk”, is wonderfully clean and crisp, leaving almost no aftertaste whatsoever. Peter goes on to serve us a very sweet poppy seed cake, then brings out a basket of Slovakian candies and gives one to each of us.

“Thank you so much for coming,” says Peter, “you’ve really made my day.” If there’s been a more backwards comment ever uttered, I haven’t heard it. Here is a man that I have never met before, who invited me into his home and cooked me a delicious and traditional working-class meal from a country whose cuisine I otherwise would not have been able to find in Los Angeles. But not only that, he also hosted what wound up being the perfect finale for what has been a truly amazing and humbling journey. So thanks to Peter, his wife who could not attend, to Gloria, and everybody else who has been so helpful to me along the way. People say stuff like “I couldn’t have done it without you” all the time— but I honestly and quite literally could not have. It really did take everybody for it to get to this point. So thanks very, very much to all of you— and please check back in the coming days for more info on what’s happening next. But for now, I’ll leave you with a video of the final liquor shot of the final meal of the final day. Cheers everybody.

*Food Breakdown:( Plum brandy, beer, 2 appetizers, 1 soup, 1 entrée
Distance From My House: 8.3 miles

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Comments

  1. H.C. · Dec 16, 01:41 PM

    It’s been an amazing 100+ days following you vivaciously as you go on your local-global grubbing. Glad you made it to triple-digits, and roughly tasting half the world (and very likely about 70% given how many cuisines transcend the geopolitcal border criteria you set)! You definitely opened my mind and palate to the options around town.

    Best of luck in your future adventures, food related or not :)

  2. Aaron · Dec 16, 01:59 PM

    Ah such a shame it ends now. I had just started reading through your blog just a few weeks ago. Yes, I’ll admit I was behind the curve, although I heard about your exploits from the very beginning. I’ll be sure to go back through your old entries. Congratulations Noah; your feat is quite the inspiration.

  3. Hungry Grace · Dec 16, 03:45 PM

    What a bitter-sweet ending. Great job on going as far and wide as you have. Following your journey has been both inspiring and entertaining.

    So when’s the wrap-up party??? :)

  4. tannaz · Dec 16, 06:19 PM

    wait, what? she’s saving pork for marriage?

  5. Abba · Dec 16, 08:21 PM

    Congratulations on a fitting end to your wonderful journey. It was marvelous being part of it and I hope there are many more food adventures to come! If you’re ever planning a Man Drinks World project, count me in.

  6. ExileKiss · Dec 17, 11:09 PM

    Hi Noah,

    Omedetou gozaimasu! :) Congrats on an epic journey and such an inspiring project. You’ve found a slew of restaurants and cuisines that I can’t wait to try and inspired so many to try something different.

    Check your mail when you get a chance. :)

  7. Martin · Dec 18, 09:10 AM

    Hi, very nice from Peter (Pinguin) :)
    BTW, just to make it appear right… We don’t have schlivovitz, but “Slivovica” and we don’t say “Na zdorovie”, which is what russians say, but we say “Na zdravie!”.

    Ask Peter… We used to be saying Na zdravie many times, together ;)

    take care.
    martin

    PS: yeah smadny mnich rulez!

  8. Ivon · Dec 19, 05:34 AM

    Every time I read your blogs it made me smile. Many times when I would read how people welcomed you it would bring a tear to my eye. For I met you and felt you were not only an interesting and kind young man but had this great and wonderful idea. So glad that you did this, so glad that I had the chance to introduce you to some of my family and our food. So sad that it has to end but I know there is so much more to come. Best of luck to you I hope that when I get back to the US we can still introduce you to some bolivian Beer.
    Ivon

  9. Igor Simon · Dec 20, 01:08 AM

    Hey, this Peter Simon is actually my uncle. You could not have picked a better place to go and try out Slovak food (other than going to Slovakia, but this would be another story :-).

    Great blog and interesting idea, this food journey!

    Made me also think that I should send Peter some Thirsty Monks …

    Veselé Vianoce
    Igor

  10. Winsome · Dec 21, 09:05 PM

    I heard about you today on Good Food on NPR and I thought it was a great idea. I Loooove food and like you I try to eat from as many different countries as I can. Currently, I am up to about 50 but i will certainly be using your list. BTW I don’t believe I saw Poland on your list but in case you are interested there is a Polish restaurant at Verdugo and York called POLKA. OMG!! It is really really good. Give it a try if you can. Once again thanks for such a delectable adventure.

  11. emma james · Dec 21, 10:00 PM

    Just heard you on KCRW’s Good Food as well, and I’m bummed that I’ve missed reading your journey as it unfolded, but I’m catching up!

    Get Peter to make you some fruit dumplings – if you thought the potato dumplings were good – ha! And I noticed he left off serving you the fried lard on bread with salt.

    Almost every country has regional specialties, so you should do it all again. :) Or try a typical dish from every state in the Union – if they each claim a bird and a flower, why not a specific meal?

    Really enjoy your blog. Great idea! And hope you have another great idea soon…

  12. MoGFB · Dec 23, 07:45 PM

    Sigh. This was like a favorite soap opera – one of the highlights of the day. So I’m hopeful that you’ll keep giving us something to look forward to on your cleverly named website.

    Going to a restaurant has taken on a whole new meaning (or it would if we didn’t live in Ventura) :)

  13. Lisa Mc · Jan 08, 04:41 PM

    I enjoyed reading your last entry. I read about your last meal being Slovak and had to check it out. My mother in law is Slovak and we’re trying to continue the traditions with our family. This is my second year making kapusnitca – the Christmas soup you mentioned. It was nice to hear of some other dishes that I wasn’t aware of too. We’ll have to try them out. Good luck!

  14. zerydc0987 · Feb 14, 08:19 PM

    have you ever been to china.I guess you will never miss it,the delicious chinese food.Wish you have a nice trip..