Reading and researching cuisine is never quite the same as tasting it. All the flowery prose in the world can never quite capture the exact sense of occasion that accompanies memorable culinary experiences – whether good or bad. With this in mind, a number of us set off towards Golders’ Green in search of ‘Dukla’ – a small store specialising in Slovak and Czech goods.
The surrounding area, completely removed from the bustle and grime of central London, had a surprisingly stereotypical suburban vibe. Upon first glance, it seemed quintessentially English. Brent Cross tube station opened onto an idyllic residential rode, with Tudor inspired houses and manicured front gardens. It was therefore surprising that in this area thrived a vibrant multicultural community. During the short walk from the station to the High Street, we passed many residents of varying ethnicities and shops offering Halal, Kosher, Indian and Greek wares. Amongst them was Dukla, boasting a Czech and Slovak flag in the window. Even in this seemingly faraway corner, Slovak culture permeates London seamlessly.
We bought around seven items to bring back to UCL for our group to sample.
The famous Slovak cheese, Bryndza, divided opinions quite sharply within the group. Very strong and pungent, it is made from sheep milk which gives it a creamy white appearance and powerful odour. Unlike the varieties of cheese we are used to, it has a crumbly and moist texture. While some couldn’t stomach it at all, others in the group found it quite tasty. The common consensus though was that it has to be eaten with something else – we experimented with breadsticks and biscuits, creating interesting and sometimes bizarre results.
Another product synonymous with the Slovak and Czech markets is the soft drink Kofola. In Communist Czechoslovak, Kofola was wildly popular, as it was their substitute for Western drinks like Coca Cola were prohibited. Even after the fall of the Communist state in 1989, Kofola maintains a strong monopoly on the Slovak market. Described by our navigator as a ‘mixture between coal and liquorice’, we were eager to sample it for ourselves. And we found that, as odd as her description was, it was largely accurate. A taste unlike any we’ve had before, Kofola is very mildly carbonated, almost without fizz at all. And it is certainly not as syrupy as Coke – Kofola has something of a liquorice base, with a slightly bitter undertone. Once again, the group could not agree on a verdict. While some gave up after one sip, others finished their cups quite happily and decided that, if they should ever visit Bratislava, Kofola is what they would order. Perhaps the most accurate description to come out of the laughter filled tasting session was that ‘Kofola tastes like melted down Haribo coke bottles’.
Literally ‘banana chocolate’, this is one of the most popular candy bars in the Slovak regions. Some of the group had tried it before and assured us all that it was quite fantastic. Consisting of a wet, spongy, jelly like interior surrounded in a thin shell of chocolate, it had the texture of Turkish Delight (but with banana). Despite being somewhat chemical tasting, the group consensus was that it was quite lovely.
These crisp like products were peanut flavoured corn bites. With both the texture and appearance of Walkers’ Wotsits, they were a familiar taste.
These biscuits also had a familiar taste and appearance. Tasty milk biscuits almost completely identical to Kraft Foods’ Belvita Breakfast Biscuits, the similarity was astounding.
After a fun afternoon of food tasting, we all came the same conclusions. Firstly, even though we in Britain are not connected by the Danube to Slovakia, we nevertheless found many overwhelming similarities between in the food samples. In the case of such products as crisps and biscuits, much of this can be put down to globalisation. Perhaps, rather than ideas being passed through intercultural interaction, as it was in the old days along the port cities of the Danube, an idea now in this vastly connected digital age is an idea for the world. It is the same across various sectors. While each country doubtless has their own style and fashion, a popular fashion trend now will spread across the world. Flared jeans, skinny jeans, peplum skirts – they come and go in tandem all across the globe. The same situation appears to be happening in the food industry. A good idea will be spread and copied with startling speed – in at least four of the seven foods we tried, we found an strong resemblance to something familiar. In the case of the breakfast biscuits, both the taste and appearance was so similar that thoughts of intellectual property inevitably arose!
However, there are some tastes that remain distinct, strange and wholly new. Goods such as Bryndza and Kofola and such examples. Even in this globalised society, some things are kept within a country’s borders and can only be accessed after positive action or intercultural interaction. We thoroughly enjoyed sampling this small example of Slovak cuisine and hope to grow even closer to the country’s culture through the course of the next week.