In a tiny town of less than 2000 people, you wouldn’t expect to have the best goulash-eating experience of your life. In fact, I’m not even sure goulash, and eating experience are usually ever joined in the same sentence. But in the Slovakian mountain town of Zdair, you’ll find exactly that.
It’s a ski village, nestled in the Tatra mountains, where most of the tourists come during the middle of winter. The vast, vast majority of them are Slovak natives, resulting in a tourist town unlike any other I’ve been in. None of the signs are in English, and the shop-owners and restaurant workers only know a few words. After being in the tourist mecca of Prague, Zdair was the perfect antidote. I didn’t go during winter, but the early May, not-quite-summer weather was perfect for hiking.
While the village itself is not much to write home about – quaint buildings, a couple of restaurants and shops, and a huge amount of vacation rentals – one highlight stands out. The Goulash Man. Wander down the main street, and you’ll come across a little hut with tables and fairy lights outside, no matter how low the temperature is. Rap on the window and it will slide open to reveal an old man, sitting down watching tv. “Goulash?,” he’ll ask you. “Beer?” Once you’ve placed your order he’ll disappear back into his hut to warm up your stew. If it’s cold outside, he’ll lead you into a back room with a wood heater to await your steaming mug and plate of slightly-stale bread. Sometimes it’ll take five minutes, sometimes up to thirty. But soon enough he’ll reappear at the little window with your food and it’ll all be worth it.
Goulash Man. What a legend.