It started a few months back. My girlfriend, you see, is a big fan of duck fat. She always has been. She told me lyrical stories about what a great and tasty thing it was. My initial reaction was horror, followed by putting it down to a Slovak quirk.
Let me contextualise: in Slovakia, loving duck fat is a pretty common thing. In the UK, duck fat prompts – well – largely disgust, right? After all, it’s the fat that’s left over from cooking duck. WHY ON EARTH WOULD YOU EAT IT when you could, er, throw it away?
Well, for starters: just possibly we throw too much away in the UK. That’s despite the trend of all these restaurants that have as their speciality using the whole of the animal and not wasting any – yep, the nose to tail eating thing. Indigenous tribes across the globe thought of that idea long before anyway. And Slovaks are actually not too far behind. This, don’t forget, is one of the EU’s poorest countries and Communism bred a “waste not want not” approach out of pure necessity. So in Slovakia it has always made sense to keep your residue fat from when you are cooking meat: particularly duck and goose.
But being British I have always had a bit of an obsession with marmite. If you want something savoury on your toast, this is the obvious choice, right? But not if you go gluten free in your diet, which I have recently done. Now I’m having my gluten-free bread toasted in the morning and I’ve already had a slice with jam and I’m looking for something savoury to round it off, I reach for the jar of duck fat. That’s because the other day my girlfriend urged me to try a bit – a tiny bit – on some warm toast. It was, basically, like a cross between a paté and marmite. Like a slightly meaty, slightly salty spread, a little crisp on the outside and buttery soft inside. My first reaction: this is alright. My second was to have another lathering of it on another slice.
Duck fat can be used for a number of things: including as a basis for cooking chips and the like. But in Slovakia perhaps the most common use is just as an alternative to butter. You have to have it melted on warm toast. If it’s not melted, it’s just not the same (although my girlfriend has been known to eat it by the spoonful from the jar). It’s also healthier for you than butter. And it tastes nicer. And it makes giving up marmite easier!
For those of you looking for marmite when you come to Slovakia, it’s sometimes available in the big Tesco’s just down from Námestie SNP on Špitálska in Bratislava. Otherwise: get accustomed to the duck fat.