It's very important to us for Philip and Oliver to keep learning Slovak and to be exposed to our beautiful food."Milota Vrabelova
YOU could say that the way Slovak-born Milota Vrabelova met her husband Marian, was like a scene out of a Hollywood romance.
In the 90s, he had a printing business and she owned a beauty salon.
While carrying a box of nail polishes in an elevator, Mrs Vrabelova was surprised when the bottom of the box suddenly broke open, spilling the polishes onto the floor.
It was Mr Vrabelova who knelt down to help her pick them up.
"I remember I didn't fancy him at the time because he was a bit snobby in his suit and sunglasses," Mrs Vrabelova laughed.
"But I wanted to offer him something to say thank you, so I said if he came into the salon I could trim his moustache.
"I was so surprised when he came to the salon two days later, because I didn't actually do moustaches.
"We had espresso instead."
18 years of marriage later with two sons and having lived in Slovakia, England and Australia - Mrs Vrabelova shared with the Mail how important it was to have her children raised exposed to the Slovak culture and cuisine.
While Oliver, aged 17, was born in Slovakia and Philip, aged 12, was born in England, the Vrabelova's always celebrate their holidays drenched in the cultural traditions of Slovakia.
And for the first In My Kitchen for 2022, Mrs Vrabelova shared a traditional, Slovak holiday meal, including:
- Kapustnica (cabbage soup with smoked sausage, potato and vegetables)
- Macanka (mushroom soup)
- Sosovice (lentil soup)
- Fazulovica (bean soup)
- Juska (soup made from the juice of cabbage with dumplings)
- Slovak potato salad
- Salmon/carp fillets
- Bobalky (baked dough balls which are mixed with hot milk, poppy seeds and sugar)
As she talked about her dishes, Mrs Vrabelova told the Mail that food in Slovakia was all about family.
"Everybody in Slovakia comes around food and it's usually full house.
"You can end up with four people or 30, but the meaning is that no one should be alone over the holidays.
"Even if it's just a distant friend - you don't leave them alone."
Growing up in the small, historical town of Bardejov, Mrs Vrabelova recalled fond memories of celebrating the holidays with her family.
Referred to in Slovak as 'vilija', traditionally there are 12 dishes made to reflect the 12 apostles, reflecting the Catholicism faith.
Mrs Vrabelova recalled her Papa and Grandpa catching carp for vilija and putting the fish in the bath tub before they were prepared.
"My brother Martin, sister and I were so little but I remember otec (papa) saying tomorrow morning children I'm going to cut their heads off.
"And I would say otec you can't kill them and my sister Ivana and I would sit near that tub until 11pm at night so he wouldn't kill the fish.
"In the morning he took them out to the snow and prepared them, cleaning them with snow."
When attending vilija in the Slovak culture, Mrs Vrabelova said all guests would first wash their hands in a pot of holy water full of coins, to ensure cleanliness before joining the table.
She explained that the coins meant that the person touching the water would be blessed with richness, meaning they would be happy and rich for the next year.
Mrs Vrabelova also explained how the table was set for vilija, which included bows tied around the table legs to symbolise holding everyone together.
"In the olden days, my grandpa would catch fish in the river and then scrape the scales off and dry them in the sun on the windowsill.
"The women would then put all the scales under the table cloth - and however many scales would mean how much money you would achieve in the next year."
The head of the house, which in this case was Mr Vrabelova, would dip his finger in honey and put a cross on all the guests' heads to symbolise happiness for the year.
Once seated, guests would be given a walnut to crack - and if it was rotten or mouldy, the guest would be unhealthy for the next year.
Mrs Vrabelova said traditionally, an extra place would be set at the table, which was for the "beggar" who would never be left out to go hungry.
"Then whilst eating food, you take one spoon of your food and put it on the spare plate until there's a big mix mash of food.
"After dinner, the children would go outside and place the plate at the front door for the animals, so no one goes hungry.
"It's about sharing with nature - which in Slovakia is reindeer, foxes and beers as well as stray cats and dogs."
Although the family have been in Bunbury for almost 10 years, Mrs Vrabelova said she would always cook Slovak cuisine for the holidays, as requested by Philip and Oliver.
"We have shrimp on the barbecue almost every day, so the kids love the traditional food," she said. "It's very important to us for them to keep learning Slovak and to be exposed to our beautiful food. As their mama I also want them to be independent when they grow up - I said to them I don't want your wife to do everything. Everyone is equal and their wives won't be their Cinderellas - they need to know how to cook."
Do you know a local who loves to cook? Email email@example.com.