Experiencing a traditional pig-slaughter feast in Czechia

February is traditionally a time of pig slaughter feasts in Czechia, an event accompanied by eating, drinking and comradery. Kevin Loo shares his impressions of one such event in Prague.   

Photo: Kevin Loo,  Radio Prague International

With apologies to any vegan or vegetarian readers out there last week, I had the pleasureof attending a zabijačka - the pig slaughter (more a pig feast than a traditional slaughter). As a city-dweller, it was admittedly a slightly more up-market version than your typical village affair, but the focus of course was still on the sausage production line and special menu on offer throughout the day.

The hearty food of Czech cuisine is a far cry from the spice and variety of my Malaysian-Chinese-Australian upbringing, but I still relished the opportunity to finally enjoy the assortment of škvarky, jitrnice, jelito, vepřový guláš, and more.

The timing of this year’s zabijačka also coincided with the ending of the traditional Lunar New Year two-week festival period. As we passed the food around the table and I bounced my one and a half year old on my lap, I reflected on the parallels in my life around the dining table.

Photo: Kevin Loo,  Radio Prague International

Lunar New Year is arguably bigger than Christmas for East Asian culture, and it is a time focused on family. The official meal that opens the festivities is even called the ‘reunion dinner’. As a foreigner living abroad now raising my own family, I’m lucky to see my sister or parents even once a year, and thus no reunion was to be had this year.

Yet here I was, breaking bread with a new circle of adopted family members. In fact, this motley crew had already gathered two weeks earlier for our own surrogate reunion dinner.

Each of us around the table represented a different country - the US, Albania, India, Russia, Czechia, Slovakia, Vietnam and more. And now here we were comparing notes on which part of the freshly prepared pig we preferred.

“Can you believe this pig fat is fried…in pig fat?”

“Is this liver? I’m not sure. Seems too tough to be liver”

“Yum this horseradish is delicious with the jelito”

“We should order topinka to go with this”

“Did anyone bring sriracha?”

That last comment notwithstanding (potentially egregiously offensive to our hospoda hosts), there is an incomparable joy to be had in sharing food. While none of us are biologically related, our status as international folk removed from our immediate families unite us over every shared meal.

In the surroundings of that homely pub, it was all too reminiscent of many other meals I’ve had growing up. The zabijačka traditionally marks the impending Easter season and thus a gradual ending of the gloom of winter. A whole meal centred around pork is something we also enjoy as part of celebratory Chinese-Malaysian feasts. The smell and crackle of pork skin and fat is enough to transport me back to many a cousin’s wedding from childhood. I need to only close my eyes to conjure up images of freshly seasoned and roasted meat hanging in shop windows, glistening with oil and flavour.

It was an opportune time to think about the similarities we can find even across continents. Despite differences in side-dishes, drinking habits and chilli tolerance, Czechs and Chinese love pork. On that we can agree. (Another commonality is the love of duck meat).

Roasted pork and duck | Photo: Kevin Loo,  Radio Prague International

Just as my uncles and aunties of times past delivered a whole roast pig to the family dining table, here I was in a pub in a completely foreign land sharing an animal that had been skillfully prepared, leaving nothing to waste. I looked around and soaked in the atmosphere of the families around us, perhaps also reunited from across cities and towns. Dogs were being petted, children were running around, and beer glasses were being ‘na zdravi’d cheerily.

It was a simple expression of what it means to seek community, enjoy company with loved ones, and celebrate family and together-ness, no matter where that family may have come from. I may still moan about the lack of authentic Chinatown meals in this part of the world, but for now, I’m grateful for this coincidence of meal festivals and its heralding of the new year ahead of us.

Author: Kevin Loo
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