Steak tartare is a traditional specialty form raw meat, popular not only in Slovakia, but in most of European countries. However, unlike in other European countries, in Slovakia it is illegal. It was outlawed by an act passed by the Ministry of Healthcare in 2007, which states that restaurants may only serve meals containing meat which has been heat treated.
The gourmets may recall that a few years ago this specialty disappeared from the restaurant menus, just to quietly return. It can be said that today it is a usual part of menus in most of the Slovak restaurants. Thus it is not really that surprising that several enthusiasts have decided to organize a “Steak Tartare Festival”, during which visitors would decide which restaurant taking part in the festival prepares the best steak tartare In Bratislava. And so the event took place.
We never did find out who won, because the events took an unexpected turn. According to the organizers of the festival, all restaurants were visited by the officers of the Public Health Bureau, who prohibited serving the dish and fined them for having it on the menus. The restaurants decided to revoke their participation in the festival, which forced the organizers of the festival to cancel it in turn. Justification of their actions by one of the owners of the affected restaurants is more than explicit: “If you, as a restaurant, upset the Hygiene, they will push you around even for the smallest gibberish… and keep fining you until you close the business or they put you in jail”.
It is a rather typical story, in which the pursuit of a legitimate goal (in this case related to health protection) results in a senseless and pointless pushing around. The logic behind the ban that raw meat may contain various bacteria or parasites stops being valid as it is applied when it comes to steak tartare, but not when it comes to sushi (because fish are not considered as meat, thus the 2007 act does not affect it). Other problems with the ban are to be seen when we look at the majority of other countries in the region, where steak tartare is not on the blacklists and it enjoys the popularity of the local gourmets without any catastrophic impacts on customers’ health.
Slovak authorities have therefore three options how to procede in the case of the “steak tartare case”. They may either turn to silent tolerance of breaches of the act; start to scrupulously monitor all restaurants and sanction the disobedient ones; or they can self-reflect and abolish the act completely. If they do not choose the last option, the ban on steak tartare might easily become one of the leading candidates in the Slovak poll on the “Bureaucratic Nonsense of the Year”.
Translated by Filip Bolčo