Let your inner foodie loose…
Pick Praha for all incredible prettiness. Pick Praha for its immaculately preserved past. And pick Praha for your palate. Surprise yourself with the diversity of food culture in the Czech capital. Sip a cappuccino in the Old Town Square under the shadow of the Astronomical Clock or experiment with an artisanal kava somewhere in the warren of its cobbled medieval streets. Squeeze into a tiny bistro or perch on the window-sill of a specialty taverna.
Experience the sensory explosion of vegan dishes or marvel at centuries-old Bohemian meat-rich recipes. Gratify your taste buds with home-made sweets at a local food market or drown in the buzz of a hip art cafe. Relish the flavours of fusion food at a stylish restaurant under the shadow of impressive Art Nouveau buildings. Or gulp down deeply sweet raspberry lemonades in the charming courtyard of a hidden cafe.
And the ultimate luxury? Take a food tour. For the love of all things flavorful…do take a food tour! Discover charming cafes and iconic restaurants. Savour traditional and contemporary dishes. Dipped in an exquisite cuisine-culture concoction. Sprinkled with personal contextual anecdotes and food recommendations. Served on a platter of historically significant landmarks.
Down to favorites, then. With a dollop of history and a swirl of authenticity to add that extra zing. Make sure you Czech out all this food!!!
Try this: Apple strudel (German for ‘whirlpool’)
Trace its ancestry: The Austrians are possessive about the lineage of the strudel (proof of their pudding lies in a 17th-century recipe filed away in the Vienna Town Hall Library). But the origins of this comfort confectionery lie further East. One good look at those filo-like layers and tell me you’re not visualizing Turkish Baklava. A sweet gift of the Ottoman Empire to Central Europe, which possibly flowed into Austria through Hungary. Deeply rooted in the Czech culture since the days of the Austro-Hungarian empire. Omnipresent on menus in restaurants and cafes.
Taste the goodness: Belies its sturdy appearance. Spoon up the first surprise. Impossibly delicate, fine layers of dough. Baked to burnished golden perfection. Dusted with snowy icing sugar. Sweetest chunks of tart apple in every bite. Every slice will have you craving for more.
Treat it right: Enjoy with a generous dollops of whipped cream or vanilla custard. A strong cup of espresso, to balance the flavours, if your heart desires. Amnesia-wipe the term ‘calorie count’. Just memorise the word ‘indulge’.
Try this: Medovnik (honey cake)
Trace its ancestry: Want to believe Wikipedia? Then this cake was a successful creation of a Russian chef trying to impress an empress. The Czech legacy though…is pure fact. Kicked off in the mid-nineties with an immigrant Armenian, Gevorg Avetisyan, who made one last-ditch effort to provide for his family by selling honey cakes. Twist in tale. Fallback turned to fame! Today, they produce over 100,000 cakes a month! And Medovnik gives stiff competition to apple strudel as a universally favorite dessert in the Czech Republic. For all the right reasons, too.
Taste the goodness: Layers of soft, flaky biscuity discs. Sweet, whipped cream filling. Creamy brown icing. Light dusting of fine honey cake crumbs and chopped walnuts. Fair warning…eyebrows will rise, eyes will close, trance-like states will be induced. Consume with care. Can be highly addictive.
Treat it right: Order a hefty slice as the fitting finale to a satisfying meal. Or as a mid-afternoon extravagance with kava (coffee) or tea (caj). And gorge it down to the very last delectable morsel. All of it. Every little scrumptious crumb. Nirvana!
Try this: Gingerbread (transalated ‘pernik’ or black pepper).
Trace its ancestry: Ancient Greeks and Egyptians used it for ceremonial purposes. Till 11th-century crusaders got expensive ginger to Europe from the Middle East. Gingerbread graced the tables of the rich till ginger became more affordable. Religious and nature themes gave way to decorative motifs like bells, birds, hearts and snowflakes. The multifarious-cookie now dressed up homes on festivals and even became used as a declaration of love. Bohemian gingerbread has been a tradition since the 14th century. In fact, its artistic and intricate patterns are a unique art form!
Taste the goodness: Spicing it up are ginger, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, cardamom and anise and sweetness comes from brown sugar, molasses, light or dark corn syrup or honey. Variations include thin, crisp cookies or dark, spicy cake.
Treat it right: Feel like a child in a candy store. Choices, choices and more choices…so many delightful colors, shapes and sizes. Chomp down sample after sample. Go greedy, packet after packet. Gingerbread stays hard and dry and the spices act as preservatives. Hoard away to your heart’s content.
Try this: Svíčková (marinated tenderloin served with dumplings)
Trace its ancestry: Czech’s national dish is dowsed in history and pride. Every family has a highly-guarded secret recipe. Every notable restaurant offers one variation of svíčková on its menus. The sauce even has its own Wikipedia page!
Taste the goodness: Thick, rich, smooth cream gravy cooked with an assortment of root vegetables, vinegar, lemon juice, sugar, few herbs and spices. Accompanied with big fluffy dumplings. Served with whipped cream and tart cranberry sauce. Substantial, savoury and flavorful.
Treat it right: Smother and lather the dumplings in the sauce before you dive in. Squashy, squidgy? Meant to be. Slice the beef with your fork. Melts in your mouth? Full marks. This is comfort food. Chances are you will be reminded of your mother’s or grandmother’s kitchen. Big meal. Bigger smile.
Try this: Chlebíčky (open-faced sandwiches)
Trace its ancestry: In the early 20th century, a painter commissioned Prague deli owner Jan Paukert to create a bite-sized snack. He created the Chlebíčky and it took the country by storm. Open-faced sandwiches make a delicious, versatile, quick and filling meal, any time of the day. Finger foods loaded with fatty ingredients to get you through the country’s cold weather. Think mayonnaise, herring paste, ham, red salami and cheese.
Taste the goodness: Paukert’s famous shop is not in business any more, but the open sandwich has become a Czech legend, crowding counters at delis, delicatessens and butcher shops all over the city. Toppings are as endless as your imagination…beetroot, egg, ham, salami, pickles, capers, olives, cucumber. Classic or with a gourmet twist.
Treat it right: Order two or three snack-sized sandwiches. Crunch and munch through the fresh, wholesome, finger-licking, standing lunch. Keep a few extra paper napkins handy. You’ll be going back for more!
Try this: Kyselica (sauerkraut soup)
Trace its ancestry: Romania shepherds must have cooked up this mouth-watering cabbage soup sometime between the 14th-17th centuries. The hearty breakfast that once fuelled the stomach of men who laboured in the woods of the Wallachian Kingdom in Moravia, has become a much-loved staple of authentic Czech cuisine. Its Slovakian cousin ‘Kapustnica’ is made with fresh grated cabbage and flavoured with red paprika.
Taste the goodness: Kyselica sports chunks of potatoes, shredded sauerkraut (pickled cabbage) and cubes of smoked meat or bratwurst in a thick beef broth. Optionals include mushrooms, bacon, onions, sausage. One big steaming bowl can leave you satiated. Lunch sorted already?
Treat it right: Sip it slow, let it trickle down your throat as you identify the individual flavours of the fermented cabbage, potatoes and meat. Maybe a warm, crusty bread roll on the side. Oodles of nutrition. Ready to chop some wood now?
We sampled most of the above culinary delights as guests of Eating Prague Food Tours as part of an unforgettable, four-hour long glorious gastronomy tour, with guide Eva Brejlova, ex-journo, food enthusiast, passionate patriot, mushroom hunter and raspberry lover. All opinions are my own.
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