Have you ever thought Czech food was only good for soaking up beer? Think again. A recent culinary revival has put the country firmly on the European foodie trail.
I came to Praha (Prague) for one reason and that was to get a crash course in Czech cuisine. My guide, Hvettar, spots me and my travel companion Tien Fegley (an Asian-American) outside a busy McDonald’s.
Producing a bottle of homemade slivovice (plum brandy) and half a dozen shot glasses, he quickly breaks the ice and explains that there’s a great deal more to Prague eating than the Golden Arches or mushy dumplings.
Once a favorite with Austro-Hungarian royalty, Prague’s restaurants were considered on a par with Paris and Vienna right up until World War II. Communist rule then heralded a gastronomic deep freeze: official cookbooks stifled creativity, supermarket shelves grew bare and bizarre television advertisements encouraged people to eat cabbage and drink milk. Today, almost 25 years since the Velvet Revolution, a new upheaval is taking place: celebrity chefs are promoting Modern Czech cooking, food blogs are multiplying like wild mushrooms and microbreweries, organic restaurants and hip cafes are springing up across the capital. Prague is definitely becoming a foodie paradise.
Hungry to get started we head to Cestr steak house. This stylish canteen-style restaurant dishes up a carnigasm of marinated ribs, slow-cooked ox cheek, smoked Prestice ham and truffle-stuffed chicken accompanied by creamy mash and perfectly poured Pilsner Urquell. A trip to the bathroom takes me past a row of carcasses being prepared for the kitchen, and I cringe for a minute as I think of all my vegetarian friends. The meal is rounded out with (what else in Prague?) beer ice cream.
I start to worry that this local gem ruined my appetite on the way to Prague’s favorite snack stop: Svetozor deli. But I’m soon tucking into their chlebicke, or “little breads” layered with hard-boiled eggs, mayonaisse and poppy seeds and served in quaint boxes. Between mouthfuls, Hvettar raises the infinite national issue of potato salad recipes: “If my girlfriend made it the wrong way we could never get married.” I’m starting to like how this guy thinks!
Next stop is patisserie St. Tropez, where we’re welcomed with shots of a medicinal-tasting digestive called Becherovka and platefuls of traditional Czech desserts. Each is a creation of glycemic genius, blending nougat, caramel and vanilla cream in delicate laurel wreaths of pastry. Perhaps it’s all the sugar, an overdose of calorie intake, and alcohol but I begin to hallucinate. Or at least that’s what it felt like to me, in a very good way!
Take some time out to visit Prague, not only for its rich, sophisticated culture and history, but also for its delicious cuisine. In my book, a foodie paradise for sure!