Thursday, April 14, 2011

Eating Prague, Part 1: Traditional Czech Cuisine (and the Cookbook Giveaway Winner!)

Hanging out in a tower in the Old City Hall in Prague's Old Town Square ... and thinking about all the good food down there. The smells of smoky cooked pork were actually wafting up from below. For real.
While Prague is undoubtedly a top tier sightseeing, cultural, and historical destination for many travelers,  it is not generally mentioned along with the other great culinary meccas of Europe. I think that's a shame. Many people assume that traditional Czech cuisine is an unvarying parade of hearty and heavy variations on the same theme of big piles of meat.  But the traditional Czech cuisine I had in Prague was anything but monotonous, as its unfounded reputation would seem to imply.  Is the food hearty? Sure. Meaty? Often! Heavy? Sometimes. But unvarying or boring? Not at all, as you'll see here. (Of course, Poppa and I didn't only eat traditional Czech food. We had some very surprising meals, as you'll see in future posts.)

Our first meal in Prague was at Lokal, a very popular, bustling neighborhood eatery:
While it does seem that a lot of old-style Czech food is packaged for tourists, this place was packed with an all-local crowd. In fact, there is only one English menu in the whole place - though we did our best with the Czech menu, our jet lagged brains just couldn't make sense of it. We did much better later in the week when we returned here.

After a nine hour plane trip to Vienna followed by a five-hour train ride to Prague, we were craving a nice big drink. Since Prague is known as the beer capital of the world, naturally we went with the justifiably famous Pilsner Urquell:
Aaaahhh, that's better.
Even though Lokal is a newish place, they do one very old school thing: As soon as your beer is empty, the guy in the apron in the photo below places another one in front of you - it's like magic:

You have to be really firm if you don't want another, and I thought he kind of looked hurt when I said "No, thank you." So if you know you're through, try to nurse your last beer. We started with what would go down as one of my (many!) favorite things from the trip, Prague ham with horseradish cream:

We even came back for this on the last day. There was something so simple and yet so satisfying about the combination of the slightly salty ham with the pungent horseradish. Perfect beer food.  With this, we had something called "Davle's spicy sausages with fresh horseradish and mustard:"
Nope, I do not know who this "Davle" is, but I commend him on his fine sausages!

Ah, but that was just for starters! For our mains, we had beef goulash with bread knedlicky, which are translated as "dumplings" but really are more like thick squshy pieces of bread, perfect for soaking up sauce (truth be told, I prefer potato knedlicky):
And on the advice of our server, we got a Czech classic, roast beef with a creamy sauce and cranberries:

Many restaurants in Prague have not quite got the hang of the whole appetizer-comes-out-before-the main-course thing, and so in short order we ended up with a righteous pile of food on our table. It was so much in fact, that we got incredulous, yet admiring, knods from a table of Czechs to our left. As a point of pride, we ate everything - with pleasure.

When we returned later in the week, I got a fish dish - carp fillet in cumin butter - and Poppa got the almost (but not quite!) redundantly porky pork schnitzel fried in lard:
The next day we walked to the Klášterní Pivovar Strahov, the brewery at the Strahov Monastery ...
 ... and ate at the restaurant there ...
And had some more beer. We tried their special amber, and the seasonal Shrovetide beer:
It was admittedly mostly tourists eating here, but the food was authentic and not gimmicky, and as I said, they make their own beer, so that's worth a trip alone. I don't mind eating with tourists now and then - my big no-no is eating anyplace that has its own gift shop.

We had a plate of meats ...

... and my favorite, a plate of gloriously stinky cheeses - garlic, smoked fish, beer cheese, and something that tasted a bit like liptaeur:
Did I mention how great this food is with beer? Man. We actually came back here later in the week for a bite - we needed sustenance in order to climb the tower at St. Vitus Cathedral. This time, we had pickled cheese from Oloumouc, and a great onion soup with Roquefort toast:

Later in the week, we visited a very old-school place called Česká Kuchyně, essentially a cafeteria:
When you go in, a greeter hands you a ticket. This greeter is actually also the cashier who rings you up when you leave - the place gets really busy, and I suspect she has an extra arm tucked away somewhere, given that she seemed to be doing at least 3 things simultaneously.

You go through a line and point at what you want, and at each stage it's marked on your ticket. Going in, we had no idea what to do since nothing was in English. One of the servers behind the counter spoke English, which was almost disappointing, as we have a perverse love of things that are needlessly complicated. We ended up with a delicious pile of saucy meat and garlicky veg:
Meanwhile, Poppa Trix spotted a little kid eating dessert with his grandfather. Turns out it's the very same dessert Poppa used to enjoy as a little boy with his grandpa when he was visiting his grandparents in Vienna! It's basically dough with sugar and poppy seeds:
 Poppa flashed backed into some happy childhood memories in a big way:
We also had lovely soups at U Betlémské Kaple, a place suggested to us by the hostess at our excellent pension, The Green Garland. I had a pungent garlic soup (lower right) and Poppa had something called frankfurtska:
When we ordered it, we thought we were asking for sausages! But actually, it's a kind of spicy hot dog soup. Note that I have switched to Moravian wine at this point. Kind of really full of beer.

For our last meal in Prague, we headed to another local joint, Hospoda U Novaka. Poppa had another yummy stewy-meaty-knedlicky dish  ... 
 ... while I had a very unusual dish called the Templars Saute Mix, a thick, crunchy savory potato pancake filled with sauteed pork and liver.
We did eat at one more traditional place I haven't mentioned here, but it was such an odd (in a good way) experience that it gets a post all to itself. So stay tuned!

And now it's time to announce the winner of the Nick Malgieri cookbook giveaway. You thought I forgot, but I had to make you scroll through all my photos, now didn't I? To select the winner, I used the list randomizer on Random.org, and if you tweeted, I put your name down twice. And the winner of Bake! is ... 

Kate @ Diethood!  Congrats! I'll be in touch to get your address:

And if you've read to the end of this incredibly long post, you now deserve  to gaze on this this beautiful view of Prague:





28 comments:

  1. Hi Trix ..you had a wonderful time in Prague...We had it too...Prague is magic!!! Hugs, Flavia

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  2. Great post..fun place full of amazing food!!! Well it's Europe:))
    Thanks for sharing!

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  3. I was in Prague for one whole week some 20 years ago... and I still miss it, I'm serious.

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  4. Congrats to Kate and I loved all these photo's to see who won! Glad your back! Everything looks wonderful the scenery, the beer and you look so happy but who wouldn't be? lovely post!

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  5. Thank goodness you are back. I have been waiting patiently to hear about your adventures both culinary and otherwise (and having none of my own of either variety recently.) I'm drooling at Templars Saute right now... It looks, um, amazing.

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  6. Oh lucky you! Prague and its food look amazing! It's on my list of places to visit.

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  7. What a great post and what great excuses to drink beer. You could do a whole post on how to pair beer with the perfect dish. Have to say that of all the yummy pics, it was the one with the cheeses that had me drooling for more than the usual 30 secs. Can't wait for more. P.S. Quite curious as to how they make those meat stews look so silky and delicious!

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  8. always a treat when you post of your travels, esp the foods you and Poppa experience... have got to remember only to eat at places with no gift shops...

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  9. Did you try pork knuckle??? Oh man...so good...

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  10. Looks AMAZING. I'm so jealous :)

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  11. Great shots! It looks like you had an amazing culinary adventure...although I`m sure there was more than just food involved, wasn`t there?!

    As you settle in, I am now going off on an adventure! England, Scotland & Wales, including a week cruising Loch Ness...and I have a spice kit with me. Wish me luck...

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  12. What beautiful pictures!! I love traveling (and eating) vicariously through other blogs! It looks like an amazing trip.

    The dessert with dough, sugar and poppy seeds looks interesting...do you know what it is called? (I have a huge bag of poppy seeds and I've been waiting for some inspiration to crack it open)

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  13. So much beauty, history, and deliciousness!! Now I want those sausage and the goulash.
    But first I am going to do the happy dance because I WON!!! Woooooot! Thank You!!

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  14. Wow, just wow, wow, wow. Brings back memories from like the 2 days I spent there in 96 :-S That is a lot of poppy seeds! And too funny about the waiter being hurt at your turning down beer lol. Just beautiful pics and stories, can't wait to read more!

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  15. W loved Prague and the food. I sure with I could go back again and explore some more. Unfortunately I'm not a beer drinker. My husband and our friend loved that it was only about a dollar a mug.

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  16. I've always wanted to go to Prague and the delicious food you've shown seems like a great extra incentive. Although, between the beer and the bread, I might have to leave Kevin (my celiac-suffering partner) at home!

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  17. Oh, my gosh! You had so much wonderful food! Now I'm yearning to fly across the ocean...what a fun trip!

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  18. Never been to Prague, but if I tell my husband about Pilsner Urquell beer he will take me there!

    What a wonderful trip and great post on food in Prague!

    Penny

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  19. Welcome back girl! Thank god for your travels or I would NEVER see anything! I think you both look too cool for school in your travel digs! I can't wait to see what else you have to share. I just love reading these!

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  20. Trix, this is a truly inspired and inspiring post. Thanks for sharing the details of your food adventures in Prague, it makes me feel like I'm right there with you and Poppa T on your trip! Threesome traveling is IN, didn't you know? ;-) Oh, I now know the secret to those great-looking, long legs...drink plenty of speciality beer!!

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  21. Oh, your post instantly sent me back home to Serbia:) My mother prepared some of those dishes for us (the noodles with poppy seeds and sugar, the goulash with knedlicky).
    I lived vicariously through my daughter's visit to Central Europe last summer, and now through you:)
    Wonderful writeup.
    My American husband almost flipped when he found Pilsner Urquell in the vending machine at Prague airport:)
    Looking forward to reading more about your adventures in "my" part of the woods:)

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  22. Our next couple of destinations will be eastern europe. so beautiful and food that i have never tried before.

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  23. Oh Trix, now this is just mean of you. I was barely recovered from imagining that beautiful fresh ham and horseradish cream before I swooned at the stinky cheeses (THE BEST TYPE OF CHEESES!!!) and then omg, Roquefort toast? Why haven't I made myself something like this before? Also, why aren't I drinking a massive beer right now?

    Sensory overload, and it's only through my eyes!

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  24. @Ruth: I think they add butter to the sauce to finish it - that definitely gives a silky look
    @Christina: We kept almost getting it, and then something else would catch our eye. That's my only regret of the trip!
    @Le Petit Lapin: In Austria the dish is called germknodel. There's another name in Czech but it's basically the same thing. Just potato dumplings (sort of like gnocchi), butter, poppy seeds, and sugar.
    @Lana: Aw, I'm so glad my post made you feel nostalgic! : ) We actually want to visit Serbia, Croatia, and Montenegro, maybe next year!

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  25. I TOTALLY felt like I was in Prague with you! AMAZING pics!

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  26. What a wonderful trip this seems like, love the photos and the mushroom dish :)

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  27. Looks like you got to eat some amazing Czech classics and the beer sounds awesome too! That poppy seed dessert is a lot like the poppy seed squares my grandma used to make when I was growing up, so yummy. And the view of Prague is gorgeous, i cannot wait to go!

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  28. having spent a week in February in Prague........I have some of the same photos - of the Knedlicky in particular!!!!!!

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