When we were in Martinique, Tom always said that we would go to the Czech Republic to visit his family in Chomutov and see the sights in Prague. He told me about the cycling he did in Chomutov, about nearby Karlovy Vary, and of course, the food. I wanted to know more about where Tom had (half) come from and always looked forward to the prospect of seeing what the Czech Republic was like.
Most importantly, being the foodie (fatty) that I am, I dreamed of the food. Palačinky, Smažený sýr, Knedlíky… I wanted it all. Plus, any country that fries cheese gets a special place in my heart.
Luckily, the opportunity arose sooner than we expected – last weekend in fact! I was so excited at the prospect of visiting – even for just two days – that I was like, “Can I come (if it isn’t an imposition of course)?! I will rent my own car and stay in my own hostel if I can’t fit with you guys!” Hey, Knedlíky was calling my name…
I was ecstatic but I couldn’t announce it on my Facebook page and ask for suggestions because it was a surprise visit for Tom’s uncle’s (who just so happens to like my Facebook page) birthday party. When I told my friend/boss Katka that I was going to the Czech Republic, she said “Drink ALL the beer!” There was definitely no shortage of that, but I also took that to mean “EAT ALL THE FOOD” – which there was also no shortage of. So, here are (most of) all the delicious things I ate in the Czech Republic last weekend:
Topinky s našlehaným pivním sýrem – The Hotel U Medvídků Brewery, Prague
Toast with Whipped Beer Cheese
Beware of “toast” in the Czech Republic. It’s not toasted, it’s deep-fried. And addictive. Tom’s dad said Czechs didn’t have toasters so they fried things instead. Makes sense to me. We weren’t sure if ‘beer cheese’ meant cheese with beer in it or cheese that is eaten with beer.
As it turns out, it’s actually both. While whipping the cheese, beer foam is added to the cheese to soften it. Topinky is more of a take on garlic bread than just plain toast. It’s always served with a few pieces of raw garlic, which you’re meant to rub on the toast before you eat it. There’s probably no kissing in the Czech Republic either…
Vurty na polotmavém nefiltrovaném pivu “OLDGOTT” v našeho minipivovaru at The Hotel U Medvídků Brewery, Prague
Sausages with OLDGOTT semi-dark unfiltered beer from the U Medvídků brewery
These came with our topinky and I loved it. The sauce was quite rich – likely from the addition of the semi-dark beer. These were quite special sausages, as this pub/hotel/brewery is the only place in Prague you can drink Oldgott.
The beer in the background was Budvar dark, which I actually quite liked. It was thick and had a malt flavour that wasn’t sweet, but had a hint of caramel. I ate the sausages by themselves but also on delicious caraway rye bread that seems to the bread of Bohemia, as we ate it at almost every meal. By the way, kmin in Czech means caraway seed, not cumin. Don’t get confused 🙂
Svíčková na smetaně podávaná s houskovým knedlíkem at Rudolfinum Restaurant, Prague
Marinated beef sirloin served with bread dumplings
This restaurant is slightly further down Alšovo nábřeží 12 from the music hall off the bank of the Vltava. This place is very authentically Czech – no English on the menu and you’re served in a dimly lit below ground pub. And the food is so good.
I didn’t actually have the pleasure of eating this traditional Czech dish, but I tasted some and I sure wish I had! It’s beef served in a creamy sauce with chantilly cream, cranberry compote and a slice of lemon. The sauce is generally made with vegetables and spices, which is then boiled in double cream. So good.
At Rudolfinum, I had roast duck with potato and wheat knedlíky, as well as sauerkraut. I had many knedlíky in many of their forms. Knedlíky are Czech dumplings that can be either wheat based or potato based. They are also often made with pieces of fruit inside. The dough is rolled into a ball and either steamed or boiled. Once finished, the outside is sort of shiny and soft while the inside is fluffy and squishy. Delectable.
There are two more things you should know about Czech food:
1) Roasted <insert meat here> means you get at least half the animal. Be aware or be very hungry.
2) Czech cabbage, often translated as sauerkraut, is completely unlike German sauerkraut. Cabbage is braised in sugar, salt, and vinegar until the it’s no longer recognizable as a vegetable. Tom’s uncle told him there isn’t really a recipe, you just have to balance the different flavours until it’s delicious. Which it was.
This was just half of day one!
After all of the food and drink in Prague we drove down to Chomutov for the big surprise! Of course, we arrive and there’s a large table full of food! No one was really hungry, but I wanted to try everything. I found this cheese quite interesting:
Smoked cheese, loosely translated means “little whip”
Generally served as a snack with drinks, they can be plain or smoked. I really like Czech smoked cheese. Wow! Tom isn’t really a fan, but I quite enjoy strong cheeses. You can also buy this cheese plain, but always get a fresh batch from a speciality shop – otherwise it can be quite salty.
Tatarský biftek s topinky
Beef tartare on toast
After the buffet of food, Tom’s uncle rolled out enormous plates of beef tartare and topinky. I grabbed my toasts and the required garlic (someone told me one clove wasn’t enough…), spread on the beef tartare and went for it.
I wasn’t sure what it was going to be like – but it was really good! The tartare wasn’t just raw beef, it had spices and onions in it, which gave it a different dimension and some added texture, so I didn’t feel like I was devouring a package of minced beef. Yum.
I probably ate more raw beef that night that anyone should in a lifetime…
The morning after was time for palačinky! Simply put, it’s a pancake – the thick version, but it’s a lot bigger and rolled up in more of a French style. I had mine with marmeláda (jam – plum in this instance), chantilly cream and icing sugar.
Oplatky are two very thin wafers, similar to communion wafers but sweet and 10 times the size, with a thin layer of sugar and powdered hazelnut. They also come in chocolate and cocoa flavours, which I haven’t had yet…
They come from a town called Karlovy Vary, which is known for the healing powers of its mineral springs. With 79 sources, 13 are used for treating different ailments. In the 19th century, the oplatky were made by putting the two wafers together and then closing them between two flat irons (similar to a waffle iron) and served hot. I’ve taken to warming up oplatky which is indeed even more delicious.
Venison cooked to perfection in a sauce and my favourite of the weekend: knedlíky. It was an excellent and traditional last meal in the Czech Republic.
At the end of it all, I had a serious food hangover. You know when you haven’t been eating enough vegetables, your skin hurts and you’re totally lethargic? That was me for at least two days after. I mean, this is only the majority of the food, but I haven’t included vanilkove rohlicky or the cakes with plum jam at the Questernberk or the little cookies at the party with a custard-y cheese in some and poppy seed paste in the other…
I had an awesome time in the Czech Republic and I can’t wait to go back…for the Smažený sýr!
P.S. If you’re looking for Czech food in London, head to the Czechoslovak Restaurant in West Hampstead!