Everyone tells you that when you travel, you should eat like a local. In some cases, that’s easier said than done. With places like Subway and McDonald’s going in everywhere and easier access to global foods, many times if you ask a local where to eat, they’ll say something like, “Oh, there’s a good Italian place over there…”
I’ve been to Italy. I ate Italian food there, and I doubt that restaurant will be able to compare (sorry, guys). I was in the Czech Republic, and I wanted to try Czech food.
In Prague, it’s easy to find restaurants offering traditional Czech cuisine, but most of them are a bit on the pricey side – they’re intended for tourists, and they have tourist price tags. But, good eats come to those who look for them. And look for them I did.
First up: Street food. I love some good street food. When you’re traveling by yourself, it’s a great way to get something without taking up a table in a restaurant. It’s also quick, and you can eat it on the run to the next destination. And it’s usually cheap and tasty as heck.
Traditional Czech sausage (klobása: kloh-bah-sah) is delicious, and is served in two different ways: hot dog style or on a plate with dipping sauces and a slice of bread, just like its Polish equivalent. I swear, this part of Europe has the best sausages. Try the Wenceslaus sausage – I have never eaten a sausage with as much flavor as a Wenceslaus sausage straight off the grill. It gave Viennese sausages a run for their money.
I’m not sure that this is traditional street food, but I got it from a street vendor, so I think it qualifies. Halušky (huh-loosh-key) is a dish of potato dumplings, sheep cheese, and ham, cooked in one big pot together and served up piping hot in a bowl. Honestly, it’s almost impossible to go wrong when mixing potatoes, cheese, and ham, but I think the Czechs hit it out of the park with this one. It was the perfect mid-afternoon pick-me-up.
Next up: Sit-down eating. Eventually, you’re going to want to sit down and eat like a civilized person, no matter how tasty the street food is.
Again, it’s hard to go wrong with guláš (goo-lahsh; goulash). In the Czech Republic, traditional beef goulash is served up with knedlíky (k-ned-leek-ee; dumplings) and onion slices. Sometimes, it’s served a bit on the spicy side. I don’t usually go for the spicy foods, but the goulash had so much flavor that it worked – it was naturally hot, not like Siracha, burn-your-tongue-out-with-no-flavor hot. If you see it in a bread bowl, get that. I love the knedlíky, but you can’t beat a good, crusty bread bowl.
You’ll find an awful lot of pork in this part of Europe – it’s in everything. One dish that we saw everywhere in Prague was vepřové (vep-r-zhoh-vair; pork), usually served grilled with a side of potatoes and sauerkraut. Again, I’m not usually a fan of pork, especially grilled pork. That should tell you how good this pork is. It’s tender, juicy, and full of flavor – and it comes with potatoes, so, again, you can’t miss.
I read that Czech people always begin lunch with a soup. This soup is something else. It’s a garlic soup, and it lives up to its name. When the waitress brought it to the table, we could smell the garlic. There were entire cloves of garlic in this soup. The restaurant that we were in served it with cheese melted over the top, like a French onion soup. It was delicious, and a great way to start our meal. Just make sure you take some chewing gum for after dinner. Otherwise, you’ll reek of garlic for the rest of the day. (ches-nech-koh-va pohl-airv-ka)
Last, but not least: Dessert. Because you need something sweet every day.
Don’t worry, the vendors know that you can’t pronounce this one. I stood there with a vendor for a solid two or three minutes, having her repeat it so that I could figure it out. The trick is to trill the ‘r,’ the way you would in Spanish. At any rate, you can grunt and point and they’ll figure it out. Trdelník (tr-del-neek) are a sweet pastry shaped like a cone. The dough is rolled out long and thin, then wrapped around a metal rod before being roasted over hot coals. Traditional trdelník are served right off the coals, rolled in a mixture of sugar and crushed nuts and handed to you in a napkin. (two trdelník, one trdlo)
Now, for the most important culinary tip of them all: When in Prague, be sure wash everything down with a pint of that good Czech beer. It’s good for the digestion, you know.