(Sorry not sorry about the title)
If someone had asked me where I thought I would be on a sunny autumn afternoon in Prague “sitting in a restaurant I can’t pronounce the name of while burly, tattooed Czech men in shorts serve me pickled cheese and deep fried potato pancakes” would not have been my answer.
But that’s where I ended up.
Before my second trip to the city in October 2016, my knowledge of local Czech food was not extensive. Actually, it was barely in existence. I knew of two things local to Czech cuisine culture; absinthe and trdelniks.
Absinthe can be procured in most bars if you’re brave enough to neck a shot. Trdelniks are delicious smelling cone shaped donuts (pronounced Tri-del-nicks) served fresh and hot from kiosks throughout the old town. I encountered them on my first trip to the city in January but hadn’t managed to taste one (I blame the winter weather because my fingers were too cold to open my purse).
So this trip, my travel buddy Caitlin and I were determined to “live local” as best we could and experience Czech cuisine.
Day One: Lokal
After some research and a free local guidebook that Caitlin picked up during our walking tour of the city, we found ourselves in a local spot that was, funnily enough, called Lokal.
The restaurant, a few streets away from the Old Town Square, is a long beer hall split into smoking and non-smoking sections. It’s popular with tourists and locals alike. The decorations are minimal with wooden floors, tables and chairs. We sat ourselves before a waiter dropped some english menus in front of us.
The relatively small menu is made up of local Czech dishes and beers. My eyes scanned the page and quickly found some vegetarian friendly options; mostly carbs and cheese but luckily I am never one to complain about carbs and cheese.
Caitlin had to be the guinea pig for trying out the meat. A task which she took on with much gusto and many sips of a large Czech beer.
During the research, Caitlin discovered that the Czech Republic is well known for its fried cheese. Lokal offered up its version pan fried in butter. We shared the cheese and ordered a side of potatoes and tar tar sauce on the waiters suggestion. (My arteries are trembling just remembering eating this). The cheese was gooey and delicious and reminded me of the Saganaki I tried in Athens – I had a lot of cheese in Europe.
After gorging at Lokal, we waddled over to the Czech National Marionette Theatre. Watching the puppet version of Mozart’s Magic Flute was one of the cutest and most enjoyable ways I could have imagined digesting all the fried cheese and potatoes I ate.
Day Two: smíchovský radniční sklípek and trdelniks
The following day we continued the Czech foodie experience and I found myself surrounded by the above-mentioned burly men.
Smíchovský radniční sklípek is a local restaurant in the Prague 5 area, two streets down from the Palacky Bridge. Caitlin found the spot online after reading up on pickled cheese; another traditional food from the Czech Republic.
The morning offered up a false start at Prague Castle which was closed for a military demonstration so our plans to visit the grounds were abruptly cancelled. Unfortunately we only found out after walking all the way up to the castle gates from our hostel (there were a lot of stairs).
Caitlin opened Google Maps on her phone and we took a stroll along the Vlatava riverbank towards our lunch spot which was a good 2km away.
We stopped at the Prague Opera House and the famously weird looking dancing house during the walk.
The entrance to Smíchovský radniční sklípek is unassuming and easily missed. Caitlin eventually spotted a small sign and we pushed open a heavy door -that could easily have been the entrance to a traditional pub in the UK- before carefully making our way down a wooden staircase to the restaurant below.
The first thing that hit me was that there was a high chance we were the only non-locals there due to the unfamiliar murmur of (what I assume was) Czech bubbling up from the people at the tables around us.
We grabbed a booth and one of the waiters came over. He greeted us and handed us menus as we said hello back. Hearing our accents he quickly took back the menus and darted off. I was worried we were about to be kicked out before he came back with english copies.
I gazed at the options, excited to find an entire vegetarian section (once again mostly cheese and potatoes and most of it deep fried), decided on a deep fried potato and cheese pancake with a side of vegetables so my heart wouldn’t give out prematurely, and then took in my surroundings.
There was lots of wood again but this place had forgone the minimalist look that Lokal had gone for. Nik-naks and thingy-majigs of all kinds hung from the walls and ceilings.
Think Ariel’s hidden grotto of human stuff – but Czech.
Caitlin was the meat dish guinea pig once again and ordered beef tongue alongside her pickled cheese.
The beef tongue, she said, tasted pretty much like any ham or cold meat. I was convinced it was going to be on the plate in the shape of a tongue but much to my disappointed it was sliced like regular ham cuts. I had a bite of the pickled cheese which was served in a cute mason jar and was marinated with peppers and onions which gave it an interesting sweet yet tangy taste.
Feeling the post-lunch itis, we took a meander back along the Vlatava river. Again, not a bad way to walk off your food.
That evening we carried on with our Czech cuisine adventure and had trdelniks for dinner at Chimney Bakery which is in Old Town, a few meters from the Charles Bridge.
Trdelniks are traditionally considered more ‘desserty’ because of the sweet pastry and optional sweet fillings but we were fully embracing #treatyoself2016 meaning we didn’t shirk at the idea of dessert for dinner. (In fact we had them again the night after. I apologise to my dentist in advance).
Caitlin went for an apple strudel filling and I was game for nutella and whipped cream. The lady serving me even threw in a complementary tub of strawberries.
Full of sweet pastry, strudel and strawberries, and buzzed on sugar, we ventured out into the night to see Praha’s old and new delights.
Day Three: Bohemian Bagels
On day three we veered off of the traditional cuisine course.
Tucked away down a side street next to Charles Bridge, is Bohemia Bagel. the restaurant was opened in 1996 by an American who wanted to jazz up the Prague culinary scene. 20 years later it’s still serving bagels.
Now, I hear you say, surely bagels aren’t Czech? The bagel gained popularity in North America but, according to the restaurant’s super informative menu, the bagel was invented in the Hungary/Czechslovakian area many many years ago and then the recipes were taken over and popularized by the settlers in the United States.
It’s kinda/sorta originally from the area so it kinda/sorta counts as part of the Czech cuisine experience. Kinda/sorta.