In Praise of Czech Cuisine: 5 reasons to love dining in Czechland

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There's meat. There's dumplings. That's it. Czech food - not for the fainthearted.

I am a food terrorist – or so Czechman claims. He has begged me to stop serving up meaty stews cooked in my shiny new slow cooker and big slabs of cake baked from recipes given to me by his mum. I thought this was all required as part of my Czech wife training. Apparently not. Sometimes, it seems, even a hard-working Czechman with a healthy appetite would rather come home to a humble rohlík.

The Czech Republic’s cuisine has been largely overlooked by the rest of the world. It’s an acquired taste like olives or dark chocolate. That said, I have a personal theory that Czech food (or at least some of its signature dishes) could take over the world. Look at trendy London restaurant St John, pioneer of so-called “nose to tail eating” featuring dishes like pigs’ ears, ducks’ hearts and even squirrel. With its focus on rib-sticking slow cooked meat served up with stomach lining unctuous sauces and dumplings, Czech cuisine really could become the ultimate retro-moderno comfort food.

Perhaps. Anyway, here are my five reasons to love eating in Czechland.

1. It’s hearty fare (or man food)

“Hearty fare”. It’s the ultimate food writing cliche but no better description exists. Czech cuisine is not metrosexual: it’s man food. There’s nothing more comforting on a cold winter’s day than svičkova (beef fillet served in a creamy juniper berry sauce), goulash or that Czech classic, vepřo knedlo zelo, (pork, cabbage and dumplings) all washed down with a beer. Unlike we in England, who have happily ditched beef stew for chicken tandoori, one way that Czechs have hung onto their national identity is through their cuisine. Czechs don’t just eat their national dishes for Sunday lunch or the odd indulgent cooked breakfast but for lunch every day, rain or shine. I still find it difficult to understand how anyone could really enjoy goulash and dumplings when it’s 35 degrees but hey, I drink tea on scorching hot days.

2.The humble knedlík – Dumplings

Faced with your first plate of Czech food, there may be several things which will puzzle you. Firstly, where are the vegetables? Secondly, what are the strange circles of dough next to the meat? Let me introduce you to the knedlík. There are two main kinds – flour or potato. My understanding is that you should get a small piece on your fork along with a bit of meat and some sauce and then swallow.

Like dumplings from other lands, knedlíky are versatile. They can be sweet as well as savoury: if you don’t fancy the heavy meat options then you can indulge in dumplings filled with blueberries or plums as a main course. Naughty but nice. They can be filled: I keep fantasing about a lunch I had a week before I ended up in hospital: dumplings stuffed with smoked pork, sweet cabbage and fried onions and washed down with beer. No chance of repeating that experience for a while. Curses on the food police!

3. Winnie the Pooh was right! Bring back elevenses! The svačina

I first thought that the Czech word svačina meant sandwich but it turns out that the correct translation is something more like elevenses – a snack eaten mid-morning. Unfortunately the word has fallen out of use since the era of Winnie the Pooh, who used to enjoy lashings of honey as his treat of choice but I’m all in favour of bringing the concept back. Especially as it seems you can have a svačina break mid-afternoon as well as mid-morning or so I’m told.

Arse soup anyone?4. Soups, soups, soups

The Czechs love their soups. It’s usually served with every main meal – and in Czechland, most people have this at lunchtime – so Czechman informs me it’s wrong to call it a starter. It’s just soup.

Bramboračka, čočková, česneková: they’re all pretty tasty. Some though are only for the brave. Like prdelačka.

Translation? Arse soup, the main ingredient of which is blood sausage. I got my first (and last) taste of it when Czechman and I stayed in a small pension in the mountains where there was only one option on the menu. “Don’t tell me exactly what’s in it until I’ve finished eating it,” I told him.

5. Let me eat cake – or koláčes!

How can anyone complain about a country where it is completely acceptable to eat cake for breakfast? I think the koláč – a pastry (not a cake, strictly speaking – the best translation for cake is dort) usually covered with a sweet topping of poppy seeds – is ripe for export. A marketing opportunity is clearly being missed. With some skillful branding, the kolac could be as popular a breakfast time treat as the croissant or the pain au chocolat! This is the answer to the alleged downturn in the Czech economy! Inform Nečas immediately!

All this talk about food has left me feeling hungry. I’m off to check on the pork and apple casserole I have in the slow cooker.

P.S  Not content with Twitter, I’ve set up a Facebook fan page for Girl In Czechland. You can go and ‘like’ me over there (or not) by clicking on this link. And before I forget, a big thank you to those of you who have bought me a coffee. My caffeine addiction knows no bounds, so feel free to treat me to a caffeine fix if you haven’t already. Alternatively, just leave me an interesting comment: they always make my day.


19 Comments

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19 Responses to In Praise of Czech Cuisine: 5 reasons to love dining in Czechland

  1. Hi GIC,
    A wonderful illustrated description of the classics of Czech Cuisine. The one I hadn’t come across was svačina. Now I know what to say when I wander into the kitchen for a nibble mid-morning or mid-afternoon 🙂

    My wife was once asked by a visitor from the UK, “What is the main ingredient of Czech Cuisine?” She thought for a moment & then replied – “Cholesterol!”

    • girlinczechland

      Hello Ricky,
      I too am a big fan of the svačina break. As I said in the post, elevenses are a great tradition that I think should be brought back – especially if in Czechland you get to indulge in the afternoon too!

      I used to love the fact that it’s completely socially acceptable to eat cake for breakfast here but more recently I’ve been opting for a poached egg and muffin for my indulgent breakfast treat.

      I love your wife’s pithy summation of Czech cuisine: sadly, she may be right. Fear of cholesterol is the reason I’m yet to try that Czech classic, smazeny syr… Deep fried cheese – can anyone arteries take the strain?

      GIC

  2. You don’t have to be much brave,
    prdelačka klouže jícnem,
    it won’t hurt you, it is safe,
    do not mind its awful name.
    Pork is much better than game,
    brzo další prase picnem.

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  4. Knedliky: I love Czech dumplings. Nothing fancy, but delicious! When I visit I walk round your supermarkets, yes even the big Tesco, by Slavia, (I make a point of getting a tram there to shop!)..Let me explain, I stay in hostels, so it’s cheaper to buy my own food mostly, I am a ‘poor’ tourist! Anyway, I see wrapped knedliky in the supermarkets, Albert & Bila as well, & always want to but some to take home. But please,please…how do you cook it & on what temporature. Do you bake or boil? Even though, as you say, lots of Czechs in Prague speak English, I’m too embarrassed to ask something so ‘stupid’, so never buy any! Help!

    • Josef Godawa

      When you’ve already bought knedliky (dumplings) you cook them quite easily. Put some water in the pot (not alot) and put “pařáček” (no idea how to translate this to english, google it for pictures) into the pot. Just keep the water level high/low enough so it doesnt touch the dumplings in “pařáček”. If they would get wet they would be… awful. Then cover the pot so the vapour doesnt leave the pot and boil the water for a few minutes. (It’s the vapour that does that job – warms the dumplings yet leaves them not too wet and not too dry) If you don’t have “pařáček” you can use strainer. Oh and dont forget to cut the dumpling into those smaller pieces before putting it in, but i guess you have figured that.
      I hope I helped you, and bon apettite.

      • girlinczechland

        Hi Josef,
        Thanks for the dumpling cooking advice: it’s not my area of expertise!
        A “pařáček” is a kind of steamer – or that’s how I would translate it having googled for a picture as you suggested. I picked one up new a few weeks ago for 35kc (about a pound).
        Dobrou chut!
        GIC

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  6. zuza

    Today I found your blog and already spent like 3hrs by reading your posts and its just hilarious. I did something similar while I was living in the USA but from the opposite point of view.
    Finaly you just hit me with your commnet about koláče’s branding – Tell Nečas immediatly! You got it!!! 😀
    I’m looking forward to read more of your posts and thank you for being so normal in taking in our culture. Normaly I have to listen to that everything which is beyond borders is just WEIRD for foreigners.
    Have a nice day.
    Zuza

    • girlinczechland

      Hello Zuza,

      I’m glad my writing has struck a chord with you: I sometimes wonder why I spend so much time in front of the computer like a mega geek so positive feedback like this spurs me on 🙂

      Do you have a link to your USA blog you’d like to share? I’d be curious to see it…

      GIC

    • Photo of the week This entry was posted in Photos, Uncategorized and tgeagd Photo. Bookmark the permalink. Why do People Read Travel Blogs? Travel Tips For a Great Vacation

  7. You make me laugh!:) I’m so used to way we in czech republic eat that I can’t imagine it’s so weird for foreigners:) And I made guláš yesterday:) Veronika

  8. Honzy

    Hi dude,
    just 5. Let me eat cake – or koláčes! is koláček with K 😀 how do I know? I’am from the Czech Republic 😀 The best food ever is svíčková 😉

  9. Kristin

    I love your blog!

    My husband and I (in the USA) recently did his family tree and a DNA test and found he is 1/3 Czech. We had no idea! I knew I am 1/4 Czech from my paternal grandmother, but was raised to identify more with my grandfather’s Irish roots.

    Anyhow, we decided to look into our Czech heritage and are starting with cuisine. Tonight I made Bramboračka for the first time and it was wonderful! However, I wish I knew how to say “Bramboračka.” I have no idea how to pronounce any of these Czech words, lol! Can you give an English phonetic spelling?

    Tomorrow I’m making Czech beef goulash. I grew up with my mother’s Hungarian version (although none of us are even Hungarian!) I’m a bit nervous making the knedlík (how do you say “knedlík??”) but I’m hoping it isn’t too much different from making matzo balls (Jewish dumplings – another thing I grew up eating, even though we aren’t Jewish, lol!)

    Now back to reading more of your blog posts! 🙂

  10. Kristin, ask Forvo when not sure about the pronounciation:
    http://www.forvo.com/word/bramboračka/#cs

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