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.
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.
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.