Czech cuisine borrows the tastes of Germany and Hungary's schnitzels, strudels and goulashes, but adds the culture's own unique twists. On this short culinary tour, find out what foods are Czech staples or delicacies, and where to go to get your fill.
What to Know
In main courses, there are 3 national foods always found on the menu: vepro, knedlo and zelo, or pork, dumplings and cabbage respectively. The pork can be served baked and lightly seasoned, smoked, or breaded and fried like schnitzel. Dumplings can be light and spongy or dense and pasty depending on preparation. Taking a departure from German influence, Czech cabbage doesn't resemble sauerkraut. Instead, it's usually boiled with a light sugar sauce. Preparation of these 3 main dishes can vary depending on location, chefs and preference, but they're standard fare that all travelers should taste at least once.
Other popular main dishes include rosten�� (roast beef), grilovan�� kure (roast chicken) and uzeniny (spicy cured meats). Cmunda is a local favorite; the dish consists of a steaming potato pancake topped with sweet, boiled red cabbage and spicy Moravian smoked pork. Czech sauces have the reputation of being heavy, creamy and characterless, but when paired with spicy meats or cabbage, the outcome can be heavenly.
In Prague, what you wash your food down with is just as important as what you eat. The Czech Republic has a long, rich tradition of brewing and is home to Pilsner Urquell and Staropramen, but there's also a heated debate as to whether the nation originated the "real" Budweiser. Brewing a beer that tastes very different than its American counterpart, the Budweiser Budvar Brewery in South Bohemia has locked horns with Anheuser-Busch over the Budweiser name for over 100 years.
In this country, lager is king; there are only a few breweries that produce ales. When ordering a dark or light lager at one of Prague's many pubs, remember that a 10-degree light lager is lighter and has a lower percentage of alcohol than the 11 or 12 degree lagers, making it the country's most popular pint.
Where to Go
The Standard Fare
For traditional Prague food, head to U Cizku, an unassuming restaurant serving generous portions of hearty Czech food. U Modre Kachnicky serves traditional sauces and wild game with a lighter touch. At U Vejvodu in Old Town, enjoy spicy goulash and a Pilsner Urquell along with an excellent riverside view.
Treat yourself during your stay in Prague by visiting C��leste, located in one of Prague's most beautiful modern constructions, the Dancing House. The curvy riverfront building was designed by Frank Gehry and Vlado Milunic and resembles a dancing couple, often referred to as Fred and Ginger. Located on the building's top floor, C��leste combines panoramic views and the culinary talents of Gwendal Le Ruyet. The menu here is notably French, but the view of Prague is incomparable. It's also one of the best restaurants for tasting fresh seafood in landlocked Prague.
Pastries and Little Breads
There are a number of delicatessens, pastry shops and cafeterias that offer light lunch fare and delicious pastries. Jan Paukert has been in business for over 90 years and claims to have invented the chlebicek, or "little bread." This treat is an open-faced sandwich topped with traditional ingredients like roast beef, ham, egg salad or salami. For some sweet desserts, like apple tarts and fresh ice cream, head to the Mysak pastry shop or cross the Vltava River to Erhartova Cukrarna. Pair these sweets with Prague's best cup of coffee at Kava Kava Kava.
Enjoy a full night imbibing at pubs in the Namesti Bratri Synku neighborhood (accessible via the No. 11 tram). At Zly Casy, choose from a rotating selection of microbrews and taste some traditional pork dishes. Nearby Pivovar Basta serves seasonal brews and some outstanding dark lagers. Ride the No. 11 tram a bit further to Prvni Pivni Tramway a theme pub with 3 standard beers and a rotating microbrew.