Whipped cream, cranberry sauce and beef might not strike you as three ingredients that would blend together well, but few dishes are as iconic to Czech cuisine as Svíčková. This true Czech favorite includes beef in a vegetable cream sauce, bread dumplings (in Czech: knedlíky), and the garnishes – an orange or lemon slice, plus whipped cream and cranberry sauce. A great place to try this is the charmingly historical Cafe Louvre.
During the 40 years of communism in what was then Czechoslovakia, the country refused to import Coca-Cola, so a local replacement sprang up in its place. Kofola is less sweet and more herbal than its capitalist cousin, and if you need to put a spring in your step, you’ll be happy to hear that it’s also more highly caffeinated than Coke or Pepsi. The original plan was to discontinue it when communism ended and the market reopened, but people had grown too fond of it. The drink remains popular to this day.
Gingerbread might seem ubiquitous in Central Europe but the Czech version really is something special. It has roots stretching back centuries, to when it was made only with honey, butter, and nuts – which you can still find in certain special places in Prague. Nowadays, you’ll see beautifully decorated gingerbread all over the place.
Trdelník, the column shaped cake you can now find at any market in the center of Prague, is of Transylvanian origin. Even so, it’s now taken root in Prague, and you might as well take advantage of it and enjoy one hot off the roaster. These days, you can find them filled with chocolate, nutella, and even ice cream.
Moravia, has a thriving wine industry; although Moravian winemakers recognize that their conditions simply aren’t as favorable as those of France or Italy they instead focus on making unique wines that take advantage of the soil and weather that they have to work with. The vineyards are often located on castle grounds, like at Lednice-Valtice.
If you’ve never tried roast goose, you’re in for a real treat if you come to the Czech Republic in November for St. Martin’s Day, which they celebrate with a meal of succulent roast goose flanked by knedlíky and stewed red cabbage. If you don’t happen to come for that particular holiday, you’re also likely to find duck on many menus, another dish we can happily recommend.
Koláče, or kolache when written out in English, are Czech pastries traditionally filled with poppy seeds or some kind of jam filling. You can find koláče at practically any bakery in Prague, but here are a few of our favorites.
There are a number of notable Czech soups but one of the best loved is the classic South Bohemian kulajda. This soup is similar to a sour cream soup, and contains mushrooms, potatoes, dill, and an egg – often a quail’s egg. It’s perfect as a starter when you want to warm up, or even as a stand-alone light lunch.
Czechs drink the most beer per capita of any nation in the world. Pilsner, the light, gold-colored brew that is the most popular variety of beer in the world, gets its name from the Czech city of Pilsen, home to the famous Pilsner Urquell brewery that ships out its green bottles and cans to countries all over the world. Lately, Czech craft beer has also been experiencing a renaissance, so you’ll be able to find some excellent IPAs and pale ales.
Bramboráčky, or potato pancakes, are not strictly unique to Czech cuisine, but when you walk by an aromatic, freshly fried one of these on a square, you’ll agree that you have to try it. You’ll find smaller ones as side dishes and large ones folded over meat and vegetable mixtures to make a meal that’ll really stick to your bones. If you’re lucky, you might find some with sausage right in the pancake itself.
Olomouc cheese is a particularly stinky variety of soft cow’s cheese that originated in the Moravian city of Olomouc. It is the only type of cheese that is originally Czech, and like Champagne and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, the EU lists it on the Protected Geographical Indication – meaning that it can only be called Olomouc cheese if it’s prepared in in that particular region of the Czech Republic. At only one percent fat content, it is also remarkably healthy.
Czech goulash is one of the most typical, easy-to-find Czech meals. You’ll find versions of goulash all over the former Austro-Hungarian Empire, as it was another borrowing from Hungarian cuisine. The Czech version, most commonly made with beef, comes with bread or potato knedlíky and is deliciously rich and savory.
You’ll run into the Czech open-faced sandwich, or chlebíček, everywhere you turn. This is a tasty little snack, which can feature anything from egg and potato salad to pickled herring. Lately, a number of bistros in Prague like Sisters have started to revamp the chlebíček for the modern age by adding new and different toppings to take their places next to the old favorites.
Pork – in all of its forms
The Czech Republic is definitely pork country, and preparing pork sausages can even take on a ceremonial air sometimes. If you’re very fortunate, you might come across a zabijačka, or traditional pig roast, where a whole pig is roasted and then processed into various delicious pork dishes.
Becherovka is a herbal digestif, most often served either chilled and straight, or with tonic to make a ‘beton,’ which is also the word for ‘concrete’ in Czech. Produced in the spa town of Karlovy Vary, Becherovka is a true national treasure, and its recipe is a closely guarded secret – at any given time, only two people in the world know it, and they mix up the ingredients once a week.