Now that I got the pun bit out of the way, let me go about my usual business of boring readers to tears with an endless food travelogue.
Prague is the most unique city I have ever visited. I don't think I have ever seen a more visually stunning city. Even Paris doesn't compare. Prague doesn't just contain UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Prague is a UNESCO World Heritage site. When I first arrived in Prague I felt the endless grand facades, the winding streets, and massive crowds were too intimidating to ever be able to feel relaxed and comfortable, but the place worked its magic on me and by the end of Day 2, I felt able to walk the streets with confidence.
If you would like to see my non-food photos, I have archived them here. (If you want to know what you are looking at, click the comment link and you will see my explanations of the photos.)
What is the food like in Prague? I can describe it in five words: meat, carbs, gravy, carbs, and meat. I can also use five words to describe the beverages: beer, beer, beer, beer, and beer. The Czech Republic is the second fattest country in Europe (UK is first). They don't care much for vegetables (although they work wonders with cabbage) and beer is the cheapest beverage you can drink (and they drink a lot of it). Prague has an excellent public transportation system, but I got around mostly by walking because my body was just begging to get rid of some of those calories.
I suppose I stayed too much within the Tourist Comfort Zone because in all the restaurants I went into, I had the luxury of English menus and English speaking staff. What I found most interesting was even tourists from other countries who spoke a variety of other languages, would speak English when talking to the Czechs.
So let's talk a bit about what I ate. What were my daily meals like?
Day 1: I arrived in Prague at lunch time, exhausted from the red-eye flight, but eager to start exploring. The whole family stayed in the beautiful Old Town Square (Staroměstské náměstí) in the historic Old Town Square Hotel. Kevin and I wanted to stay close to "home" for our first day so we looked at the local sites. We explored St. Nicholas church and wandered a few side streets. When hunger took over our curiosity, we ended up at an open air restaurant on the square called Kotleta. It was a scorching hot day and the restaurant had plenty of canopies and also sat next to a shady park.
I had a typical Czech dish that night called Svickova, which is beef sirloin in cream sauce with bread dumplings. The dumplings I had at Dominikana were different from the dumplings I had on subsequent nights. These dumplings reminded me of balls of Thanksgiving stuffing.
Day 2: We went out for a family breakfast Sunday morning. My brother found a place near the Kafka memorial called Pastacaffe. We went to an Italian restaurant for a Czech breakfast.
This was a small, but airy and sunny spot serving mostly Italian food. They had a special going on for lunch and dinner where if you ordered spaghetti amatriciana, they would make a donation to the earthquake relief fund in honor of the devastated Italian city of Amatrice.
This was their version of Eggs Florentine. This had spinach, tomato, egg, sausage, and grilled bread. I wasn't sure what to expect with the sausage, but it was the most unique part of the dish. I can't explain the flavor, but it was not like any other sausage I have ever eaten.
My brother found a restaurant called U Pinksau (so proud of his discovery he posed in front of it with my nephew). This place dates back to 1843 and was the first restaurant to serve Pilsner in Prague. Now Pilsner Urquell is the most popular beer in Prague.
I would have loved to have tried the ubiquitous pork knuckle instead of a neck, but the pork knuckle servings are huge in every restaurant. I am known for a big appetite, but even I have my limits.
Day 3: Room service breakfast are included at our hotel, so we took advantage that this particular morning. We spent most of the day on a tour of Prague Castle. It was late afternoon by the time it was over and we really just wanted a snack to tide us over before what was likely to be another heavy dinner.
We found a small pastry shop and had some pastry and cappuccino. This little cake looked far better than it tasted. The cheese layer and the crust were both dry and crumbly.
Dinner that night was at the magnificent Municipal Building in their basement restaurant Plzenska.
The interior recalls the Art Nouveau period with it's decor. The overall feel is 19th century kitsch. The food is thoroughly traditional without apology. The menu is written in multiple languages, which feels a bit touristy, but I was a tourist after all.
I started with duck. Traditional bread dumplings as well as potato pancakes accompanied it. There was also some of that tasty cabbage beneath.
We also had an accordion player serenading us throughout the night. I never saw a more cheerful guys. He had a massive (but genuine) smile plastered on his face the whole night. We should all love our jobs so much.
Day 4 - Our final full day in Prague was our best food day of them all. We took a food tour with a company that specializes in Prague food tours.
This was the one day where we spent time outside the main tourist area. This tour took us through the neighborhood of Karlin. During the communist era this area was mostly industrial and housed both the factories and the workers. It remained a working class neighborhood after the revolution, but a flood in the early part of the century forced the neighborhood to rebuild and revitalize. Now it is becoming something of a hipster area.
We had to wait a few minutes for our guide to meet us at the subway station, so I decided to have some ice cream to tide me over.
The tour took us through 4 different types of restaurants and different types of meals. Some were traditional and some reflected the future of Czech cuisine.
We started at a bakery called Simply Good. Here we sampled traditional Czech breakfast pastries. We had a blueberry kolache and puff pastry with lemon curd.
That's our guide Leona in the pink shirt. She was awesome. She was not just informative about the food, but she had extensive knowledge of the history and culture and was able to answer all of our stupid questions and give us a lot of background to the places we went and the foods we ate along with the stories behind them.
The second stop took us away from the traditional and into the emerging locavore movement. We went to a restaurant called Eska. If traditional Czech food is all about carbs and meat, this meal truly deviated from tradition because there was no meat.
The decor is made from reclaimed items and they have an open kitchen - rare in Prague.
We started with a kefir dip and sesame crackers. There were all kinds of nuts and flowers and I don't know what else on top.
Next we had fermented red wheat with roasted celery root, raisins, and walnuts. The celeriac was the most obvious flavor here.
Our next stop was Lokal Hamburk. Lokal is a small beer hall chain throughout the city. The one in Karlin is named after Hamburg because it is near the river port that starts the major route to Hamburg. The decor playfully imitates the communist era.
The theme for this stop was traditional beer snacks. Our first dish was steak tartare. In France this is a high end dish. In Prague you eat it with your beer. It is mixed with pickles and egg and a bunch of other stuff and it's so delicious I could have eaten the whole pile of it. You rub garlic on the little toasts provided and spread the beef over it.
Our final stop on the tour was a small cafe called Maso a Kobliha, which literally means Meat and Doughnuts. The owner also owns a butcher shop, so the restaurant is a way to make use of his product. I'm not sure how the doughnuts came into play, but I won't complain.
What I found interesting about Czech soft drinks is that every non-soda option is called "lemonade" whether it contains lemons or not. The raspberry drink I had was lemonade. The ginger soda my niece drank with her doughnut was lemonade. If it's not Coke, it's lemonade.
I still wonder how I was able to eat dinner that night after all of this food. I knew I had to make the effort because it was my last night in Prague and I still hadn't tried all the Czech dishes I wanted to.
We stayed in Old Town Square and at a restaurant Leona had recommended call Mincovna. Mincovna means mint and the building once housed a mint. The decor consists of giant replicas of old coins.
I decided to try the Czech version of goulash. There were dumplings of course. There are always dumplings. I was so full and tired I barely remember it. I'm sure it was good because it it had been bad, I would have remembered that. The dumpling were less bread-like here.
Our trip was brief. We flew back to New York the next day. It was worth the long journey. I would have liked a few more meals and seen a few more sights, but I'm happy to have had this experience.
Now I need to go to the gym!