Czech cuisine > the art of creating
> the art of creating superb dishes from simple ingredients
Czech cuisine will come as a pleasant surprise to gourmets. Although the cuisine shows influences from neighbouring countries (Hungary, Austria and Germany), the greatest inspiration remains traditional old Bohemian recipes. The basis of Czech food are ingredients which could be grown at home, above all grains, pulses, potatoes and meat. From these seemingly simple ingredients superb and imaginative dishes were made which can only be found in Czech cuisine. These include Czech dumplings, a rich selection of sauces and soups, sirloin in cream and the signature dish, pork and dumplings with sauerkraut.
Soup forms the foundations
The eating habits of those who inhabit the Czech lands differ little from those in other European countries. Three meals are eaten in the course of the day: breakfast, lunch and dinner. The main meal of the day for most Czechs is lunch. Whether at home or in a restaurant, lunch usually consists of three courses: soup, a main dish and dessert (or salad). Soup forms the foundations of any meal, say Czech mothers to their children. If you are recovering from an illness or you want to calm a bad stomach, beef or chicken broth (hov_zí or ku_ecí v_var) is recommended. Broth with homemade noodles and liver dumplings is a common dish at wedding receptions. In addition to clear broths, Czech cooks can also make excellent thick soups made with meat, vegetables and pulses. From the variety of these kinds of soup, which fill the belly almost as well as a main meal, try potato soup (brambora_ka) fragrant with marjoram, goulash soup (gulá_ová polévka) served in a small round loaf of bread, or tripe soup (dr_ková polévka) made with beef.
Meat, meat, meat…
Meat (maso) is an ever-present on Czech menus. The most common types of meat to appear on your plate will be pork (vep_ové), poultry (dr_be_) and beef (hov_zí). Less common are mutton (skopové), game (zv__ina) and fish (ryba).
Beef is normally served with various kinds of sauces (omá_ky). Sauces are one of the signature components of Czech cooking and diners can choose from tomato (rajská), horseradish (k_enová), mushroom (houbová) and dill (koprová) to name but a few. A sauce is also an important component in one of the most characteristic of all Czech dishes: Sirloin in cream sauce (sví_ková na smetan_). It takes great skill to produce good sirloin and is a test for even the best cooks – so why not try to prepare it yourself? Beef layered with strips of bacon are steamed with chopped vegetables and spices until soft. The steamed vegetables are then passed through a sieve, and this sauce is then loosened by adding cream. Serve with dumplings, a slice of lemon and cranberries. The success of combining beef, sauce and dumplings is seen in a number of other dishes such as Znojmo roast (Znojemská pe_en_) in a spicy sauce with finely chopped Znojmo gherkins.
Although dieticians do not have a favourable opinion of pork, this type of meat is an integral part of Czech cuisine. Other typical Czech dishes are pork with dumplings and sauerkraut (vep_o knedlo zelo) and roast pork with dumplings, sauerkraut and gravy. A dish served on special occasions is pork schnitzel (sma_en_ vep_ov _ízek) fried in breadcrumbs and served with potato salad. Smoked meat (uzené maso) is served cold as a starter or as a main meal with potato dumplings and a sauce. Sausages and alike aren’t exactly diet food, but many Czechs could not imagine mealtimes without them. Salami or ham with bread or rolls is a common breakfast, snack or cold dinner.
Old Bohemian dishes are proof that poultry was popular with our ancestors, dishes such as roast duck or goose (pe_ená kachna/husa) with sauerkraut. Chicken (ku_ecí) forms a regular meal in Czech households and is prepared in traditional and more exotic ways.
If you are fortunate enough to discover Rabbit with garlic (králík na _esneku) or with cream sauce (se smetanovou omá_kou), be sure to try it. Game dishes, such as roast venison or venison goulash, are also recommended.
It would seem that those who like fish do not have much to choose from in a Czech restaurant, but even in this area there are several Czech specialities. Carp (kapr) is traditional Christmas food, but you can eat it at any other time of year should you wish. It can come fried, or prepared in several other ways. As far as other freshwater fish are concerned, you won’t be disappointed with dishes made with trout (pstruh), eel (úho_) and pike (_tika).
There are many meat dishes in the Czech cookbook, but vegetarians also have much to choose from. Diners can order vegetarian versions of mushy peas, lentil soup and various sauces (these dishes usually contain meat). Czech vegetarian dishes include fried cauliflower (sma_en_ kv_ták), mushroom omelette (sma_enice z hub), egg and dumplings (knedlíky s vejcem) and fried cheese (sma_en_ s_r).
Dumplings or potato fritters?
If we want to identify a phenomenon peculiar to Czech cuisine, somewhat surprisingly neither meat nor any other special ingredient comes into the equation. It is a side dish! Dumplings are made in other places other than the Czech Republic, but the Czech version has the right to be called unique. Apart from the classic dumpling made from dough, there are Carlsbad dumplings, so-called ‘hairy’ (chlupaté) dumplings (made with raw potatoes) and potato dumplings (bramborové). Potatoes (brambory) have become such a part of Czech cuisine that there are countless way of preparing them. In addition to chips and mashed and boiled potatoes, why not try a typical accompaniment to meat or goulash – potato cakes (bramboráky).
Anyone for dessert?
Even in the dessert category we begin with dumplings. Sweet dumplings (made with dough, semolina or cottage cheese) are filled with fruit, sprinkled with poppy seeds, grated cottage cheese or nuts and dowsed in melted butter. If this has got the juices flowing, what about buns (buchti_ky) filled with vanilla sauce, potato cones (bramborové _i_ky) sprinkled with fried breadcrumbs or pancakes (pala_inky) with fruit or marmalade. Apple strudel (jable_n_ závin) is just as good in the Czech Republic as it is in other countries, and you won’t find such good traditional doughnuts with poppy seed, jam or cottage cheese fillings anywhere else.
Special Christmas and Easter dishes
Christmas dinner wouldn’t be the same without Carp and potato salad. Another integral part of the Czech yuletide celebrations are Christmas biscuits. Some of the ever-presents on Czech Christmas tables are honey gingerbread (medové perní_ky) decorated with icing, vanilla rolls, Linz pastry and Christmas loaf (váno_ka) with raisins and almonds. Baked sweet dishes at Easter reflect Christian symbols: Ewe-shaped sponges are baked in special moulds and other types of cakes and doughnuts are also prepared.
Regional specialities are part of our tradition
Regional specialities are one reason to strike out on a gastronomic tour of the Czech Republic. In Prague there is Prague Ham (pra_ská _unka); South Bohemia is the centre of attention around Christmas time thanks to its Carp farms; Pardubice gingerbread (pardubick_ perník) is a favourite among children across the land. Mature Olomouc Cheese (olomoucké tvar__ky) is adored by some, hated by others. The specific aroma of the cheese (those who hate it would say smell) is what people love or detest the most. This phenomenon of Czech cuisine even has its own museum (www.tvaruzky.cz). Frgále, large circular tarts with several fillings are a speciality of the Wallachian Region, while tarts (kolá_ky) filled with cottage cheese and decorated with jam can be enjoyed in central and southern areas of Moravia.
Is Czech beer the best in the world?
In the Czech Republic you’ll receive a simple answer to this question: Czechs regard beer as their national drink, and the fact that per capita the Czechs drink more beer than any other nation on earth is proof of their enthusiasm for the beverage. This record is down to the high quality of Czech beer, which people around the world have also come to know thanks to brands such as Budweiser Budvar and Pilsner Urquell. In the Czech Republic there are many other kinds on offer: breweries large and small brew up more than 470 types of beer! When in a typical Czech pub, don’t forget to order some pickled brie (nakládan_ hermelín) or pickled frankfurters (utopence) to go with your beer. ‘Utopence’ means ‘drowning man’, and despite the terrible name these are just sausages, onion and spices pickled in vinegar. (www.beerworld.cz)
Czech and Moravian wines are a success story
The best wine producing regions can be found in South Moravia. White wines from the area have won awards at international competitions, and some of the most popular types are Veltlínské zelené, Müller-Thurgau and Moravian Muscat. Red wines such as Frankovka and Svatovav_inecké are not far behind. Wine shops selling Czech, Moravian and other wines from around the world can be found across the country, but you cannot beat the atmosphere of a real wine cellar. These are best enjoyed when following a so-called wine route which link the various wine producing regions. (www.wineofczechrepublic.cz)
The curative properties of Becherovka
A bottle of Becherovka makes a great souvenir for visitors to the Czech Republic to take home. This bitter herb liqueur hails from the famous spa town of Carlsbad, where thanks to its curative properties, people call it the ‘13th spring’ (www.becherovka.com). When at a Czech spa, be sure to try some spa wafers – they’re delicious!
The increasing influence of international cuisine
In the past, Czech cuisine was criticised for lacking fresh vegetables and fish and for being too high in calories. In the past few years a lot has changed. The influence of international cuisine can now be felt in restaurants and on dinner tables in ordinary Czech families. Italian cuisine has become popular with its emphasis on the finest raw ingredients; Chinese, Vietnamese and Mexican restaurants have sprung up all over the place. In large towns and cities in particular you can now eat in luxurious restaurants, authentic Czech pubs and in eateries belonging to fast food chains. (www.squaremeal.cz)