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A Culinary expedition to Prague

Punita Malhotra

Contributor

Under the shadow of a 1000 spires in the ‘mother of all cities’ perennially teeming with ardent sightseers, blooms a centuries-old bohemian soul. So once you’re done gawping in astonishment over the continent’s greatest castle, and getting all misty-eyed under the grim statues of the iconic Charles Bridge, consider drowning in the diversity of Prague’s food culture. From the sensory explosion of vegan dishes to the warm comfort of bohemian meat-rich recipes, from authentic sweets to contemporary fusion food, the Czech capital serves it all up in a charming concoction of cuisine and culture. But whatever you do, don’t miss the most authentic dishes of the Prazaks.

Kyselica: Soup with soul

Back in the 14th-17th centuries, when Romanian shepherds invented a nutrition-loaded, wholesome cabbage soup, they had no clue that it would continue as the meal of choice for labourers in the Wallachian Kingdom of Moravia, and go on to endure as a staple of authentic Czech cuisine. Kyselica is that much-loved soup everyone recognises, but doesn’t quite relate to all the fuss surrounding it, till the first sizzling sips trickles down one’s throat. 


You can easily pick up the subtle yet strong blend of individual textures and flavours making up this thick beef broth. Potatoes, shredded pickled cabbage, and cubes of smoked meat or bratwurst are the non-negotiables, but for experimental tasters, popular options on the list include mushrooms, bacon, onions, and/or sausage. One big steaming bowl of goodness spells utter satiation with just a crusty bread roll for company.

Kyselica soup

Photographer: Stockfoto

Chlebíčky: Sandwiches that seduce

Jan Paukert's bite-sized snack creation changed the face of food-on-the-go in the country in the early 20th century. Visiting Prague and not going on a hog-all-you-can-find trail of iconic open-faced sandwiches is sacrilege. Chlebíčky is a no-brainer, finger-licking and filling meal, any time of the day, anywhere in the city…deli counter, delicatessen, butcher shop, or chic bistro. Mayonnaise, herring paste, ham, red salami, and cheese are slathered with mind-boggling toppings, from beetroot, egg, ham, salami, pickles, capers, olives and cucumber. Classic. Gourmet. Evergreen. Equally enjoyable with juice, coffee, beer, or wine.

Chlebíčky

Photographer: Fanfo

Svíčková: Meat magnificence

Czech cuisine is well known for its hearty peasant dishes loaded with meat, carbs, and sauces. And for a traditional meal, nothing beats Czech’s national dish, Svíčková (marinated tenderloin). The very mention of the word conjures up images of cosy kitchens, closely guarded family recipes and comfort food that mothers and grandmothers cook up. Luckily for today’s generation of gastronomers, this dish is found in most notable authentic restaurants of Prague. 


Expect large, melt-in-the-mouth tenderloin dumplings soaked in thick, rich, smooth cream gravy accompanied by root vegetables, tempered with an impeccable blend of vinegar, lemon juice, sugar, herbs and spices. Whipped cream and tart cranberry sauce adds glamour and oomph to this substantially squash-worthy meal, making it rustic and elegant at the same time.

Svíčková

Photographer: Bonchan

Mushroom: Fall mania

The nation’s mushroom craze reaches its penultimate high with the russet-gold colours, crisp air, and dampness of autumn. It’s the legitimate season for fung... passion for mushroom foraging rubs off on mushroom meals everywhere from home kitchens to restaurant menus and it’s easy to get swept away by the ‘shroom mania’. Essentials to pamper your palate include Kulajda (creamy potato and mushroom soup topped with a poached egg), Smažené žampiony (fried mushrooms), Houbové Kuba (mushroom risotto), and Hovězí na houbách (beef in mushroom sauce). A Prague gastronomic journey is incomplete without experiencing the wide array of delectable delights made out of this ‘poor man’s meat’.

Forest mushrooms from Czech Republic

Photographer:Richard Semik

Apple strudel: Seriously sweet

This inimitable sweet indulgence, gifted by the Ottoman Empire to Central Europe, and an Austro-Hungarian empire era leftover, is now an omnipresent, deeply rooted element of Czech culture. Bulky in looks, but delicately layered like filo, it has an uncanny resemblance to Turkish Baklava. Burnished golden, dusted with snowy icing sugar and loaded with tender chunks of tart apple, -every bite adds to more intense realisation of gluttony. Give in to more depravity with generous dollops of whipped cream or vanilla custard. Counting calories is not an option for serious epicureans, especially at dessert stage.

Apple strudel

Photographer: Nata Bene

Medovnik: Ultimate dessert

While on desserts, how can the legendary honey cake be far behind? This Czech legacy owes its origins to an immigrant Armenian family, who now produce over 100,000 cakes a month. If there is one sweet sensation you would want to gorge on while in Prague, it would have to be the Medovnik, hands down. Decadent layers of soft, flaky biscuity discs, sweet, whipped cream filling, divinely brown icing, a light dusting of honey cake crumbs and chopped walnuts add up to engineer an addiction that incorrigible sweet-tooth’s will find impossible to resist. Down to the last scrumptious crumb.

Medovnik

Photographer: Vladislav Noseek

Gingerbread: Tempting goodie

Gingerbread has been synonymous with Bohemia since the 14th century. Not only is it a symbol of festive goodies, but has even evolved into a unique art form, thanks to a range of increasingly intricate designs. Spices like ginger, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, cardamom and anise, coupled with the sweetness of brown sugar, molasses, corn syrup and honey lend characteristic taste. You will be spoilt for choice with the variety…thin and crisp or dark and spicy, endless colours, shapes and forms. Gingerbread is easy to store for longer periods so there are no excuses to not stock up. If only for the love of all things flavourful.

Gingerbread

Photographer: Frantic00

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