Culinary Tours in Prague
Exploring Czech Food on Foot and
on a Budget
|Culinary Sisters chlebíčka is
one notable part of the food scene in Prague.
While Prague might be a perennially
popular destination, the Czech capital is hardly famed worldwide
for the excellence of its cuisine. However, while stodgy
fare like potato dumplings and pickled sausage is still
the mainstay of many pub menus, there are tasty hidden gems
to be uncovered — if you know where to look. And unlike
more obvious foodie destinations such as Paris or Rome,
Czech traditional food is largely unknown outside the country's
borders, so those bold enough to go off the beaten track
are guaranteed some unique flavors to savor.
Eating Prague Tour
While Prague’s public transport system
is both affordable and efficient, the best way to explore
the maze-like network of cobbled streets that makes up the
famed Old Town is on foot.
If you would rather be guided by a local
expert than track down those authentic local eateries alone,
the Eating Prague Tour is definitely worth considering.
I recently participated in a tour led by food blogger Jan
Macuch, who is passionate about Czech cuisine and knowledgeable
about the city’s culinary scene. Highlights included discovering Hořice rolls
— cream-filled wafers introduced to Bohemia during
the Napoleonic Wars. According to EU legislation, the rolls
may only be produced in the Czech Republic. The sauerkraut
soup, which sounded distinctly unappetizing, turned out
to be tangy but yet surprisingly delicious.
We saved the classic dumplings and meat
combo until last. First, we savored svíčková, (braised
beef in a creamy sauce with a cranberry compote) with fluffy
white bread. Goulash might be more widely known, but the
dish originated in Hungary; svíčková, however,
is truly Czech.
Lighter Bites: Chlebíček (a.k.a
Czech Open Sandwiches)
Chlebíček — an open sandwich
consisting of ham, potato salad on white bread — is the
traditional Czech alternative to more familiar foreign interlopers
like the baguette and the panini.
You will find an array of such sandwiches
on sale in bakeries served on paper trays and enjoyed while
standing up at counters. Libeřské lahůdky on Vodičkova,
has a decent selection; they also sell some very pretty
marzipan animals. The branch of Pekařství Moravec on Biskupský
dvůr street is a good option if you are in the Old Town:
they have a small number of tables inside as well. As the
name suggests, Príma Chlebiček specializes in the Czech
open sandwich: choose from over thirty different varieties,
including cream cheese with sundried tomatoes, "roast
bif," hummus, and "dark caviar." All are
priced at around 20 CZK (US$0.80). You enjoy your sandwich
standing at the metal counter by the window, or if weather
permits, take a selection as an excuse for an impromptu
picnic in the nearby square on I.P Pavlova where there is
a regular farmer's market.
Queen of the chlebíčka has
to be Sisters Bistro. Located on Dlouha Street, Sisters
is owned by local food writer Hana Michopulu. Michopulu
made it her mission to give the humble chlebíček an
upmarket makeover while sticking to her basic philosophy:
make food that is simple and fresh. The results, while a
little pricier than the standard versions, are delicious.
On my last visit, smoked salmon topped with thinly sliced
half-moons of radish and sprigs of cress was the tasty addition
to the menu.
I enjoyed the beetroot puree with goat’s
cheese topped with a tiny sugarcoated walnut, but the Prague
ham, gherkin and potato salad is a tasty take on the most
popular kind of Czech open sandwich. There is also fresh
soup on the menu: most of the clientele opted for a combo
of a generous bowl of broth and a couple of sandwiches.
Seating inside is limited, so if you’re planning to stop
by at lunchtime, get there early — i.e. before 11.30 a.m.
— to beat the rush.
a common snack in Prague.
Meat, Meat, and More Meat: Naše
Right next door to Sisters Bistro are
the artisanal butchers at Naše Maso (which translates
as "Our Meat"). The mainstay of the typical Czech
diet remains meat, especially pork, but as salaries remain
below the European average, quality considerations often
comes a poor second to price. However, all the products
here are top notch: the layout means that you can see staff
at work chopping, slicing, and hanging hocks of ham in the
window. Best of all though, the shop has a small seating
area where hungry carnivores can savor a quick bite. My
Czech partner and I ordered the buček (braised
pork belly) and a burger. You can also try pub classic vepřové
koleno (pork knee) or some frankfurter style sausages.
|Meats of all kinds
galore, a huge part of the Czech diet.
Underneath its crisp layer of crackling
topped with a layer of caramelized onions, the buček has
been cooked slowly and gently overnight so that it simply
falls apart when teased apart with a fork. Ignoring the
accompanying serving of dark bread, this is food perfection.
Once the pork belly disappears, and it does not last long,
we pour our own beers from the brass faucets in the corner
and wait for our burger to arrive. It comes served in a houska,
a traditional Czech bread roll topped with poppy seeds and
dressed with gherkins and mustard. The beef patty is medium
rare, substantial and moist; at 115 CZK (US$4.50), the same
price as a fast food burger, which is excellent value for
Increasingly, we travel the world to
have an "authentic experience": to live, eat and
do things the way ordinary locals do. In Prague, sometimes
that holy grail of modern travel — the "authentic
culinary experience"— is
only accessible to carnivores with guts of iron. Still,
if you are feeling adventurous and happen to be on a tight
budget, then try lunching in a jídelna. A jídelna is
a canteen frequented by construction workers in overalls
and men in suits nearing retirement age who are nostalgic
for the gristly goulash and rib-sticking dumplings of their
youth. Typically, you order at the counter, have your choice
briskly ladled out onto a plate, and consume it standing
up. With the rows of metal benches and white tiles, the
setting at Jídelna Štěpánská, located at 1 Štěpánská Street,is
a little clinical. However, there is a decent range of options
— mostly served with dumplings, naturally.
Vegetarians need not despair: the Czech
chain of organic food stores, Country Life, has meat-free
canteens. Load a bowl with fresh salad and hot stews for
90 CZK (US$3.50), or if you are having major hunger pangs,
opt for the large 139 CZK (US$5.45) plate. Tucked away in
a cobbled lane not far from the Astrological Clock, the
Melantrichova street store is an excellent cheap stopping
off point if you are in the vicinity of Old Town Square.
Cake, Coffee and Ice-Cream: The Cukrárna
As someone with an incurable sweet tooth,
the cukrárna is my favorite Czech culinary institution.
A version of this ice-cream parlor and cake shop combo exists
in every town in the country — it is a neighborhood hub
where you will find grandmas meeting up to exchange gossip
and mothers with their children eager for a sugary treat.
They are a great location for observing Czechs in their
For crazy kitsch décor, huge sundaes,
and cakes made with real fresh cream, you cannot beat Italska
Cukrárna on Vodičkova. If the weather
is hot and sticky, grab a cornet to go. A short walk from
Wenceslas Square, Ovocný Světozor is something of a local
institution: while the lines extend out of the door.
To experience the best cukrárna in
town, you will need to hop on a tram towards Letna where
Cukrárna Alchymista awaits you. The interior is replete
with quirky retro details, the crockery is decorated with
the café’s logo, a wizard, and the homemade desserts offer
appealing names: how could anyone resist a slice of Amelie gateau?
The showstopper, however, has to be the garden — a
stunning urban oasis.
If you want old-world charm but need
to stay close to the center, try Cukrárna Šlágr, a First
Republic style café near Náměstí Míru with comfortable
sofas to lounge upon and over 50 different varieties of
Only Here for the Beer?
Czech beer is world renowned and rightly
so. The microbrewery trend sweeping many parts of the world
has taken time to catch on in Prague, but in recent years
it has begun to gather pace. Pivovar Marina, located in
up and coming neighborhood Holešovice, has an appealing
outdoor terrace where you can enjoy Přístavní svělté výčepní,
a light lager, or a stronger dark beer on the menu, the
Marina tmavý special. Note that in the Czech Republic you
drink by degrees: 12° is the most typically consumed and
contains around 4.5% alcohol. If you are prepared to take
a trip to the suburbs, Pivovar Hostivař is well worth the
trip. Established by a collective of around 100 locals who
decided that they deserved a decent pub with beer brewed
on site, Hostivař is a refreshing antidote to the smoky,
unappealing dives that often constitute a truly "authentic" Czech
neighborhood bar. If you do plan to pay a visit, it is worth
making a reservation for a table in advance, since the locals
are passionate supporters of their microbrewery project.
|For really fine
beer in a country renowned for its great beer, visit
||Lisette Allen is
a Prague-based freelance journalist who has contributed
to the New York Times, easyJet Traveller, WIZZ!
(Wizz Air’s in-flight magazine) and other publications.
Follow her on Twitter @lisetteallen for
more Czech foodie recommendations and insider tips.