Czech Cuisine

Czech Cuisine

Czech cuisine bases its cooking around Central European staples such as potatoes, rice and cabbage, along with meat such as pork or beef, or freshwater fish such as carp or trout, which are almost always roasted or grilled, and accompanied by light sauces and vegetables. In the Czech Republic, especially around Prague, game is also popular.

Meat

The favourite meat is pork (veprove). It is served as steaks, chops or stuffed. It also appears in goulash, hams and sausages. Dumplings, frequently in slices, may be served on the plate with pork. Don’t miss the celebrated Prague ham (Prazska sunka), a succulent, lightly smoked meat usually eaten with bread at breakfast or with horseradish as a starter in the evening. Veal, usually served by Czechs as Wiener schnitzel (smazeny rizek), is popular and good.

Beef in the region is not up to international standards, and needs to be prepared well to be edible. Most beef in top restaurants is likely to be imported. The Czech favourite is Prazska hovezi pecene, roast beef stuffed with bacon, ham, cheese, onion and eggs. When it is cooked long and slow, it can be tender and delicious. Czech lamb (jehněčí) is not the best, either, though from mid-March to mid-May good lamb is available in markets. Lambs are usually sold whole, with the head, which is used to make soup.

Game and poultry

A wide variety of game is found in the forests around Prague. In autumn you’ll find duck, pheasant, goose, boar, rabbit, venison and hare on many menus. Duck is perhaps the most popular game dish, usually roasted with fruit or sometimes chestnuts, and served with red cabbage. Small pheasants, roasted whole with juniper and blueberries or cranberries, are also popular. Venison is served grilled with mushrooms. Hare and rabbit are usually served in rich, peppery sauces. Chicken is also very popular, many restaurants roast them on a spit, known as grilované kuře.

Fish

Fish is popular too, fresh carp (kapr) is the traditional Christmas meal, usually baked and served with potato salad. Trout is often stuffed with almonds, and grilled.

Vegetables

Vegetables in the Czech Republic are excellent, if strictly seasonal. Out-of-season vegetables are starting to appear in supermarkets, however they command high prices. Cabbage is a popular vegetable, especially in winter, used raw as a salad or boiled and served with meats. Sauerkraut is ubiquitous.

Regional dishes and specialities

Knedlíky (dumplings), either savoury (spekove) in soups or sweet (ovocne) with fruits and berries, are perhaps the Czech Republic’s best-known delicacy. Once a mere side dish, they have now become a central feature of the nation’s cuisine as chefs rediscover their charms and experiment with new and different ways of cooking and serving them. Crepes (palacinky) play a similar role, and are eaten savoury as an appetiser or sweet as a dessert.

Other specialities of the region include drstkova polevka, a remarkably good tripe soup which, although an acquired taste, has seen a revival in recent years as better restaurants add it to their menus.

What to Drink

Beer is the most celebrated drink in the Czech Republic. Perhaps nowhere else in Europe is alcohol so freely available and in so many forms. You can buy it not only in late-night shops and in almost all eating places, but even, for example, in railway station kiosks and buffets; these often serve wine and spirits alongside beer. Yet the best way to enjoy a drink is to join the locals for a glass or a tankard of beer in one of the many inns known as hospoda in Czech. You could also step into a beer hall or wine bar where you can sample a wider range of drinks, and these are often accompanied by food.

Beer (Pivo)

The Czech Republic has many breweries. Normally served by the half-litre, beer is classed using the Balling scale, which measures the amount of sugar before fermentation. The most common types are dvanáctka (12 degrees) and desítka (10 degrees), dvanáctka being stronger.

The best Czech beers are considered by many to be Pilsner Urquell (Plzensky Prazdroj) and Gambrinus, both made in Plzen, Budvar from Ceske Budejovice, Staropramen from Prague, Primator from Nachod, and Lev from Hradec Kralove.

Wines

Although they are not big players in the international wine market, the Czech and Slovak Republic have a strong wine culture. Most Czech wine is grown in South Moravia, bordering Austria, but Elbe Valley also produces fine wines including the Mělník variety.

Spirits and Liqueurs

Those who like to sample stronger drinks in the Czech Republic can choose from a number of spirits, clear and flavoured. A flavoured spirit particularly worth recommending is meruňkovice, which has a delicate apricot flavour. Also popular is slivovice, a plum brandy. The best-known of the herb-flavoured spirits is Becherovka from the spa town of Karlovy Vary. Also worth trying is the slightly bitter fernet.   

Soft Drinks

A popular cola-type soft drink is Kofola. Czechs also drink a lot of mineral water, often sourced from one of the country’s 900 natural springs. The best-known local mineral water brands include Mattoni, a fizzy water from Karlovy Vary, and Dobrá.