Goulash, svíčková, dumplings – this is perhaps what comes to mind when we think of Czech cuisine. However, there are some dishes which stretch the bounds of what natives even find palatable. Just in time for masopust, let’s explore the more extreme side of the Czech menu:
Named for the Czech word for the @ symbol zavináč, known in English by the German name rollmops, is a variety of pickled herring. The pickling retains the herring’s flavor, so this is one for fish lovers.
However, the tastiest of the locally prepared watery denizens is smoked eel (uzený úhoř ). The meat is delicate and readily absorbs the smoky taste. Because of the lightness of the meat, it remains a less heavy alternative to many of dishes listed here.
When we think of the liver, many of us might be thinking the toll our lifestyle is having on our own. But those of pigs and poultry feature in a number of local delicacies. A paste from chicken livers called játrová zavářka is used to make liver dumplings which are added to bouillon (vývar) and give the soup some heft.
Játrový sýr (literally liver cheese) made from a number of different types of livers resembles a thick pâté. Goose liver cheese is an especially rich variant. Alternatively, you can enjoy goose liver whole served with lard for a tasty, though not especially healthy, treat.
Resembling a limp somewhat sickly sausage, jitrnice is a much prized part of the zabijačka feast. As the name suggests, jitrnice, or jaternice, is made from pig’s liver, as well as the lungs and spleen, meat from the belly and herbs and spices. A good jitrnice should be meaty and not feel like a paste. If you’ve experienced the latter, the butcher may have been too liberal with the breadcrumbs.
The trick to the jitrnice is cooking it slowly and cautiously. The lining, made from the pig’s intestines, is fragile and prone to bursting. A low heat should cook the jitrnice through and scorch the skin nicely.
The Whole Animal
Jitrnice is only one of the dishes to come from zabijačka. Its dark sinuous counterpart is the jelito or blood sausage. Apart from blood, jelito consists of liver and other organs, meat, herbs and spices and barley grain The two sausages make quite a pair on the same plate with mustard and shredded horse radish.
Sausage is not the only use for blood. It’s the main ingredient in zabijačková polévka also known as černá polévka or prdelačka. The root of the last name is perhaps obvious to many of you and its origin is apparently a joke on trdelačka.
One of the final items made from the pig is tlačenka (head cheese, brawn or salceson in English). Meat from various parts of the pig goes into the dish. It is served cold in slices with onion and vinegar and makes a great accompaniment to beer.
Seriously…the Whole Animal
Even among my most adventurous friends, dršťková or tripe soup evokes disgust. One of them compared it to eating soup made from soggy towels. Perhaps, I’m partial to soggy towels because I enjoy a steaming bowl of tripe soup, especially if it’s spicy.
A much heartier prospect (if you’ll pardon yet another pun) is goulash from duck hearts. Thicker and richer than the usual meat variety, this dish makes for a more interesting variant on a popular local dish. It goes especially well topped with raw onion and bread instead of dumplings on the side.
Knowing One’s Limits
Though I’ll eat most things, there are a few items I can’t stomach. The first is škvarky, which is basically Czech crackling. The fat of the pig is deep fried in more fat?! My arteries are seizing up as I write.
My aversion to olomoucké syrečky is more for olfactory reasons. The smell is just too strong. However, connoisseurs of the cheese claim it goes well with beer. You’ll just have to trust them on that.