“Dobrou chuť” is what Czechs say to each other before they begin a meal. It means “Bon appetit” or “Hope it tastes good!” Most Czechs enjoy their food very much and mealtimes are special occasions. Czech food is rich and hearty, but if you’ve never tried it, there are a few things worth knowing. The “knedlík” is the most common side dish. It is a dumpling, made of either wheat or potato flour that is boiled as a roll of dough, then cut into slices and served with gravy. Most dishes are pork, or beef, but chicken, turkey, fresh-water fish, duck, lamb and rabbit are common, too. On menus you often see the word “Medallions”: it just means a piece of meat, sliced flat, like a medal. A “spis” is like a shish-kebab, grilled meat and vegetables on a spear. “Svíčková” (pronounced sveech-kovah) is the national dish. And get ready to eat lots of potatoes.
Czechs like sugar in just about everything, it seems. Sauces, gravies, and salad dressings are uncommonly sweet. A common meal for children is noodles, with loads of sugar, ground poppy seeds and melted butter. Other flavors seem to be used very sparingly; the overall effect is, some would say, perhaps a bit bland. Spices most commonly used are: caraway, poppy, paprika and dill. Condiments are: mustard (smooth and grainy), sauerkraut, tartar sauce, horseradish and very sweet ketchup. Most dishes come with “zelí” or cabbage. Many things are marinated, so if you’re vinegar fan, you have a lot to look forward to!
Czech food is not exactly diet food. When you buy a “salad” at a deli, what you often get is a very thick mayonnaise-based dressing and small pieces of vegetables and meat. Vegetarianism is only recently catching on in Central Europe, so there aren’t many options, unfortunately. But if you like beets, turnips, carrots, onions and potatoes, you’re in luck.
If you want to sample Czech cuisine, start with “Veprove Knedliky,” your basic pork plus dumplings. Ordering “Teleci Kyta” will result in a leg of deer. “Beefsteak na Kyselo” is a steak with a sour, creamy gravy. For something zesty and hearty, you can’t go wrong with a bowl of goulash, although that’s technically Hungarian, not Czech.
A bowl of garlic soup will satisfy the flavor seeker – it’s called “Česneková Polévka.” The onion soup is good, too, and try a fish soup as well, such as “Dršťková Polévka,” or tripe. The national fish is the Carp, so try “Kapr Pečený s Kyselou Omáčkou,” which is carp with sour cream sauce. And do try the potato pancake “Bramborák” and the fried cheese “Smažený Sýr” – two excellent dishes. Meat is generally fresh and the quality is good, but it can be a bit gristly, for some tastes. It’s just that the whole cut is served, leaving the diner to remove any less desirable parts. And as for the bread – no, it’s not stale – it’s supposed to be dry and chewy. Dip it in your soup!
The national beverage is beer, but the national liquor is Becherovka, a medicinal aperitiv made of 12 herbs, and said to aid digestion. And after a meal of cream sauces and sauerkraut, you might be appreciative of that! You can try tours of both the Becher factory and Staropramen brewery, as well as a well-preserved estate brewery that’s many centuries old. It’s fun to tour the breweries and beer tastings.