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Food in Prague

The Czechs are certainly better known for their output of Pilsner-style lagers than for having a world-renowned cuisine. However, thanks to 20-plus years of innovation and cultivation, Czech cuisine is well on its way to coming full circle after being stifled under communism for four decades. Because of the Czech Republic’s convenient location right in the heart of Europe, its traditional foods are a melting pot of Central European influences, borrowing and expanding upon dishes from Hungary and Austria, for example.

Goulash by roolroolFittingly, Czech cuisine is the perfect accompaniment to a cold, golden pint, and many of the city’s best places to get a freshly poured beer are also ideal for sampling the local dishes. It’s heavy on meat (particularly pork, beef, duck and rabbit), cabbage and dumplings, as well as potatoes in various guises and a host of cheeses that range from innocuous to the incredibly potent. The most common dishes you’re likely to see are goulash (guláš), beef tenderloin in cream sauce (svíčková na smetaně), roast duck with cabbage (kachna s zelím a bramborovým knedlíkem), and fried cheese, usually eidam (smažený sýr) served with tartar sauce.

For the vegetarians, however, options at traditional Czech restaurants and beer halls are a bit limited, with the likes of fried cheese, fried mushrooms or cauliflower, or a pasta dish. More and more places though are offering salads and vegetable soups, and there’s a host of international restaurants in the city centre that cater to more varied tastes.

Lunchtime bargains

For Czechs, the most important, and largest, meal of the day is lunch. This is good news for travellers, too, as most restaurants – across all cuisines and price ranges – offer daily specials at lunchtime, most commonly between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., catering to local businesspeople and visitors alike. The lunch special usually consists of a soup, a choice from several entrées and a dessert, and costs between 80 Kc and 150 Kc at most places. There’s even an entire website devoted to listing each day’s lunch specials, by city and neighbourhood (www.lunchtime.cz), which includes an English version.

Dinner, or the regular menu, is usually available once the lunch menu stops. Bear in mind that at some restaurants, it’s not possible to order from the regular menu while the lunch specials are on. Most places serve food until 10pm, depending on the specific hours.

Refuelling for beer

Prague food by Francesco CrippaMost pubs and Czech restaurants will also serve beer snacks, perfect for a light bite and made to complement the pivo. These range from goulash soup served in a hollowed-out bread loaf to pickled Hermelin cheese (nakládaný hermelín, a round similar to Camembert, and steeped in olive oil and herbs until soft and spreadable) to a variety of variety of sausages. For the brave, there’s also the mind-blowingly potent Olomouc cheese (olomoucké tvarůžky) - just be prepared for the tables around you to clear out in its wake!

Chlebíčky are open-topped sandwiches that are popular as snacks or a small meal. Oval slices of white bread are topped with any combination of ham, cheese, hard-boiled egg, tomato, bell peppers and potato salad, and usually cost between 15 Kc and 35 Kc a pop. You can find these at several notable cafés around town, such as in Café Lucerna just off Wenceslas Square. The best way to sample them is standing with the locals at a deli (lahůdky) - try the sprawling Jan Paukert deli at Národní 17, just steps from the National Theatre. Jan Paukert also sells dried salamis and sausages as well as pâtés, pickled fishes and cakes, among other things.

Speaking of cakes, it’s worth noting that Czechs have an incredible sweet tooth. Look out for the numerous confectionary shops (cukrárny), where you can tuck into a cream-filled layered cake or a towering ice-cream sundae. In the city centre there’s Ovocný Světozor, close to Wenceslas Square at Vodičkova 39 (inside the Světozor passage), which also sells chlebíčky and small sandwiches. Cukrárna Myšák is just a few doors down and has a range of fanciful sugar-plum concoctions in a gilded setting.

The restaurants we recommend

For full-on hearty fare, you’ll find plenty of places to sample Czech food throughout Old Town, New Town, the Lesser Town and beyond, with options for any budget. Beware of the pricing of places located right on Old Town Square or near Charles Bridge or Prague Castle - there are numerous tourist traps in these hotspots that will overcharge.

The chain of Lokál restaurants, which has three outlets citywide, including one in Old Town and one in Lesser Town, is an ideal place to start. The restaurant focuses on a Slow Food approach to traditional Czech recipes, as well as freshly poured Pilsner Urquell straight from the copper tank.

Cafe Louvre by LWYCafé Louvre is also a must-visit, as the storied coffeehouse has been around for more than 100 years and still serves up a satisfying variety of local and international dishes, as well as some of the best coffee and cakes around. All set in a beautifully vaulted, classy interior that has stood the test of time.

For beer snacks and some pretty fine beer, check out UTřírůží in the maze of cobbled alleyways of the Old Town. The microbrewery, which opened in 2012 but has brewing history on the site dating back more than 500 years, pours an interesting range of well-crafted beers and serves a killer goulash soup and duck pâté, among other items.

If it’s an unforgettable meal that you’re looking for, you won’t regret shelling out the big crowns at La Degustation Boheme Bourgeois, which has a Michelin star. Be prepared to spend several hours there, too, as there’s no a la carte options, just a 7-course tasting menu that pays homage to Czech recipes from several centuries ago.

A note about tipping: it’s customary to leave a tip of 10% to 15% for meals. Instead of leaving the cash for a tip on the table, however, most places prefer you to hand it directly to the waiter upon paying or to state the amount, including the tip, that you would like to pay.


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