Friday, December 23, 2005

Czech food and dining

Czech Food

Menus have two sets of entrées, ready-to-serve (hotova jidla) and cooked to order (minutky). The first are generally traditional Czech dishes - meats (pork or beef) in heavy cream sauces served with dumplings (knedliky).

Side dishes of rice, potatoes or French fries are the most common and they have to be ordered separately. Every main dish is usually garnished with obloha (cucumber, tomato, lettuce, cabbage or pickles).

Ready-to-serve meals, are only available until about 4pm. The usually more expensive dinner entrées including the cooked-to-order start some time after 4pm.

Meats and yeast-dumplings dominate the national lunch table. The traditional Czech dish is knedlo, zelo, vepro (roast pork served with sauerkraut and dumplings). Other classic dishes are svickova na smetane (sliced beef sirloin served in a cream sauce with a garnish of cranberries and, of course, dumplings) or gulas (goulash served with dumplings and often garnished with onion slices).

Fish, that is considered to be a special Christmas meal, is available in any Czech restaurant all year around and pond-bred carp or trout are really worth of trying.

Czech menus offer some very tasty appetizers, such as Prague ham filled with horseradish cream, cheese plates and hot soups.

For dessert, most places serve palacinky (rolled crepes filled with either fruit or jam and topped with whipped cream and chocolate), ovocne knedliky (dumplings filled with plums or other fruit and topped with sugar, cream cheese and melted butter) or jablecny strudl (apple strudel, sometimes served with vanilla ice-cream or whipped cream).

Being a vegetarian in Prague

Although vegetarian dining was practically nonexistent until recently, it was surprisingly easy to be a vegetarian in Prague.

There are many Czech dishes for those who wish to avoid meat on every menu. Typical pub as well as good restaurant menus include smazeny syr (breaded and fried cheese served with tartar sauce and french fries). Smazeny kvetak and smazene zampiony (cauliflower and mushrooms breaded and fried served with tartar sauce) are other common deep-fried items of typical menus.

Omelettes are another great option. They are usually mixed with cheese (syrova omeleta), mushrooms (omeleta se zampiony) or peas (omeleta s hraskem). Just watch out that none of these turns up with pieces of ham in them, though.

Often the cheapest and tastiest option is knedliky s vejci (diced dumplings fried with beaten eggs and served with pickles on the side).

Salads are still the weak side of Czech dining. In many restaurants you find rajcatovy salat (tomato salad), okurkovy salat (cucumber salad) or sopsky salat (mixed fresh vegetables served with shredded sheep's cheese). But don't expect nothing fancy.

The bill

In cheaper restaurants, the waiter will leave a little slip on your table to keep a running tab. When ready to pay, just try to catch up the eye of a person with the big black wallet.

Always check over your bill. Tourists sometimes get ripped off only because they don't look at the bill.

Normal charges also include a few crowns for each slice of bread, butter, ketchup or milk. If a waiter tries to slap a 23 per cent surcharge on to your bill (it is 23 per cent VAT instituted by government), you are justified in complaining to management of the restaurant.


Tipping is not mandatory, but it's general practice to round up the bill to a reasonable amount or tip ten per cent (unless the service was awful).


The prices don't necessarily relate to atmosphere or the quality of the food. It is possible to have an excellent dinner in a mid-range restaurant; on the other hand it is easy to pay a relatively high price for an average meal close to a tourist site.

If you order from a menu without prices, ask beforehand how much the dishes will cost.

When weights (100 or 150 g) are given for fish or meat, the price quoted is for that weight. If the item served weights two or three times more than the cost will be much higher.

The number of dining places accepting credit cards is increasing every day but it's better to make sure before you order a meal.

Top ten things to see

1. Prague Castle

Prague's majestic Castle overlooks the rest of the city from a hilltop on the west bank of the Vltava River. It was founded in the 9th century, though it has been rebuilt and renovated several times over the intervening years. The castle's thick walls enclose a number of interesting sights, including the towering, Gothic St. Vitus Cathedral, which after 600 years of on-again, off-again construction was finally finished in 1929. Also within the castle walls is the Old Royal Palace, whose Vladislav Hall is the site where Czech leaders have been elected or sworn into office for centuries
2. Stare MestoStare

Mesto, or Old Town, is Prague's charming medieval district. Its centerpiece is the charming Old Town Square, surrounded by eight tall towers. Here you'll find the Old Town Hall, most famous for its astronomical clock that features an hourly performance by the figures of Christ and the Apostles; climb the building's tower to get an up-close-and-personal view of the show. Allow yourself some time to get lost amid the cobblestone streets of the Old Town and soak up the city's historic atmosphere.

3. Charles Bridge

One of the city's most popular sights is Charles Bridge, crowded with tourists, portrait artists and vendors throughout the day. (For a more intimate experience, come back in the early morning or late evening and look out over the river and the city lights.) The bridge was built in 1357 and served as the only one in Prague until 1841. It's topped with some 30 statues, as well as a monument marking the spot where St. John Nepomuk was thrown to his death after refusing to tell King Wenceslas IV the details of the adulterous queen's confession.

4. Jewish Quarter

Josefov, Prague's Jewish Quarter, is located within Stare Mesto near the Old Town Square. Prague's Jews lived here within the protection of a 12-foot wall until the late 1800's, when much of the Jewish Quarter was demolished to build a bourgeois district in its place. Then, with the advent of World War II, most of the Jews were evacuated and sent to Nazi death camps. What remains are a number of synagogues as well as the Old Jewish Cemetery, a poignant reminder of all who came before. Most of the area's attractions are looked after by Prague's Jewish Museum, so one ticket will get you into nearly all of the area's attractions. Don't miss the Pinkas Synagogue, which contains a memorial to more than 77,000 of the nation's Jews who were killed in Holocaust.

5. Mucha Museum

The Mucha Museum is dedicated to the work of Alphonse Mucha, the celebrated Art Nouveau artist best known for the publicity posters he made for actress Sarah Bernhardt. On display here are the artist's groundbreaking drawings, posters, oil paintings, sketches and more, most of them made during his time living in Paris at the turn of the 20th century. There is also a replica of the artist's Paris studio, including original furniture and memorabilia.

6. Church of Our Lady Before Tyn

A Gothic structure nestled across from the Old Town Hall in the heart of Stare Mesto, the Church of Our Lady Before Tyn is distinguished by its twin spires, which dominate the surrounding landscape. None of the original church, which dates as far back as 1135, remains; the present-day building may have been started around 1360. The church is the burial place of astronomer Tycho Brache, who died in 1601.

7. Prague Spring

Starting on May 12 of each year (the day that Czech composer Bedrich Smetana died), Prague hosts one of the world's top classical music festivals, Prague Spring. The program starts each year with the performance of Smetana's Ma vlast and ends on June 2 with Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. In between are weeks of concerts by prestigious orchestras from around Europe and the world.

8. Dancing House

In a city that lives and breathes history, Prague's Dancing House stands out as a striking example of modern architecture. Opened in 1996 and designed by American architect Frank Gehry, the Dancing House is made of two attached buildings with unusual curving lines and a dynamic, fluid shape. The Dancing House has been compared to Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire (the jutting curve of the building on the left is said to represent Ginger's skirt). The building now houses the restaurant La Perle de Prague.

9. St. Nicholas Church

St. Nicholas Church is located in the Mala Strana (or Lesser Town) district and is the city's most distinguished Baroque building, from its impressive dome and bell tower to the intricate chapels and frescos within its soaring interior. Mozart is said to have played the organ here during a visit to Prague.

10. Karlstejn Castle

Located atop a hill in Bohemia some 45 minutes by train outside of Prague, Karlstejn Castle is a fairy-tale vision. It was built in 1348 at the request of Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV, who wanted a place to store holy relics and the Empire's crown jewels. The castle's current neo-Gothic incarnation dates from the late 1800's. Inside you'll find medieval paintings, a portrait gallery and the bejeweled Chapel of the Holy Cross.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Places to eat and drink

Decent places to eat:

- Kolkovna, V Kolkovne (good Czech and world cuisine run by Pilsner Urquell group, decent service)

- Dinitz, Bilkova 12 (Jewish quarter - cool minimalist interior, excellent service, affordable; try any of the wonderful sandwiches, fresh pasta dishes & the cheesecake, out of this world!). My favourite place...

- Any of the Potrefena Husa restaurants dotted around the city offer reliable food at affordable prices, e.g. at Resslova, Andel...

- Credo, Petrska 11

- Les Moules, mussels, which are supplied fresh every morning and cooked according to original recipes

- Na Verandach, Nadrazni 84 (metro to Andel). 10 beers on draught (incl. Leffe Blond & Kriek for under 50 Kc...), reasonable Czech food at affordable prices, usually full of locals (reservations needed in evening, but lunchtime not necessary)

Some nice cafés/bars:

- Cafe Savoy, Zborovska (turn-of-century building recently renovated to past glory; good service, good breakfasts/lunch, excellent place for coffee & cake)

- Blatouch (almost next door to Kolkovna; laid-back, bookcases, friendly, mostly locals)

- V Sedmi Nebi, Zborovska 68 (upstairs is nice & chilled with sofas, friendly, good inexpensive cocktails, arty locals)

- Lokal, Gorazdova (near Karlovo Namesti; nice cafe with sofas, friendly staff, Hoegaarden on draught for peanuts, cocktails etc.)

- St Nicholas Cafe, Trziste 10 (Mala Strana). Stylish cellar cafe

- Meduza, Belgicka 17. Also lots of nice non-touristy bars & restos in this area (Vinohrady; metro to Namesti Miru)

- Hapu, Orlicka 8 (near Flora metro in Zizkov; small lounge bar with sofas, excellent cocktails)

- La Casa Blu, Kozi 15 (lively Mexican bar frequented by a nice mix of locals and expats; can get a bit too busy & smokey...)

- Back Door, Na Belidle 30 (small funky music bar/resto with good house DJs playing not too loud music, pretty good food too for little money, locals)

- Roxy, Dlouha 33 - laid-back club with cafe; - Radost FX, Belehradska 120 near IP Pavlova (club downstairs with cafe upstairs; lots of expats)


Sixteen of us are booked into the four star K + K Fenix Hotel in Prague for two nights from 24th to 26th June 2006.

This looks a good choice on a quiet street only 50 meters from the Wenceslas Square (where Mr. Vaclav Havel and his Czechs began the "Velvet Revolution" 1989 ) in the heart of the bustling commercial centre, within easy walking distance of the sights, museums, entertainment districts and the old quarter.

There are good reviews of the hotel on Trip Advisor .