From delectable ethnic eats to high-end restaurants, Prague is teeming with exciting dining options. Jacy Meyer tastes her way around the Czech capital and finds local dishes and venues that are sure to satisfy any palate.
Food is the great equalizer – everyone eats. When visiting a new country, curious travellers seek out opportunities to try the local cuisine but touristy restaurants and language barriers often make finding an authentic meal a bit of challenge. The Czech Republic is no different, but when visiting Prague it is possible to enjoy their gastronomic specialities.
First, though, what should you be looking for? The Czech menu is similar in some ways to its Central European neighbours – a bit heavy and usually consisting of a meat (pork is typical) potatoes or dumplings with a sauce, and perhaps a vegetable (often cabbage.) Nearly all meals are, not surprisingly, the perfect accompaniment to Czech beer.
One of the country’s most popular dishes is svíčková na smetaně, knedlík. This is a thin slice of beef covered in a vegetable cream sauce with a side of bread dumplings. Another staple of Czech menus is vepřová pečeně, knedlík, zelí. A piece of roast pork is accompanied by cabbage and bread dumplings. It’s more commonly ordered by its nickname: vepřo-knedlo-zelo. The Czech version of schnitzel (smažený řízek) comes in either pork or chicken and another popular pub food is smažený sýr, a thick slab of fried cheese typically ordered with tartar sauce and a side of chips. Roast duck (pečená kachna) is a Czech speciality and you’ll often find beef goulash on many menus. This is not like the Hungarian version, but offers a thicker sauce, chunks of beef and dumplings on the side.
Soup (polévka) is very popular in the Czech Republic – some favourites to look out for include potato (bramboračka) and garlic (česnečka.) Sides are often ordered separately from the main dish. Potato products feature heavily, including boiled, fried, roasted, and potato pancakes. Dumplings are typically made from bread, but on occasion you’ll find potato ones offered. If you order something with a sauce, the dumplings make a good accompaniment.
So where should you go to experience some of these culinary delights? There is no shortage of restaurants in the capital city – which means it is easy to find a not-so-great restaurant. Typically avoid the main streets; their cooking and service is likely to be below expectations.
For typical ‘pub grub’ but on a higher level and with fresh tank beer – head to Lokál (two locations: Míšeňská 12, Prague 1 and Dlouhá 33, Prague 1). They offer a pub atmosphere (long, shared tables, wooden chairs) and a menu consisting solely of old-fashioned pub food, but using quality ingredients and prepared by experts.
It may look like a touristy place – and probably is – but the food and service, not to mention the décor is great. Plzeňská (Náměstí Republiky 5, Prague 1) is an Art Nouveau dream located in the basement of the Municipal House. The menu is as big as the dining space – you can enjoy all sorts of feasts here, including Bohemian duck, pork medallions and roasted pork neck. They often have music in the evenings which creates a fun atmosphere.
Beautifully presented Czech, and international food, can be found at Rotisserie (Mikulandská 6, Prague 1) a lovely restaurant whose food tastes as good as it looks. Fresh fish, like crap and trout are raised in the Czech Republic and Rotisserie offers both – the carp fillets are simply prepared with butter, garlic, cumin and red onions, while you can enjoy a delicious fillet of perch in white wine and vegetable cream sauce.
Duck lovers should seek out U Modré Kachničky (Nebovidská 6, Prague 1) although you may be a bit overwhelmed with the choice. The normal menu has eight different duck dishes on offer, and with regular specials, the indecisive may be in trouble. Will you go for flambéed duck breast spiked with dried apricots, red wine and green pepper sauce or the duck with walnut stuffing, red and white cabbage and potato dumplings? Ask your server for a recommendation. Game as well as traditional Czech dishes and a degustation meal are also on offer. The salon interior and live piano music adds to a 1930s ambiance.
For the crème de la crème of Czech cuisine, make a reservation at La Degustation (Haštalská 18, Prague 1) Here you’ll be treated to a special Czech menu, reinterpreted for today. That means fresh, often local ingredients, a lighter cooking style and new experiments with flavour and texture. Choose from a set menu of six or nine dishes, with or without wine, and you’ll be forever spoiled for any other Czech cooking.
Having a meat and dumpling overdose? Prague’s culinary repertoire extends to a variety of ethnic restaurants, including Italian, Indian, Asian, French and more. Vegetarians do need to be mindful – if you are looking for someplace without meat, try Maitrea (Týnská ulička 6, Prague 1) This beautiful restaurant serves only vegetarian and vegan fare, making it a welcome change of pace. You can still stick to Czech specialities; Maitrea offers a marinated roasted vegetarian ‘no-duck’ breast with fried onions and an Old Bohemian plate – red beet cakes, sauerkraut, polenta dumplings and smoked tofu ‘bacon’ sautéed with onions.
Being open to point, smile and order the unknown menu item will make for a culinary adventure in Prague. And even if your choice wasn’t your cup of tea, hopefully the pint of beer you ordered with it will go down nicely.