If you're a twenty-something traveller then you've no doubt heard of Prague's festive pub crawls and guaranteed photo ops at the Charles Bridge, John Lennon Wall, and the dreamy Old Town Square. You may have even heard of the Baroque style Prague Castle sitting atop a lofty hill overlooking pastel coloured houses, twisted cobblestoned paths and the Vlatava river. Yet what truly captured my heart during my travels was Prague's undeniable charm, toy town architecture and mean cuisine.
Mere minutes after arriving at the train station, we began to scope out locations to eat by our Air BnB. Amidst all the British Costa Coffee's and convenience stores lay authentic Czech restaurants promising meaty, carb-laden food.
Guláš and Knedlíky
Amongst Prague's must-haves is the Beef Goulash. This tender meat stew is topped with generous portions of gravy and served with knedlíky or bread dumplings on the side. The bread dumplings are a versatile dish in itself, often served as a dessert and stuffed with sweet fillings such as fruit or jam. Similar to the schnitzel, the goulash shares its roots across the former Austro-Hungarian Empire. However unlike the Hungarian goulash, the Czech guláš is prepared with fewer vegetables, a thicker stew and greater portions of meat. Chicken and pork are favourite alternatives to the beef classic and the paprika is often substituted by a sweeter, zestier tomato paste.
The goulash is fondly known to be a safe bet - something you can rely on at any Czech restaurant.
While Prague remains a meat lover's dream, it is a rather different experience for vegetarians. My travelling companions resorted to ordering servings of smažený sýr, a deep-fried cheese dish served with fries, salad and a bread roll on the side. Slices of breaded and fried Eidam cheese make for a rich, creamy and comforting treat. Yet it goes to show the plight of the vegetarians when one of Prague's popular vegetarian dishes fails to plate next to no vegetables on the dish. Regardless, it was utterly delicious as one would expect of something pan-fried in butter. Modern twists of the dish often serve an assortment of cheeses in a brioche bun with pickles and tartare sauce on the side.
Along with the guláš we ordered the vepřo-knedlo-zelov: a plate of roast pork, bread dumplings, and stewed cabbage. If it were not fried, this dish could pass off as healthy and fibrous. The cabbage offered a nice balance between the meat and dumplings.
You would think that after such hearty meals we wouldn't eat for hours and yet grabbing a decadent dessert from one of the numerous bakeries was far too tempting. One of the most popular treats is the Kremrole, a roll-shaped pastry filled with soft meringue or chantilly cream that is sweet and ever so flavourful. A bit reminiscent of the cannoli, the crispy Kremrole is then dusted with powdered sugar.
However we opted for the trdelník or chimney cakes lined with thick sauces and filled with scoops of ice cream. Although it is of Transylvanian origin, the hollow pastries have now become common street food in several Central European countries such as Hungary, Austria, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic. Rolled dough is wrapped around a stick and roasted over an open flame in a cylindrical spit. Once golden brown and crispy on the outside, the tender and gooey center is lathered with flavoured spreads such as white or dark chocolate, caramel and Nutella. The hot dough is then brushed with butter and topped with a cinnamon-sugar and nut mixture. We couldn't resist savouring these treats as we walked across the Old Town Square, watching the show at the Astronomical clock and the street artists and vendors around the open spaces.
Pictured here is a white chocolate filled cone with pistachio and vanilla bean ice cream and a dark chocolate filled cone with chocolate and coffee ice cream. Indulging in these meant rubbing elbows with multiple tourists. The square was packed with groups from guided tours and locals enjoying the good weather whilst people watching.
Both tourists and locals alike seemed to be enjoying the food from the street vendors at the Square that consisted of grilled sausages tucked into a roll and served with a variety of sauces. Later that very day we ordered the same meal, accompanied with an assortment of Czech cheeses and meat for dinner.
We began the next morning with brunch at Cafe Louvre. An establishment that has been in business since 1902, Cafe Louvre has welcomed famous thinkers such as Albert Einstein and Franz Kafka. Although the business hit a brief pause in 1948 due to a communist coup, with all of its interior fixtures being thrown out the window onto the street below, the cafe has long served as an office for local writers, philosophers, and students.
I began my morning with Cafe Louvre's take on the Beef Goulash and a croissant stuffed with scrambled eggs. However what really won me over was their homemade pancakes with raspberry stew, sour cream and mint. The three bouncy pancakes were served on a bath of raspberry and the mint and sour cream acted as a palette cleanser. Our incredible meal gave us the sustenance to brave through the crowds of Charles Bridge. We took our time to meander across the bridge, stopping to admire the handmade jewelry and took photos by the statues across the north and south ledges.
Once again we were encountered by rows of street vendors selling delicious food. It truly was inescapable and I couldn't help capturing this vibrant fruit vendor's storefront. They sold spiralled potatoes on skewers that were fried golden and crispy. Often the chips were served in paper cones and yet the ones speared on the skewers were more fun to eat and more convenient to carry.
They proved to be a refreshing snack after climbing lengthy walkways and a multitude of stairs to St.Vitus' cathedral. One could see the Vlatava river from our vantage point. This sight was a faint reminder of our boat cruise the day before where we'd lazily sipped on Aperols, not a care in the world. Our carefree giggles were juxtaposed by the sombre attitude of the tired tourists that had just had a long day filled with historical tours of Prague's Jewish districts and highlights of its communist era. Prague - while we thoroughly enjoyed your food, our short stay did not do justice to your history. Reminiscing about this trip has allowed me to immerse myself into its history, making the sights we saw more pertinent and thoroughly appreciate the culture.