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10 Iconic Czech Dishes in Prague

Laura Siciliano-Rosen June 20, 2019

Pub snacks, main dishes, sweets: Look for these 10 classic Czech dishes to eat like a born-and-raised local in Prague.

Letenské sady, a beautiful park in Prague, Czech Republic.
Letenské sady (
Letná Park) in Prague.

It’s a city that’s the “heart of Europe” and the “city of a hundred spires,” a romantic legend dripping with history and beauty. No one talks about the food in Prague though (beer, yes, but not food). Czech cuisine is, understandably so, categorized as greasy and heavy, for carnivores only. The dishes themselves weren’t so bad as the quality (and scope) of ingredients used, and the fact that under Communist rule, culinary innovation was all but squashed. Now things are different in Prague.

Not only are there imported foods galore, Michelin-starred restaurants, walking tours centered around Prague’s farmers markets (and food/beer/wine), and more than 50 other cuisines to be found in the city’s restaurant scene—but there’s also great Czech food in Prague today. Food that speaks to the country’s tumultuous history and has come out on the other side better than ever: home-style cooking with fresh ingredients and no corner-cutting. Like the “old” old days.

These traditional Czech dishes are just 10 of those we’ve sought out in Prague ourselves, and they’re all worthy of any food adventurer. We’ve noted where we found each dish for a simple reason: Ordering these dishes on any old pub menu (with a few exceptions) is still not advisable. But the good news is that the tasty ones are increasingly easier and easier to enjoy in the city today. Here's what and where to eat in Prague.
 

 

10 Quintessential and Delicious Czech Foods to Try in Prague

 


APPETIZERS


Topinky, fried bread with garlic, is a Czech pub specialty.

Topinky

Toasted garlic bread? Sign us up! These slices of dense brown bread are fried and served with raw garlic cloves, letting you add pungency to taste: Simply cut a clove in half and rub it over the crispy bread; the sharp edges grate it into a spread. It’s a humble, but perfect, snack with beer (which you are obviously drinking in Prague), and also pairs exceptionally well with tatarák, a wonderful raw minced beef (tartare) dish, and nakládaný hermelín, or pickled cheese (see below).

Where to get it: This is one of those rare dishes where pretty much any pub will do—topinky is hard to screw up! The one pictured is from Pivovarský dům (Ječná/Lípová 15, Praha 2, map), a touristy microbrewery-restaurant that’s better for snacks than a full meal. This crispy, buttery topinky was a perfect complement to a dark beer.   

Czech pickled cheese is not to be missed while in Prague! Here's where to try it.

Nakládaný hermelín
“Pickled cheese” may not sound all that appealing, but we kind of love it: The cheese, hermelín, is soft and creamy, with an edible rind—comparable to Camembert or Brie—and it’s pickled in oil, peppers, garlic, and spices like paprika and something a bit fiery. A classic Czech bar snack, it’s usually served with peppers and onions alongside dark Czech bread or topinky, above, and of course beer.

Where to get it: This nakládaný hermelín (“nahk-la-dan-ee her-mel-een”) hails from a touristy but worthwhile beerhouse, U Fleků (Křemencova 11, Praha 1, map). It’s the kind of place you have to swing by for at least one house-made brew and a small snack. There’s some history here—it’s been brewing for 500 years straight and claims to be among the oldest breweries in Prague—as well as raucous musicians and servers roaming around with trays of beer. The pickled cheese is great, served here with a few mild peppers and an entire loaf of good fresh bread.


Utopenci, pickled sausages, are a classic Czech pub snack you shouldn't miss in Prague.

Utopenci
Another worthy Czech pickled pub snack? Utopenci (“oo-toh-pen-tzi”), pickled sausages, wherein meat sticks hang out in a vinegary marinade with onion, black pepper, bay leaf, and other spices, until they are nice and piquant. You eat them cold with bread and—you guessed it—beer. The meat itself reminded us of Italian mortadella in taste and color, but the tangy, spicy flavor was all new, and highly welcome.

Where to get it: Any good pub will do, and it’s no surprise that one of our favorite places for microbrews in Prague is also a great place for utopenci when it shows up on the menu: Klášterní pivovar Strahov (Strahovské nádvoří 301, Praha 1, map), the onsite brewery and restaurant of the Strahov monastery, near the famous Prague Castle. Cheaper, though, is the utopenci at another great beer bar, Zlý časy (Čestmírova 5, Praha 4, map)—or the divey pub on your corner.

Bramborak are fried potato pancakes, an essential Czech dish to try in Prague.

Bramborák

Here’s a Czech dish everyone will love: bramborák, or potato pancakes, combining grated raw potato with seasonings, egg, and flour, fried up into golden-brown patties. It’s traditionally a greasy street snack (and can still be found on the street in some places), but bramborák (sometimes written as the diminutive bramboráčky) are pretty common as a vegetarian-friendly side dish in Prague’s restaurants.

Where to get it: On the well-groomed grounds of Břevnov Monastery—the Czech Republic’s oldest Benedictine monastery—Klášterní šenk (Markétská 1/28, Praha 6, map) has elevated classic Czech pub grub in a rustic setting: all wooden tables, stone walls, and crackling fireplace. The restaurant often has crispy, not-too-greasy bramborák on offer as an unadorned side dish or a main course, for which the pancakes are served with a meat (like smoked pork neck, or even ostrich).
 

MAIN COURSES


Vepro-knedlo-zelo in Prague, a traditional combo of roast pork, bread dumplings and stewed cabbage.

Vepřo
-knedlo-zelo
Don’t be intimidated by the long name: Vepřo-knedlo-zelo stands for roast pork (vepřová) with bread dumplings (knedlíky) and stewed cabbage (or sauerkraut; zelí), the components of a dish that’s in the top tier of classic, unmissable Czech dishes. Here’s your typical meat-and-carbs Czech plate, but when it’s done well, it can feel surprisingly light, perhaps because of the cabbage, which lends a subtle sweetness. Also, it’s a bonus that one of the three main components is a vegetable—not always the norm in the Czech Republic!

Where to get it: A staunch champion of homemade, high-quality Czech cuisine, Lokál (two locations including Dlouhá 33, Praha 1, map) is a great bet for this traditional dish, when offered on the seasonal menu. The vepřo-knedlo-zelo here paired tender pork with sweet cabbage, tasting subtly of apple, and two types of  soft knedlíky (bread and yellow potato), which were great for mopping up the wonderfully light gravy. Pair with a real-deal Czech pivo: unpasteurized pilsner straight out of the tank.

Koleno, a giant roasted pork knuckle, is a delicious and iconic Czech dish to try in Prague.

Koleno
Roast pork knee (or knuckle), pečené vepřové koleno, is an almost comically large hunk of meat that could probably feed an entire small family. It’s a rustic cut, served bone-in and often presented on a little spit or with an appropriately large serrated knife. You wouldn’t be wrong to think it’s caveman food, but it’s also delicious, typically marinated in dark beer and herbs, roasted, and served with an assortment of goodies like horseradish, pickles, and (of course) beer. Tender and juicy, crispy and fatty, koleno is a guaranteed memorable meal, and a Czech food experience you shouldn’t miss in Prague.

Where to get it: Cozy Klášterní šenk (Markétská 28/1, Praha 6, map), on the well-groomed grounds of Břevnov Monastery, is an appropriately rustic-feeling place for a giant hunk of pork knuckle, which is served here on a giant cutting board with pickles, pearl onions, peppers, shredded carrot, and cabbage, as well as a side of mustard, horseradish, and sour cherries (strangely delicious all mixed together). The pork itself is excellent, roasted to order (expect a 45-minute wait) for that perfect contrast of crispy skin and fall-off-the-bone meat. We paired ours with that side of bramborák, traditional potato pancakes (see above), which were fun to dip into the koleno’s side sauces.


Czech beef goulash from an upscale pub in Prague, one of the most iconic Czech dishes.

Guláš (Goulash)
Goulash is, of course, a Hungarian thing, but Czech guláš—a rich, slow-cooked meat-and-vegetable stew, seasoned primarily with sweet paprika—is everywhere around here (the two countries were once a part of the same empire, after all).

The difference between Czech goulash and Hungarian goulash is mostly that the former tends to be milder and beefier, with fewer vegetables; it’s sometimes made with beer, and it’s always served with those ubiquitous Czech bread dumplings (houskové knedlíky), rather than Hungary’s preferred noodles, potatoes, or sour cream. And though goulash soup is also common around here, that’s more the Hungarian style. In Prague, no meal pairs better with a pilsner than goulash! But you’ll want to find a good one first.

Where to get it: Goulash quality varies wildly by pub, and it is possible to get a less-than-stellar one (we tried a bunch before finding one we liked). One of our favorites was from Kolkovna (multiple locations including V Kolkovně 8, Praha 1, map), the original branch of a local Pilsner Urquell-affiliated chain that’s had the goal of celebrating traditional Czech food since it launched in 2001. Kolkovna restaurants may be “on the radar” (and reflect slightly higher prices accordingly), but they also do a great job with both food and beer (which you better believe is fresh, unpasteurized pilsner from the tank).

The goulash here is fork-tender beef swimming in rich gravy, with a pile of raw onions and hot peppers on top. As a bonus, you get two tasty bramboráčky (fried potato pancakes) served alongside two traditional bread dumplings as accompaniment, rather than the usual four bread dumplings.


Svickova, or beef in cream sauce with cranberries, is an iconic traditional Czech dish you can try in Prague.

Svíčková
There are Czechs who will say this is the only truly Czech dish, not borrowed or influenced by other Central European countries. For svíčková na smetaně, beef sirloin and bread dumplings are given the gravy treatment and topped with cranberry sauce (or jam), a slice of lemon, and cream. The creamy veggie-heavy gravy tends to be rich and subtly sweet, typically made with herbs and root veggies like carrots, celeriac, and parsley root. If it sounds like a bizarre combo, trust us it’s a good one, hitting sweet, tart, and savory notes. (And also remember Americans’ own love of pairing meat with cranberries!)

Where to get it: We liked the version of this dish at Sokolovna (Slezská 22/821, Praha 2, map), a handsome pub  where the svíčková was a generous serving of tender, good-quality Czech beef, tart cranberries, a dollop of cream, and a rich, sweet gravy redolent of carrots. Stirring the cream and cranberries into the sauce is advised, as is soaking everything up with those soft, spongey bread dumplings.

 

SWEETS


Palacinky, or Czech crepes, are an essential Czech sweet dessert to try in Prague, pictured here with raspberry ice cream and strawberries.

Palačinky

Palačinky are beloved sweet, thin Czech pancakes—akin to French crepes but made with a different batter and cooking method. Typically served as a sweet snack or dessert, they are often filled or topped with a combination of jam, fruit, sweet cheese, ice cream, whipped cream, and sometimes nuts. Most traditionally they are rolled up, like dainty cigars, but you’ll also see them presented in other ways, like folded into a triangle.

Where to get it: This soft, chewy palačinka—pairing Quark cheese (a sweet, fresh curd cheese) with raspberry ice cream, whipped cream, sliced strawberries, and powdered sugar—is from Kavárna Slavia (Smetanovo nábřeží 1012/2, Praha 1, map), famous historical meeting place of Prague’s intelligentsia (in case you haven’t noticed, most places have a very storied history in this city). Just across the street from the stunning National Theatre, with a beautiful reconstructed Art Deco interior and enviable position overlooking the Vltava River, Café Slavia has a long “international” menu witha handful of good Czech classics. Bonus: There are riverfront tables and live piano music most evenings, which is rare in Prague.  

Ovocne knedliky, Czech fruit and cheese dumplings, are an unmissable meal in Prague.

Ovocné knedlíky
These fruit and cheese dumplings are a longtime staple sweet dish in Czech home cooking, as evidenced by the recipe’s presence in essential Czech cookbooks for the past two centuries. Ovocné knedlíky—made from milk, butter, flour, eggs, salt, and “curd cheese” (aka dry cottage cheese)—these dumplings are typically filled with strawberries, apricots, plums, or plum jam. They taste as good as they look.

Where to get it: For fruit dumplings as close to Grandma’s as possible, we like Café Savoy (Vítězná 5, 150 00 Praha 5, map), despite the eatery’s smart, modern appearance (it’s been around since 1893, but has been thoroughly refurbished). These are filled with seasonal fruit and topped with sugar and butter. The best part? You get to choose the topping: grated curd cheese, chocolate, traditional Czech grated gingerbread, sour cream, or cinnamon with sugar (or all of the above!). The traditional, low-budget way of eating these is simply, with warm butter and curd cheese on top, but this place invites experimentation.

Pro tip: A caveat here is though we have ovocné knedlíky listed here as a dessert food, the local way to eat these is for lunch. Czechs love sweet lunch entreés for lunch and even dinner, so fruit dumplings as a main midday course makes total sense. (It usually appears on dessert menus for the benefit of tourists. Or websites who do it strictly for organizational purposes.)

Want more iconic Czech dishes? Check out our full guide to local eating in Prague.

 

Tags: Europe



 

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