Czechs nickname their capital the “mother of all cities,” the “heart of Europe,” and the “city of a hundred spires.” National pride aside, Prague—with its rich history, beauty, and, yes, countless spires—would seem to deserve its local monikers. Established in the 9th century, the city has since played a role in nearly every historic event that’s stormed over Europe. And as it graduates from its reputation as the backpacker’s Shangri-la, Prague is reinventing itself as the cultural capital of Central Europe.

Czech food, on the other hand, doesn’t invite such across-the-board compliments. Some complain it’s meat-heavy and greasy, while others rave it’s, well, meat-heavy and greasy. Those four decades of Communist dictatorship didn’t exactly encourage the use of fresh, high-quality ingredients in traditional cuisine, which has similarities to nearby Germany, Hungary, Poland, and Austria. Gastronomically speaking, Prague has long coasted by on its reputation as a paradise for beer-lovers, not foodies. But this is finally starting to change.

Health food stores are now aplenty, farmers markets are all around the city, fresh and organic produce is finding its way onto many locals’ tables, and new or renovated pubs are priding themselves on preparing Czech food the old way—with fresh ingredients, no corners cut. Best of all, more than a few traditional recipes have withstood all the political repression, economic hardship, and food-supply shortages of the past. Know what you’re looking for, and you can get excited about Czech food in Prague. —Introduction by Zuzana Boehmova

For a whirlwind tour of Prague, watch our one-minute video!