spa wafers - wafers from mariánské lázně and karlovy vary major spa towns in western bohemia, better known by their german names of marienbad and karlsbad are meant to be eaten while "taking the waters" at a spa, but they're good on their own, too. other major spas are karlova studánka favourite destination of václav havel - former czechoslovak president, františkovy lázně, jánské lázně, karviná, and luhačovice. you will find them most easily not only in spa resorts but also in prague. have them either out of the box on your own or heated and iced with sugar, cinnamon, etc..
fruit dumplings - fruit-stuffed dumplings served either as main course or a filling dessert. the smaller ones tvarohové, of curd come with plum, apple or apricot filling, the bigger ones kynuté, of yeast come with strawberries, blueberries, povidla plum jam or other fruits. knedlíky are served with melted butter, iced with curd and sugar, and topped with whipped cream.
Try also the wide variety of rich cream cakes usually found in a Kavárna cafe or a Cukrárna sweet shop. Czech cakes are similar to their Viennese cousins due to the shared history of both countries under the Austro-Hungarian empire. Sample also Vídeňská káva Viennese coffee, coffee served with a mountain of whipped cream.
Rather popular flat tarts topped with various sweet fillings like tvaroh, povidla, mák, fruit jams, chopped apples and nuts. their size ranges from bite-sized svatební koláčky, lit. little wedding cakes to pizza-sized, which often contain several fillings combined into an elaborate pattern chodský koláč or frgál.
beer cheese - a soft cheese with a strong, cheddar-like flavour. you should add a splash of beer to the cheese, and then mash it all together and serve it on traditional czech bread - šumava named after bohemian forest region is the most common bread, a very tasty dense loaf made from rye and carroway seeds.
small curd pieces or syrečky small cheese pieces - traditional cheese with a very strong aroma, and very much an aquired taste. often served deep-fried but if you can handle the smell, it can be eaten alone, just with some chopped onion, mustard and bread. sometimes also marinated in beer syrečky v pivu. this cheese naturaly contains almost no fat less than 1%. also can be served as pivní pes lit. beer dog - a plate of cheese on butter bread, with slice of onion, hot pepper and mustard.
If you want a warm, bigger, and more complicated meal which goes excellently with beer, get some of the typical Czech meals based on fatty meat pork, duck, or goose with sauerkraut and knedlíky dumplings. Another excellent option is a whole pork knee with horseradish and bread ovarové koleno s křenem or simply ovar.
Tipping is a standard 10%, and is not normally added to the bill. Don't be confused by the percentage figures listed at the bottom of the bill, by Czech law, a receipt must show the VAT paid 21% in most cases and the VAT is already included in the final amount, and you should add about 10% to this or more if you were really satisfied. It is normal practice to give the waiter the tip before you leave the table. Tip is not obligatory so if you weren't satisfied with services offered, don't bother tipping.
In a vast majority of better restaurants located in major cities you can pay by credit card EC/MC, VISA but don't be surprised if a few will not accept them. Make sure to check the door for respective card logos when entering the restaurant or ask the waiter before ordering. Beware that as in the rest of Europe, displaying the card logo means the restaurant accepts chip+PIN cards but still may refuse stripe-only cards.
Czechs sometimes use special meal tickets stravenky to pay in some restaurants, these are subsided by and tax-deductible for employers. You won't get these tickets unless you get a job in the Czech Republic, just don't be surprised when you see them.
meals you usually do not get in a restaurant
Generally, probably the best place to really try the Czech cuisine is to be invited for such a meal to somebody's home. However, it is not so easy because people today tend to prepare simpler and more international foods. Traditional Czech cuisine is often reserved to Sundays or some holidays or prepared by old grandma when her children visit her. This is not a rule but it is a common situation. In common restaurants, even the better ones, the traditional Czech food usually does not match what the old grandma serves. This does not mean that the food is bad or not tasty but it is missing something that the home preparation can provide. In luxurious restaurants specialized in Czech cuisine, the food can be excellent but the luxurious style and creative improvements by the chef often do not match the style of the traditional folk cuisine. Again, this is not a hard rule. Sometimes you can compliment the food in a restaurant that is is "like my grandma makes."
There are some dishes that are usually not served in any restaurants or pubs but are made at home and worth trying if you have the opportunity. Brambory na loupačku potatoes to be peeled is a cheap and simple meal usually made in the countryside. Whole unpeeled potatoes are boiled in a big pot and put in the pot itself or a bowl on the table. You just take a hot potato from the pot, peel it yourself, put some salt, butter, and/or curd tvaroh on it and eat it. Drink it down with lot of cold milk. For such a simply meal it can be incredibly tasty, especially when eaten in the countryside after a day spent outside and chatting over it.
Picking mushrooms in forests is a very popular activity in the Czech Republic. Probably not surprisingly, collected mushrooms are eaten then. In restaurants, usually only cultivated mushrooms are used. If forest mushrooms are served in a restaurant, then usually only as a minor addition to a meal. Homemade mushroom meals are a completely different story. A classic example is smaženice lit. fried dish, also known as míchanice lit. mixed dish - forest mushrooms, the more kinds the better, are sliced to small pieces, mixed and stewed with some fat, onion, and caraway. Later, eggs are added to the mixture. Smaženice is served with bread. Smažené bedly are whole caps of parasol mushrooms coated in breadcrumbs and cumin and fried. Černý kuba lit. black Jimmy is a traditional Christmas fasting meal made from dried mushrooms and peeled barley. Houbová omáčka mushroom sauce, served with meat and bread dumplings is also popular. Fresh or dried mushrooms make also a nice addition to bramboračka s houbami potato soup with mushrooms. Kulajda is a soup from mushrooms and cream. Soups and sauces are the most likely forest mushroom meals to find in a restaurant, because they contain relatively small amount of mushrooms.
If you want to pick mushrooms by yourself, be careful. There are hundreds of species, some of them very tasty, some merely edible but some poisonous or even deadly. You can also find psylocibes which are hallucinogenic although it is very hard to guess safe dosage and therefore dangerous. A tasty and edible species may look very similar to bitter or deadly species. If you do not know mushrooms very well, you should be accompanied by an experienced mushroom-picker.
Finding a vegetarian meal in the Czech Republic is not as difficult now as it once was. In tourist areas at least, such as Prague and the Bohemian Paradise, most restaurant menus contain a vegetarian meals category bezmasá jídla or vegetariánská jídla with two or three options. People may have their own interpretation of 'vegetarian' though, and it is not uncommon to find dishes such as broccoli bacon or prawns listed under "vegetarian meals".
In traditional restaurants the choice in vegetarian food is usually limited to fried cheese although sometimes containing ham or salami, dumplings knedlíky, omelette, potatoes boiled, baked, fried or as 'potato pancakes' and sometimes a Greek salad or cooked vegetables. Be advised that vegetables practically always have to be ordered separately, even if they appear to be part of the dish: e.g. the vegetables listed in a menu option called "potato pancakes with vegetables" are most likely a garniture consisting of a few leaves of lettuce and a slice of tomato.
Bigger towns have foreign cuisine restaurants, mostly Italian and Chinese, which can serve you meat-free dishes such as vegetarian pasta.
traditional local food
Traditional Czech food is hearty and suitable after a hard day in the fields. It is heavy and quite fatty, and is excellent in the winter. In the recent time there was a tendency towards more light food with more vegetables, now the traditional heavy and fatty Czech food is usually not eaten everyday and some people avoid it entirely. However nothing goes as well with the excellent Czech beer as some of the best examples of the traditional Czech cuisine, like pork, duck, or goose with knedlíky dumplings and sauerkraut.
A traditional main meal of a day usually lunch consists of two or three dishes. The first dish is hot soup polévka. The second dish is the most important part, very often based on some meat and side-dish both served on the same plate. The third, optional part is either something sweet and coffee or small vegetable salad or something similar.
Czech cuisine knows many different kinds of soup polévka. The most common are bramboračka - potato soup sometimes with forest mushrooms, hovězí vývar - clear beef soup sometimes s játrovými knedlíčky - with liver dumplings, gulášovka - thick goulash soup, zelňačka - thick and sour cabbage soup, česnečka strong garlic soup, very healthy and tasty, but do not eat this before kissing, kulajda - thick soup with forest mushrooms and milk, hrášková polévka made of young green peas, čočková polévka made of lentils, fazolačka made of beans, rajská polévka - tomato soup, and many others. A special case not to everyone's tastes is dršťková polévka tripe soup. Rybí polévka - thick fish soup made of carps including its head, some innards, roe and sperm is the traditional soup of the Christmas Dinner.
Some soups are eaten with bread, sometimes small croutons are put inside the soup just before eating. Soup can be also eaten as the only dish, especially for a smaller dinner.
The second dish main course, hlavní jídlo of a meal is in the traditional cuisine often the famous heavy and fatty part, very often based on pork but also beef, chicken, duck, or other meat. Important part of most main courses is side-dish the whole dish including the side-dish is served on one plate which are usually boiled or baked potatoes, fries, rice, pasta or the most typical side-dish of the Czech cuisine - knedlíky.
Knedlíky usually translated as dumplings come in many different kinds. Most kinds are used as side-dish, however some kinds with filling are used as dish by itself. The most common type, always used as side-dish, are houskové knedlíky bread dumplings. These are boiled in a shape of a cylinder which is then cut into round slices about 8 cm in diameter remotely resembling white bread. Houskové knedlíky are served with Czech classics such as guláš, similar to Hungarian goulash but with a thinner sauce and less spicy; Svíčková na smetaně, beef sirloin with a creamy root vegetable carrot, celeriac, parsnip sauce, served with a tablespoon of cranberry sauce, a slice of orange and whipped cream; Vepřová pečeně se zelím a knedlíkem colloquially Vepřo-knedlo-zelo, the combination of roast pork, knedlíky and sauerkraut. The latter combines very well with the world-famous Czech beer, the major brands being Pilsner Urquell, Gambrinus, Budvar known as Czechvar in the US, Staropramen, Velkopopovický Kozel and Krušovice. If you are lucky enough to enter a pub serving Svijany, you should definitely order it as it is believed to be one of the most delicious brands worldwide.
Another common kind is bramborové knedlíky potato dumplings, the slices are smaller, more yellow in color, and are also always served as a side-dish. A typical combination is roasted meet pork or lamb for example with spinach and bramborové knedlíky or duck with sauerkraut and bramborové knedlíky or combination of bramborové and houskové knedlíky. Less common are chlupaté knedlíky lit. hairy dumplings but there are no hairs, don't panic which are not sliced but boiled in shape of balls. They are also usually served with roasted meat and either sauerkraut or spinach.
Other Czech dishes include pečená kachna, roast duck again served with bread or potato dumplings, and red and white sauerkraut; moravský vrabec lit. Moravian sparrow which is in fact pork cooked in garlic and onions; smažený kapr, fried carp breaded and served with a very rich potato salad and eaten on Christmas Eve; pečené vepřové koleno, roast pork knee, served with mustard and fresh horseradish; bramborák, garlicky potato pancakes; smažený sýr, breaded deep-fried Eidam Edammer; the most popular cheese in the Czech Republic served with boiled potatoes or french fries and tartar sauce; párek v rohlíku, long, thin hot dogs with crusty rolls and mustard or ketchup. If you must, you can always get hranolky - french fries. And of course, the ubiquitous zelí raw cabbage or sauerkraut which is served with absolutely everything. Game is also very good, and includes dishes such as kančí, wild boar, bažant, pheasant, and srnčí, jelení or daňčí, all species of deer. These are almost always served either with dumplings and red and white cabbage, or as guláš.
Don't expect a wide selection of zelenina, vegetables, unless in the countryside - peppers, tomatoes and cabbage are the most commonly-seen side dishes, often served as a small garnish.
Visitors may be surprised when they find "American potatoes" in the menu. These are actually potato wedges, usually spiced.