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Czech Cuisine

Overview

Over the course of the centuries, Czech cuisine has been exposed to influences from its neighboring countries.  As a result, the Austrian, Hungarian, Czech and German cuisines feature a number of common dishes.  These include, for example, goulash, Wiener schnitzel and gnocchi.

Traditional Czech cuisine is distinguished by a large variety of dishes, and an impressive array of flavors.  It also features the wide use of lean and fat-streaked pork, along with a rich choice of meals and side dishes prepared from flour.  A most prominent dish made from flour is dumplings, a unique phenomenon of Czech cuisine.

At one time, dumplings formed the basic component of Czech fare, as they were served with a variety of tasty sauces to satisfy the hunger of hard-working peasants, who only enjoyed meat during holidays.  In addition, Czech creativity has contributed to the development of a variety of dishes prepared from potatoes.  Sauces play quite the role in  Czech cooking, as they form a vital part of meals, especially in combination with meat and the aforementioned dumplings.  Another characteristic feature of Czech cuisine is the widespread use of cabbage (sauerkraut).  Prepared in several ways, cabbage is served warm as a side dish to a large number of meals.

The dietary habits of the Czechs do not differ largely from the inhabitants of other European countries.  The day begins with breakfast consisting of coffee or tea and bread, morning rolls with butter, jam and honey, and accompanied with cold meat, sliced ham or salami, and eggs Breakfast is followed by mid-morning snacks consisting of warm or cold smoked meat, hot soup, a small warm dish, or a homemade sandwich.  Other popular items include special, open-face sandwiches.  This Czech specialty can be found in local deli shops.  Lunch, which is generally served around noon,  consists of soup, a main course and a dessert.  However, dessert is gradually being replaced by fruit or salads.  The trend is for the Czech people to take their mid-day meals in restaurants or fast-food establishments, especially in cities where fast food places are very prominent.  Dinner, usually consisting of one warm course or small cold hors d'oeuvre, is served in the early or late evening, depending on the family preferences.  Popular starters are boiled Prague ham and smoked tongue.  Dinner mostly consists of pork or beef with sauce and a side dish, the most common being dumplings.  Goulash is the most popular choice on the menu of the majority of local restaurants.  Having originated in Hungary, goulash has acquired a special place in the hearts of the Czech people.

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SOUPS

Traditional DishSoups, which are served primarily as the first course, form a traditional and indispensable part of the luncheon menu, as is reflected in a wide variety of thick broths.  Beef or chicken bouillon - with noodles, rice or vegetables seasoned with salt and delicate spices form a standard choice in most restaurants.  There are also specialty soups such as bouillon with delicious little liver dumplings, called játrové knedlícky, a special ingredient seasoned mildly with marjoram, garlic and pepper. Garlic soup (cesnecka) is one of the most popular dishes for two reasons.  Firstly, it is often used as an aid to recovery in a morning following an overindulgence in food and drinking.  It is also very easy to prepare.  Thick soups prepared from meat and vegetables are often served as part of mid-morning snacks.  Potato soup (bramborová polévka), a typical national dish with special family variations are seasoned with marjoram and sometimes pepper or caraway seeds which gives this dish its unique characteristics.  In general, restaurants in the Czech Republic will offer two or three kinds of soup.  Soups will appear on the menu under the category called "Polévky",

MOST POPULAR SOUPS

soup
  • Hovezí polévka or Bujón, It will be a clear beef soup and may have an addition of noodles (hovezi s nudlem) or small meat balls.
  • Gulášová polévka or Gulášovka, a thick gulash soup that contains pieces of ham and sausage, onions and peppers.
  • Bramborová polévka or Bramboracka, a thick potato soup with green vegetables and mushrooms. This soup is popular mostly in winter.
  • Boršc, a left over from Russian times, this soup is similar to goulash soup with heavy use of cabbage and sausage.
  • Cesneková polévka or Cesnecka, Garlic soup.
  • Kurecí polévka s nudlemi, Chicken noodle soup.
  • Hovezí polévka s játrovými knedlícky, Beef soup with liver dumplings.
  • Zelná polévka or Zelnacka, Sauerkraut soup.
  • Koprová polévka or koprovka, Dill soup, made from sour milk.

breadBread is usually served with soup and in some places is free but, in others you will be charged a small amount for a slice or a long roll. If you have to ask for bread, say "mate rohliky prosim" (maatay-rohh-leeky) Do you have bread rolls?

 

POPULAR STARTERS

  • Tlacenka s otcem a cibuli Šunková rolka se šlehackou a krenem - A roll of ham with cream and horseradish sauce
  • Topinky (se sýrem) - Fried garlic bread with cheese
  • Tlacenka s octem a cibulí - Brawn with vinegar and onions
  • Smažené žampióny - Fried mushrooms

GAME

Game is ranked very highly as a delicacy of Czech and Moravian cuisines.  Game meat has a distinctive flavor and specific aroma derived from aromatic plants from which the wild animals feed.  Game meat is boiled, steamed, or roasted.  It is served with piquant sauces and a variety of garnishes.  Roast leg of venison or shoulder (pecená srncí kýta or hrbet) can be with or without a cream sauce.

FISH

CarpTrout

Fresh water fish are ranked highly among the specialty dishes of the southern parts of Bohemia and Moravia.  In modern restaurants, you will most probably find carp (kapr), a fresh water fish which has earned fame abroad for south Bohemian lakes as long ago as the Middle Ages.  Carp is commonly served as fried fillets (smažený kapr), but baked carp (pecený) with caraway seeds or garlic might be considered equally appetizing.  Another popular method of preparation is to serve carp prepared with vegetables or mushrooms.  A fresh fish distinguished by its rich, juicy meat, carp is a popular alternative year round.  Carp is also a vital part of the traditional Christmas Eve dinner, being served as fried fillets, or with a sweet, spicy black sauce. Trout (pstruh) - another fish which occurs in the local waters, is also common.  Restaurant menus usually feature trout baked à la miller (dipped in flour), with caraway seeds, almonds or boiled and served in aspic (varený na modro).

Generally, a Czech restaurant will format as listed below:

  • MenuPředkrmy - Starters both hot and cold
  • Polévky - Soup
  • Drůbež - Meals based on poultry
  • Speciality - House food recommendations
  • Hotová jídla - Ready made food served quickly
  • Minutky - Available meals but, must be prepared and will result in waiting
  • Ryby - Fish
  • Saláty - Salads
  • Přílohy - Vegetable/Accompaniments (Chips, Sauces etc)

Alternatively you may find:Moucniky

  • Bezmasá jídla - Vegetarian
  • Moučníky - Dessert
  • Dětské Menu - Childrens' Menu
  • Denní Menu - Daily fixed lunch menu, maybe two or three courses with drink NOT included.

TIP - If you order similar Czech food such as all beef or all pork dishes, you will find the service much quicker than if you order a range of different meats. All meals will wait for the slowest one to be prepared.

Knedlíky or dumplings are the Czech side dish made from wheat or potato flour and boiled in water as a roll and then sliced and served hot.

Guláš (pronounced as “goulash“) Goulash (guláš in Czech) is a common dish in pubs. This dish encompasses a large variety of types, though the most common will be large pieces of beef in a thick, mildly spicy sauce.  It is generally served with raw sliced onion and horse radish. (Though the Czech and English versions get their name from the Hungarian gulyás, this is more of a soup. The Czech version is closer to the Hungarian pörkölt.)  A variant on this is pikantní guláš, which as the name suggests is spicy, though not really hot.  Segedínský guláš contains pork, instead of beef, and cabbage.

Hovezi GulasHovězí guláš - beef goulash - This classic Czech food is served with sliced bread (houskovy) dumplings. The meat is usually garnished with fresh onions and peppers.

 

Vepřový guláš (vepr-oh-vay) - pork goulash is a Czech food staple and is described the   same as above but with pork meat.

Veprove GulasUtopenci, pronounced “utopentsee” means “drowned”, and is a delicacy to go with beer.  These are sausages that are pickled in vinegar, oil, onion, red pepper, and different spices.  These are usually made by the house or beer hall itself.

 

Svíčková na smetaně (pronounced “svitch-co-va”)is translated as ‘Beef Sirloin with Cream Sauce’, and varies in style when making the home-cooked version compared to what you get in a pub.  But even the quality and taste varies from pub to pub.  Generally, the side of sirloin is marinated and then roasted with root vegetables and onions.  After the meat is cooked, the vegetables and štáva (meat juice) are removed and pureed.  The sauce is made from cream and flour.  The meat is sliced and served with the sauce, bread dumplings, and a slice of lemon with whipped cream and cranberry sauce.  Though the name derives from the particular of cut of meat, the term svícková can refer to the sauce and can be served with other meats such as venison and roasted hare.

Svíčková na smetaně is often referred to as the sweet cousin of Czech goulash.  This dish is a cut of beef tenderloin that has been pot-roasted and is served in a cream sauce that is sweetened using carrots.  It is garnished with cranberries and a scoop of whipped cream.

 

Vepřoknedlozelo or Vepřové is referred to as being the true soul food of the Czech Republic  This dish consists of a pork base covered in dumplings and sauerkraut.  Although it is can be a bland dish  and high in fat, it is a popular favorite of Czech locals and seen on many menus in Prague.

Ovocné Knedlíky, (pronounced “ovotsne knedliky”) are fruit dumplings. They come in a several varieties. Houskové and bramborové – bread and potato – are the two most common of the other type of dumpling. Bread dumplings are more often served with sauces, which they are perfectly designed to soak up. The potato dumplings are often served as a side dish with roasted or smoked meat. Špekové knedlíky are made with fatty bacon, and are not so popular these days. Fruit dumplings (ovocné knedlíky) are filled with different fruits but more often plums, apricots or blueberries and served with quark or poppy seeds. Though sweet, they are often eaten as a main course.

KolacKoláč – (read “Kolach”) are various forms of tasteful Czech cakes which are filled with different fruits, jams or curds.

 

 

Smažák are fried cheese (smažený sýr) fried in breadcrumbs served with a side salad.

Smažené žampiony are breaded and fried mushrooms.

Oplatky is a regional favorite, and are sort of overgrown wafer cookie.  They are best when eaten hot of the griddle.  Some varieties have chocolate and nuts in the middle, but you can have it any way you want.

Houska is traditional bread roll.  The ingredients include wheat flour, water, yeast and salt.  They are topped with poppy seeds, caraway seeds or sea salt.  This rich, eggy, slightly sweet yeast bread exists in almost every Eastern European country.  Typically, it is braided and can be made with or without raisins.  Bohemians and Czechs call it houska.  Jews refer to it as challah.  The bread is similar to French brioche and is terrific eaten alone, or with butter or toasted.  Leftovers are great in bread pudding and makowki.

Pecena KachnaPečená kachna Bohemian Roast Duck Recipe is Bohemian-style roast duck served with bread dumplings and braised red cabbage.  Duck or goose used to be far too expensive to be eaten every day so this was a very special occasion meal.

Biftek is beef steak that is generally cooked medium.  If you want well done say "propečené" (propetchenay).  It is usually served with chips "hranolky" and possibly with an egg on the steak "vejce" (vigh-it-seh).

Smažený kuřecí řízek is chicken fried in breadcrumbs and is very similar to a Wiener Schnitzel but in the Czech food style there is no cheese.  This dish is commonly served with a cold potato salad "bramborový salát" or boiled potatoes "vařené brambory".

 

Smažený vepřový řízek is the same as the above dish but, with pork (pork schnitzel).

Kuřecí prsa  are chicken breasts that are served with anything but often a dish which can come with "bramboracky" which is potato that has been grated and then fried into small patty cakes.

Pecené kure s bramboryPečené kuře s brambory is roasted chicken with potatoes

 

 

 

Králík (kraaaleek) is rabbit, which is served roasted is a very popular, although rather exceptional item on restaurant menus.  This lean meat is served in a range of recipes - in cream sauce (se smetanovou omáčkou), roasted with garlic (pečený na česneku) or prepared au naturel with vegetables and onion (na zelenině  s cibulí).

TIP: Czech meals are highly adaptable, if you like the basic food but, for example, don't like the sauce, just ask for it without the sauce.  Use the phrase "bez omáčky" or (Bess omatchkoo) translated as "without sauce" as this is useful when ordering a steak etc.

TIP: Some other useful Czech Menu translations:
Směs (smee - ess) - possibly you will see "Kuřecí směs". Basically, it means that the meat is in small pieces. Literally it means "mixed".
Prsa - Applied to chicken only it means you will get the breast.
Piquant or Ďábelský or Pálivý (paa-livy)- The meal or the sauce is spicy or served with chilli's.

CarpTroutPotato salad

The most common Czech side dishes are:

  • Boiled potatoes (vařené brambory)
  • Roasted potatoes (opékané brambory)
  • Mashed potatoes (bramborová kaše - pureed, štouchané brambory - coarsely mashed)
  • French fries (bramborové hranolky)
  • Rice (rýže)
  • Bread dumplings (houskové knedlíky)
  • Potato dumplings (bramborové knedlíky)
  • Sauce (omáčka)
  • Sauerkraut or cabbage (zelí)
  • Potato salad (bramborový salát)

Other side dishes are:

  • Rice, potatoes (boiled, baked or fried).
  • Czech people love Svíčková (read “svitch-co-va”) or Rajská (read “raiska”), a somehow interesting combination of meat with sauce and whipped cream.
  • Chicken, duck, turkey, fish, rabbit and lamb are also used in some very tasteful Czech dishes.

A most popular drink(nápoje) to accompany a Czech meal is the national beverage, which is beer (pivo). If beer does not suit your fancy, you can have a mineral water (minerálka), a variety of fruit juices, such as orange juice (pomerančový džus), apple juice (jablečný džus), pear juice (hruškový džus), or a soda (specify the kind because soda in Czech means "soda water"). Czechs also like to drink tea (čaj) with sugar (cukr) and lemon (citrón), and coffee (káva) with or without milk (mléko) or cream (smetana).

beerThe most popular Czech drink is definitely beer.  If you are visiting the Czech Republic, you really should try Czech beer.  The Czech Republic has a lot of delicious beers to offer. Czechs love their beer.  Beer has a very long tradition here, it tastes delicious and it is inexpensive.  Many times, the cheapest thing you can drink in the Czech Republic is beer, often as cheap as it would be to purchase a soda or juice.  In addition, if you do not consume too much beer, it can be healthy, as it is rich in Vitamin B.  Many people consume beer before noon. There are many popular brands but the most consumed beers are Pilsner Urquell, Budweisser (Budejovicky Budvar), Gambrinus and Staropramen.  Then there is Kozel (the name means he-goat in Czech).

  1. Staropramen
    This home-town favorite, brewed in the Smíchov district, has a light, fruity flavor. It owes its popularity as much to marketing as it does to local enthusiasm.
  2. Pilsner Urquell
    The best-known Czech beer on the international market comes from  Plzen, which is 80 km  southwest of Prague. This beer has a strong, hoppy flavor.beer
  3. Krušovice
    The Krušovice brewery, established by Rudolph II, produces this sweet and somewhat flat beer. There is a syrupy dark (tmavé ) variety.
  4. Budweiser
    Brewed in the town of Ceské Budejovice, the beer is no relation to the American Budweiser.
  5. Velkopopovický Kozel
    This beer is very a strong, smooth beer, often considered the world’s finest.
  6. Velvet
    This sophisticated stout, brewed by Staropramen, is catching on in Prague and other larger cities.
  7. Gambrinus
    This beer, the best-selling one in the country, comes in both light and dark varieties.
  8. Bernard
    This unpasteurized beer has a distinct, bitter-sweet flavor and a hoppy aroma.
  9. Herold
    This beer is actually brewed by Americans in Bohemia. The centuries-old recipe produces a caramel, malty brew.
  10. Braník
    Braník is made with actual river water from the Vltava, giving it its distinct flavor.

Becherovka is an herbal liquor from Karlovy Vary, traditionally made out of several secret plants. It is said to aid in digestion and to contain medicinal properties.

Slivovice is an alcoholic beverage made from plums. There are other varieties of this type of drink that are made of different fruits and come in aromas like: pears (hruškovice), apricot (meruňkovice), etc. It is stronger and clearer than herbal liqueurs and very popular especially in Moravia, the North – Eastern part of the Czech Republic.