I did a post on American food here. Now in honor of Thanksgiving (which is tomorrow!) (and the holiday when we shamelessly eat everything in sight and then take a nap while football plays on the TV), I obviously have to talk about Czech food.
(If you learn anything from this post, let it be “food coma.”) Fudkomovat is also now an official Czech word. You learned it here first, folks.
It must be said:
I LOVE CZECH FOOD! But svíčkova and halušky have got to duke it out as far as I’m concerned for the title of best Central/East-European national food.
Want to know what the Czech superpower is?
I have never seen someone clean their plate like a Czech.
NOT EVEN AMERICANS ON THANKSGIVING.
You thought you needed language soft skills? Nope, you’ve already got sauce skills. Who else could mop up that plate of svíčkova with only a few dumplings?
YOU, Czech people. That’s who. You are amazing.
For my first few months in Czech Republic, I watched people absolutely clean their plates at lunch as if there had never been food on it. I didn’t understand. I was trying so hard. But I always gave my plate back to the lunch ladies looking like sauce soup.
Then I learned the secret. It’s in the dumplings.
As you eat, you have to pile the sauce on the dumpling and scoop it up. Then you wipe your plate with the remaining dumplings after the meat is gone. I know your secret.
My Favorite Czech Foods
Please notice that all the best foods in Czech Republic begin with “S.”
Svíčkova (Beef “candle” dish)
Ah, beef tenderloin. Creamy carrot and vegetable sauce. Slow-cooked. Cranberries on top. Eaten with dumplings so no sauce goes to waste. So warm and yummy.
Španělský ptáček (Spanish bird)
I first thought this was the weirdest thing anyone could have dreamed up: a sausage, a pickle, and an egg rolled up in a piece of baked chicken. It sounds like a bad joke. “A sausage, a pickle, and an egg walk into a bar… but the bar is a piece of chicken…” It’s like a chicken’s nightmare of its own fate. But damn, it is so weirdly good. If only we could solve the mystery of why it’s Spanish…
Šunkofleky (Ham and pasta)
Bowtie pasta, eggs, and bacon, baked to crispy, comfort food goodness. What could be bad?
So, Americans have bad association with lard. Lard was cheap, processed and canned pig fat that we used before the modern health crazes hit. When I first saw my friend Jonáš eating salted škvarky (crispy pieces of pig fat) in a pub, I was understandably like, “…what?”
But now I know that it is the absolutely yummiest warm goodness to spread on my bread. Since it’s usually fresh and homemade, it’s nothing like lard.
Schnitzel (yes, we say schnitzel in English as the translation of řízek)
Maybe it’s more Austrian or German than Czech, but we eat it all the time! When I go on a hiking day trip and we have to make schnitzel, approximately 75% of my excitement is about the schnitzel and not about the hiking.
Did someone say tvaroh?
In dumplings, in yogurt form, or used Czech-style cheesecake…
For the uninitiated, tvaroh is called “quark” in English, but I don’t think Americans will have ever heard about it. It’s a kind of soft cheese that can come crumbly or spreadable. It looks like cottage cheese but it’s not. It’s used in pastries or filled dumplings, it’s sometimes put on top of dumplings or pies (koláče), and creamed it’s eaten as a yogurt dessert.
I had no idea what tvaroh was before, but now I know my life is so much fuller with it than without it.
Foods that turn my face into baby-style refusal when asked to eat them
OH PLEASE GOD NO. LIVER IS THE WORST.
Lečo (“lecho”) is a tomato-based stew with vegetables and sausage. I already hate sausage, so it wasn’t high on my list. But when I was first asked to taste it, I was told, “Don’t let the fact that it looks like vomit make you want to vomit.” Um, BARF.
Oh, tatarák, my mortal enemy. This is a dish that’s made from raw meat with spices kneaded into it, and eaten spread on bread. Okay, the raw part already had me running in the other direction. My mother and all of American society always told me NEVER to eat raw meat. It will make me sick, won’t it? Are you crazy, Czech people? But no, apparently, when the meat is from a butcher you trust and completely fresh and touched only with very clean hands, it’s fine to eat.
They made me try it in June.
I stalled for about half an hour.
I finally had to eat it.
Fine… it wasn’t so bad. BUT STILL!
This is a specialty at zabijačka, a traditional “pig killing” when every single part of the pig is used. I’ve always been afraid of blood. I can’t watch a horror movie to save my life. I cry at the doctor when they want to take my blood. Now you want me to eat it? Yeah yeah… I know it’s cooked.
Note: I have never been to zabijačka – it’s a main Czech experience I’m still waiting for!
Pasta with poppy seeds (mák) and sugar
You can make me eat liver, lečo, and tatarák. I’ll even bite the bullet and try blood soup. And I know this will be controversial, but I never, ever want to eat pasta with poppy seeds and sugar again.
It’s pasta, guys! You have to eat it with some kind of salty sauce! Tomato sauce, butter sauce, cheese sauce, even spinach! It’s not supposed to be sweet. Oy vey.
The Jury’s Out. I’m not sure how I feel about these last ones.
Stinky cheese from Olomouc. I ate it once with plum jam (povidla), above. It was okay.
By the way, I’m aware how badly it’s misspelled in that post, but I’m keeping it to illustrate my learning progress. 🙂
I just don’t love these open-face sandwiches. There are too many flavors at once. But what’s funny is that they basically sum up Czech food: bread, spread, egg, ham, pickle.
Putting eggs in everything
In the weirdest places (to me)! In Španělský ptáček (but I like it there), on chlebičky, in chicken soups, in a sour lentil dish with a pickle. I like eggs, but Czechs have some really interesting combinations with them.
Give me all the food, but you can keep your poppy seeds.