The Czech Superpower (+the best and worst of Czech food don’t kill me)

typical czech cuisine - few typical czech food

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.

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Want to know what the Czech superpower is?

I have never seen someone clean their plate like a Czech.

NOT EVEN AMERICANS ON THANKSGIVING.

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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.

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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)

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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)

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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)

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Bowtie pasta, eggs, and bacon, baked to crispy, comfort food goodness. What could be bad?

Sadlo/škvarky

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?”

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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)

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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.

Tvaroh

Did someone say tvaroh?

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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.

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Foods that turn my face into baby-style refusal when asked to eat them

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Jatra (liver)

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OH PLEASE GOD NO. LIVER IS THE WORST.

Lečo

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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.

Tatarák

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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!

Blood soup

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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

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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.

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The Jury’s Out. I’m not sure how I feel about these last ones.

Tvarůžky

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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. 🙂

Chlebičky

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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 

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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.

In conclusion.

Give me all the food, but you can keep your poppy seeds.

 

Categories Czech Customs, Faux pas, FooooodTags , , , , , , ,

31 thoughts on “The Czech Superpower (+the best and worst of Czech food don’t kill me)

  1. Yeah, poppy seed just grosses me out. It is so healthy though. Full of calcium and some iron, too. But no, thank you!

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  2. Great article as usual but let’s correct some spelling errors first. 🙂 Svíčková, sádlo, játra, chlebíčky.
    Halušky is actually a Slovak dish and lecho is Hungarian and there is even a vegetable-only version for sausage haters. 😉 Eating tvarůžky with plum jam is not very common (in fact, I’ve never heard of it before 🙂 ). It’s eaten with bread or fried with fries or potatoes most of the time (BTW there’s a sweets shop in Olomouc where you can buy really weird stuff :)) http://www.tvaruzkovacukrarna.cz/ ). The original šunkofleky weren’t made of bowtie pasta or other funny shapes but rather flat pasta squares (cut egg noodles or whatever); fleky=flecks. I must disagree with the suggestion that Czechs put eggs in everything. 🙂 There are many kinds of chlebíčky, soups etc. without eggs, it’s not even guaranteed you will always get the lentil dish with a boiled egg (the other common option is a sausage, bon appetit! 😉 ). If you ever visit Japan you’ll realize that we Czechs are pretty conservative with the eggs. 😀

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  3. I also always hated Nudle s mákem (just like buchtičky se šodó).

    But tatarák is like the greatest occasion in my family. Daddy always buys like half a kilo of meat (sometimes more and we invite neighbours) and we spent the whole evening eating it and drinking wine.

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    1. I’d like another opportunity to try it. The first time is a bit shocking.
      I didn’t know the name of that dish (buchtičky), but I also can’t eat it. WAY too sweet.

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  4. Noodle z makem is one of my favorite foods growing up!!! You seriously don’t like it? Did it have enough melted butter? There’s gotta be enough melted butter to make everything come together and look like a black pesto… ugh… so warm and comforting… when I was little I’d grind up poppy seeds for my babicka so she’d make it for me… fresh!

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    1. Unfortunately I’m serious! 😦 I just hate the taste of poppy seeds. I fear that despite everything, I can never belong here just because of this one fact XD

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  5. Tvarůžky and povidla? Really? I´ve never heard of that :-). Poppy seeds are amazing with plum sauce, actually. My grandma used to make many wonderful dishes with poppy seeds and plum jam….I eat them with pasta too, but that´s a lazy option for me and definitely not as tasty as the other ones!

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  6. You must try czech “pig killing” specialities 🙂 Jelito (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kaszanka) mixture of blood, liver, lungs, skin, fat …) in pig colon (well washed) and then boiled. Also jitrnice (quite same as “jelito”, but without blood and with bread roll (žemle). Very delicious and poular. Another is “tlačenka” (boiled skin – create gelatine, tongue, meat, then put into synhesis bag and cooled) (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Head_cheese), slice of “tlačenka”, fresh onion on it, drizle of vinegear, bread and beer …. yummy 🙂 At some pig killing the tlačenka is filled into pig stomach (well washed) and then boiled. Offal is very popular. We make them in various recepies. Goulash with kidney, souce with heart, souce with tongue, liver fryed with onion, deepfried liver (this week i have this twice this week for lunch … very delicius 🙂 )

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    1. the only one of these I’ve heard of or tried is tlačenka and I didn’t like it because where I come from, gelatin is only ever sweet! I couldn’t accept that it could be salty and made with meat! But I know it’s very popular. When I finally do go to the pig killing, there has to be a rule that no one will tell me what the food is, or I won’t eat it 🙂

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      1. I don´t like tlačenka either….you´re brave that you tasted it….I never did and I never will :-). As well as blood soup :-). Even though I like sádlo (lard), škvarky, klobásky (meat sausages), jitrnice and jelita.

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  7. Pche, poppy seeds are amazing! You have to try makový závin. It is like strudel but with poppy seeds instead apples 😀

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  8. nice blog – just some small correction. Španělský ptáček is made from beef, not chicken.

    Originally it was a veal roulade, made by Spanish chef for a Czech queen Maria and Habsburg empress. Maria Spanish – from 17th century. And raw roulade looks a like a raw small bird ready to be cooked. Yes, they ate a small birds during renaissance.

    New meal start to be popular, ingredients start to varied and now, there is sitll hint of history, but no resemblance of original recipe.

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    1. Hi Zuzka, thanks for letting me know! The only experience I’ve had of it has been in our school canteen, and they make it with chicken XD

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