A Prague specialty is without a doubt the local pubs, taverns, tap-rooms and beer-drinking establishments of all kinds.
In its long history, Prague has always been proud of its splendid cafés and wine bars, but the more humble pubs are a cultural and social phenomenon whose authentic spirit has survived to this day, unlike most of the once renowned establishments for loftier guests.
Potato dumplings with a smoked meat filling (Bramborové knedlíky plněné uzeným masem)
In an encyclopaedia of Czech cuisine the ‘dumplings’ entry would run to several pages. Potato dumplings with smoked meat would take pride of place – but cooking and eating them is much better than writing about them...
Kulajda is cooked instead of kyselo in some regions. This is a strong and thick mushroom soup with cream and the essential egg. Don’t ever skip the soup fanfares calling you to eat; it would be a grave mistake.
Marinated hermelín (Nakládaný hermelín)
A cheese with a cultivated white mould, fl avoured with onion and chilli peppers, marinated for the appropriate period in oil, which must melt in the mouth.
Roast duck with dumplings and sauerkraut (Pečená kachna s knedlíkem a se zelím)
Cooking is just as prone to fads and fashions as the clothing industry is. Fortunately there are dishes that are always made no matter what happens to be en vogue. Roast duck with homemade dumplings and sauerkraut is one of them and rightly deserves its place as one of the permanent fixtures in the Czech national cookbook.
Sirloin in cream sauce (Svíčková na smetaně)
What comes to mind when you hear the words ‘typical Czech food'? The most popular dish, according to food experts, is sirloin in cream sauce, a delicious combination of tender beef, creamy sauce and, of course, the obligatory dumplings. As is usually the case with traditional recipes, there are probably as many different versions as there are cooks.
Špekáčky with plenty of onion, pickled in a sour brine for at least two weeks, are legendary. Additional ingredients and fl avourings are protected and kept as secret as battle plans – the result is a little diff erent in always unusually and brutally excellent. And what is a špekáček? A solid and simultaneously fl exibly soft, fragrant and juicy smoked meat sausage, slightly salty, very meaty and containing pieces of smoked fat.
Pork roast with dumplings and sauerkraut (Knedlo, zelo, vepřo)
If you are looking for a dish that represents the essence of Czech cuisine, then roast pork with dumplings and sauerkraut is it. This dish brings together three popular ingredients: pork, dumplings and cabbage, and a fourth might be the beer you wash it all down with...
Pork knuckle roasted in black beer
Freshly roasted pork knuckle with mustard and home-made horseradish is a dish absolutely demanding to be washed down with a big gulp of beer. This joint of meat will satisfy even the heartiest appetite!
In contrast to the cafés and wine bars, which are equipped with fancier furnishings and often located on the upper floors of town houses, pubs are located on the ground floor or in the cellar. The pub has a democratic spirit.
Next to a worker sits a minister or the head of government, and next to him sits an actor or visual artist. Everyone is equal. And while the wine bars and cafés have always been the haunt of poets and the home of lyricism, the pubs are the site of storytelling and epic poetry. The writer Bohumil Hrabal once wrote:
"For me the pub is not only too loud a solitude, not just a place to drink beer, but it is where beer sets language in motion, to creation. The pub is a place … where a barroom story absorbs what yields the Hegelian Geist der Zeit. Here in the pub the anonymous anecdote is created as a collective expression.”
Photos: A Prague pub (©Photo-Prague (COEX)), A beer hall (© ČTK)
But it is also a place for the ritual of conversation, which runs the gamut from idle chat to far-reaching political ruminations. One talks about art, sport, politics, history. Traditional table communities can be found in many of Prague’s pubs – just go up and ask to join one of them if there is a vacant seat. You can try your luck, for instance, at the pubs U Zlatého tygra (the Golden Tiger), U Hrocha (the Hippopotamus) or U Parlamentu (the Parliament).
Famous Prague pubs
Prague pubs also have given birth to great works of world literature. The most famous of them is probably The Adventures of the Good Soldier Švejk, whose author Jaroslav Hašek, himself a legendary figure in the Prague pubs, gleaned stories from his tablemates during long evenings in the pub – just like his successor Bohumil Hrabal, a longtime regular at the Golden Tiger.
This giant of Czech literature would not leave his seat in the pub where he went every day even when the U.S. president expressed a wish to meet him. Hrabal apparently sent word that he would be very happy to meet Bill Clinton and to have the president stop by his table. President Clinton together with Czech President Václav Havel then actually pulled up a seat at his table. Different versions of this story are still told in Prague’s pubs almost twenty years later.
U Fleků (Fleks’)
The first written mention of this brewery and pub on Křemencova street dates back to 1499, and beer has been brewed there since that time. U Fleků is the only brewery in Central Europe where beer has been brewed without interruption for more than five hundred years, despite historical events. Attesting to turbulent times are two cannonballs from the Thirty Years’ War lodged in one of the historical building’s supporting walls.
The communists nationalized the pub in the 1950s, and even during the socialist period the pub and brewery survived. After the fall of communism, the pub was returned to the original owners in 1991. Today, about 2,000 glasses of the famous Flek 13° dark beer are served daily – and although the pub is a popular place, particularly among tourists, you will also occasionally encounter local and foreign celebrities from politics, sport and high society.