Food & Drink
Prague by Fork: A Culinary Starter Kit
BY TATIANA CIRISANO
The good news is, Prague has a spectacular food scene. The bad news? It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the options. That’s why we’ve put together an honest list of musts for foodies, from the obvious tourist tips to the impossible-to-pronounce local spots. Have at it.
Have a beer, obviously
There’s a reason the Czech Republic is the country with the highest annual beer consumption per capita in the world. If there’s one thing Prague does well, it’s pivo. That means it’s not hard to find a place to have a pint—or three.
Pilsner pub Lokál is a known destination for visiting barflies and Prague residents alike. And if you’re looking to branch out, head to Beer Geek for a thoughtful selection of 32 craft beers you won’t find at the grocery.
… don’t forget the beer snacks
When the drunchies kick in, it’s time for pub food. Kielbasa sausages (or klobásy) are one of Prague’s most classic beer snacks, but also the most simple: a hearty sausage served with brown bread, horseradish and mustard. Still hungry? Try the pickled sausage (utopenec, or literally, “drowned men”) or pickled cheese (nakládaný hermelin), which fans of Camembert will love.
Rub elbows with legends (kind of) at Café Louvre
It’s not in every city that you get to sip your coffee on tables that once served the likes of Franz Kafka and Albert Einstein. At Café Louvre, though, you can. The Prague mainstay has been open since 1902, and is one of the only remaining structures from the city’s cafe society heyday. It opens at 8 in the morning—which is startlingly early for Prague—but you’ll be happy for the extra time to snag a seat. Be forewarned – Café Louvre isn’t a Starbucks. Be prepared to take your time and soak in the atmosphere.
Feed the swans at Náplavka
On a nice day (not in winter), the Náplavka riverbank is a scenic hangout where you’ll find Prague’s hipsters lounging on the pavement with a bottle of wine in hand. You might also see a few of them feeding the hordes (yes, hordes) of swans at the river’s edge. Join them. And if you’re out of bread to offer, good news—Náplavka also hosts one of Prague’s most popular farmer’s markets every Saturday, but more on that later.
Warm up with a bowl of goulash
When the winter hits, there’s nothing you’ll crave more than goulash, a thick beef stew spiced with paprika and served with dumplings. Virtually every Czech restaurant is bound to offer a bowl, and it’s also one of the cheaper traditional dishes you can find. But if you’re stumped on where to start, try Lokál or Malostranská beseda. Pair with beer. What else?
Skip the trdelník, and Instagram your větrník instead
You don’t need a trdelník—those irresistibly-Instagrammable rolled pastries sold in Old Town—no matter how enticing they smell. The hype is not real, people (it’s not even actually Czech). You’re better than that.
Instead, we recommend větrník, a creamy choux pastry filled with vanilla cream and topped with caramel fondant. It’s tastier than the trdelník, and prettier, too (a.k.a. Instagram-worthy). Trust us. Cafe Savoy is the clear champion when it comes to větrník, though we urge you to order the “mini” version, unless you’re a family of six. Erhart Cafe and Myšak get honorable mentions for their versions, too.
Order your wine hot
Mulled wine is a must for winter visitors. The heated, spiced drink is translated as svařák, or svařené víno, but often labeled simply as “hot wine.” We admit this one’s not exactly Czech, but worth a try all the same. The best places (maybe it’s the atmosphere) are the Christmas Markets. But Vinograf is also a good choice, or if you prefer your libations with a side of gingerbread, head to Národní Banka Vín.
Dare to try something new at a food festival
It’s not hard to plan your visit to Prague around a food festival. There are dozens throughout the year, from the Moravian wine festivals and annual FoodParade of September to Husobraní a Cider (Goose and Cider) and the Coffee Festival in October or Street Food Festival in the summer.
Order lunch off the “specials” menu—it exists, we promise
Most restaurants in Prague offer a cheaper lunchtime “specials” menu – even the nicer restaurants. It’s not just less expensive, it’s also served faster. The problem is, the special lunch menu is usually only listed in the Czech version of the menu. Sometimes, if the server can tell you’re a visitor (and trust us, they can tell), that menu will never make it to your table. Ask for it. “Mohu si prosím vybrat z obědového menu?” Your stomach, and your wallet, will thank you.
Some lunchtime tagwords that might help:
Polévka — soup
Brambory — potatoes
Smažený — fried
Vepřové — pork
Kuře — chicken
Get tipsy with a view…
What’s better than drinking in Prague? Day-drinking in Prague, of course! Put two fingers up to winter at one of Prague’s many stunning beer gardens and outdoor drinking areas. Our top pick is Letná Park (Letenské sady), where you can sip beer and wine from plastic cups atop a hill that once housed a 15.5-meter-high monument to Joseph Stalin. Yay for lax open container laws!
If you’re hungry, there’s plenty of places to eat with a view, too: Aureole serves up asian-fusion on a stunning rooftop, and Oblaca, which sits atop the Žižkov TV tower, offers a reasonable breakfast deal for students.
…and cure your hangover with a hearty burger
A burger isn’t the first thing you’d expect to see on a Czech tour guide. But Prague actually has a wealth of heart-stopping (pun intended) burger bars. Dish is one of our favourite beer spots, but its burgers are equally outstanding, as is the smoked chili mayo served with your fries. If you’re a hungover vegetarian, the portobello burger is a must. (Just make sure you make a reservation—unfortunately, Dish’s burgers are no secret.)
Into Coca-Cola? Order a Kofola
There’s a reason the Czech cola soda Kofola tastes similar to Coca-Cola. The drink gained popularity during the communist Czechoslovakia of the 1960s and ‘70s when Western cola drinks like Coke and Pepsi weren’t available to Czechs. Nowadays, Kofola is still sold everywhere from restaurants to vending machines, so there’s no excuse to not give it a try.
Take a break from beer with a personalized cocktail
The words “mixology bar” can conjure images of pretentious bartenders and exorbitantly-priced menus. But not at Parlour, Hemingway Bar, or its sister spot Cash Only. Each nails the balance of stylish yet unintimidating, and offers pages upon pages of intricate cocktails that are as tasty as they are beautiful. But our advice? Skip the menu, and instead tell your bartender the tastes and liquors you enjoy. Each of these bars will craft a personal drink for you. For a more complete rundown of what we think are the best cocktail bars in Prague, see our story here.
Have a kolache
Contrary to popular belief, kolaches aren’t actually Texan. And they’re not from Minnesota, Nebraska, or Brooklyn either. The rich, round pies stuffed with fruit filling belong to the Czech Republic. It’s the type of pastry that defies all sense of time—have it for breakfast, a snack, or dessert. Prague’s many farmer’s markets are likely to offer kolache.
Order fried cheese. Seriously.
You’re on vacation. Use it as an excuse to order possibly the most gluttonous, unhealthy (but somehow vegetarian?) dish on the menu: smažený sýr, or, literally, “fried cheese.” The classic Czech meal is gooey goodness all around, plus it’s a dish pretty much every Czech restaurant will offer. Do we really need to say more?
Hit a farmer’s market
If none of these options appeal to you, or better yet, if all of them do, we’ve got one last foodie option for you: the farmer’s market. There’s no shortage of food markets in Prague, but we’ll try to give you the highlights. Our friends at Taste of Prague offer a thoughtful guide, featuring Náplavka for early Saturday risers (it’s known to sell out by noon), Jiřího z Poděbrad square for weekdays, or the Holešovice market for local, seasonal produce. At these, you can find virtually every item on our list, plus others that probably deserve to be. You’re welcome.
Make it through all 15 items? Think of something we missed?
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