Hey there and welcome to another edition of Mastication Monologues! If you haven’t been reading my latest posts, I’ve started to chronicle my past food and drink adventures throughout Europe. My journey starts in Eastern Europe due to its funky food history and local flavor. Part one in Bucharest featured a heart-clogging favorite with Romanian shepherds, and part two recalled my misunderstanding over a piece of meat in a unique Budapest restaurant. Now, part three takes me to Prague where I encountered one of the worst tasting foods I’ve ever consumed, and I actually enjoyed the controversial king of fruits, durian. So you know it has to be bad.
Prague is hands-down one of the most gorgeous places in Europe I’ve visited, but unfortunately everyone else in the world has found this gem behind the former Iron Curtain. What this means is that such lovely places like St. Vitus’ Cathedral and the Charles Bridge are crawling with tourists like ants all over a picnic. However, there are some hidden gems like the Dancing Building which is colloquially known as Fred and Ginger as in Astaire and Rogers since the two structures look like they’re gliding across the dancefloor like their namesakes. Summer hordes aside, it is a metropolis that combines plenty of history with cuisine that has strains of both Slavic and Germanic traditions. During our stay in Prague, Kevin, his then gf, and I traveled throughout the city and experienced the best Prague had to offer in regard to sites, sounds, and toward the end of our trip, smells. I’m getting ahead of myself. First, let’s talk about beer.
In America, we have a very large beer culture compliments of the scores of Northern and Central European immigrants who came to our country, but Czech beer plays a very large part in the history of the hoppy drink, especially when it comes to pilsner beer. The word “pilsner” derives from the Germanic form of the Czech town of Plzeň (Pilsen in German) since that’s where this type of beer was invented. Therefore, it only made sense to Czech out (pun YOLO!) the most famous and original pilsner, Pilsner Urquell, in the heart of Prague. The most interesting part of our bar hopping adventures beyond the beer was a local bar outside the Prague city center that was around the corner from our hostel. It looked like any other watering hole on the outside, and when we walked in, it didn’t strike us as anything novel. There was a mix of men and women sitting throughout the establishment sipping on steins, but then there was the all female wait staff. They were all topless. TOPLESS! It wasn’t a nightclub or anything. No Guns and Roses’ “Welcome to the Jungle” pumping over the speakers as dancers took their turns on the pole. Instead, it was like any other bar in the world, but all the ladies must have forgot their shirts at home. It made holding a conversation with my traveling companions hard and ordering beers even worse. The whole experience was the polar opposite to the Puritanical views in America toward nudity. The Pilsner Urquell was equally titillating when it came out.
It tasted better out of the tap than the bottles sold in America. It was crisp, clean, and slightly bitter with hoppy elements that complimented the intense roast pork I had to eat. Along with the amazing beer, I tangled with a very interesting dish that hails from the capital of Moravia, Olomouc.
Olomouc (pronounced “Oh-luh-moots”) was the only other city we visited in the Czech Republic, but it was the ideal balance to the hectic streets of Prague. It was more provincial but just as beautiful. The St. Wenceslaus Cathedral was immense like most houses of former worship in secular Europe, and the town square possessed a beautiful sun clock that was shot up by the Nazis during their retreat from Russia in WWII. When the Soviets took over the town, they rebuilt it with proletarian heroes in place of the Catholic saints that originally decorated the clock’s facade. There still are other remnants of Soviet rule like the working scenes in the train station, and all of it added to the character of the town. We enjoyed our time in the town, and highly recommend it to anyone looking for a daytrip outside of Prague.
When we came back to Prague, we visited the Jewish Quarter since Kevin’s gf was Jewish. After seeing a synagogue, we stopped at a local restaurant. They had a mix of Czech and American dishes, but I was drawn in by the “stinky cheese” option. I ordered one plate which didn’t look that stinky. It just looked like two patties of fried cheese, but when I sliced into it and took a bite…wow. It tasted like the smell of the pachyderm house at the Brookfield Zoo, i.e. think of hay mixed with pungent urine and aromatic feces. You know it’s bad when you can only describe the taste of something as a smell. I could only finish one patty since it was so nasty yet I was so hungry. Luckily it was only a side to my main dish. I did some research, and the name of this nasty cheese was Olomoucké Tvarůžky. It’s a cow milk cheese that originates from Olomouc, the city we visited earlier in the day. How such a terrible creation could have come from such a wonderful part of the country and has been “enjoyed” since the 15th Century is beyond me.
Overall, the Czech Republic is a great budget vacation in comparison to other places in Western Europe, but you really can experience what the country has to offer at reasonable prices if you venture outside of Prague. Drink as much beer as you want there but beware of the stinky cheese. You’ve heard it here first!
I approve this message on behalf of Pilsner Urquell