An Eating Tour to Prague
Sometimes the best way to explore a new culture is through its food – and it’s even better when it’s with a local expert. Jan Macuch is a Prague native and an enthusiastic foodie.
And although he’s also a successful tech entrepreneur and an avid photographer, he’s chosen to serve as our tour guide today on an Eating Prague Tour.
How the Friendly Tour Starts
The four-hour tour will introduce us to some of the city’s culinary gems, from tiny, off-the-beaten path shops to a famous restaurant frequented by Kafka and Albert Einstein.
Jan promises to share some of the country’s culinary traditions, as well as his own personal insight. It’s like having a friend who lives in town who takes you to his favorite restaurants and recommends his favorite dishes.
There are only six people in our group, so it doesn’t feel like a tour, but rather a small group of friends.
We start off at Perníčkův, a tiny gingerbread shop filled with ornate (and yummy looking) gingerbread creations. There, we launch our day of dining with desert, a fine decision by me.
After each of us introduces ourselves to the rest of the group, we sample a soft Czech gingerbread made with plum jam and walnuts, then a crescent shape cookie that reminds me of Christmas.
Finally, we bite into a poppy seed kolache, which turns out to be my favorite cookie. Then happily on a sugar buzz, we head into the streets of Prague.
A Little Brief About the Velvet Revolution
Jan was only nine years old in 1989 when the Velvet Revolution occurred, and the Czech Republic freed themselves from the pain of Soviet domination.
He tells us of those days as we walk the cobblestone streets, a light rain falling from the sky.
His family was not a fan of the communist leaders, and he lightly mentions how his dad would sometimes disappear for a few days into a local holding cell, often returning with a black eye.
Happily, the changes occurred in 1989 and the Czech Republic began a steady march of progress into the thriving nation it is today.
Prague is obviously a top spot for tourists, because I hear everything from Japanese to English to Swedish in the streets.
Exploring the Local Culinary
Our next stop is Sisters, a small shop which honors the classic chlebíčky (open-faced sandwiches) that are part of Czech culinary tradition.
Sisters is the brainchild of local culinary hero Hana Michopulu, whose work marries local organic produce with classic Czech tastes.
One of the most unique sandwiches we sample has a taste that I can’t place. It looks like cole slaw, but Jan tells us it’s made from celery root.
He laughs when he wonders about the American tendency to only use the top part of celery (“The part we throw away,” he says) while discarding the root. It’s a moment of learning for me. And whatever part of the vegetable it is, I like the results.
Every Czech meal seems to include maso (meat), so we head next to a butcher shop that is obviously doing a thriving business. Naše Maso means “our meat.”
Frantisek Kasana is the head butcher, and he explains how the thick cuts of beef are rich with marbling due to the grass-fed diet of local cattle specially bred and locally raised.
We sample several kinds of prepared meat served with thick bread and tangy mustard, from the classic thick cut Prague Ham to Přeštice sausage.
Culinary Tour and More in Prague
Then we take a break from our eating to learn more about Prague as we peruse the city streets with Jan. We learn about the Old Town and Prague Castle, two popular attractions in the city.
Then he talks of Charles Bridge and the traditions there, which helps me make sense of what I’d seen while walking the bridge the night before.
By the time we get to Restaurant Zvonice, we’ve walked off some of our meal, and are ready to sample what Jan says is some of the best Bohemian soup in the world.
Restaurant Zvonice is a located near the top of a bell tower, a hidden location that even some locals don’t know about. The intimate restaurant centers around a large historic bell, providing a modern take on a very historic location.
Thick bowls of soup are placed in front of us, and the rich smell makes me hungry again.
I can’t quite identify the taste. Oxtail? No, it’s something I don’t know. We eat half of the soup trying to guess before Jan tells us that it’s sauerkraut soup.
Later, some of our group say this was their favorite dish. And I have to agree, I’d happily eat another bowl again.
It’s still raining lightly when we make our way through another neighborhood to a hidden courtyard café called Styl & Interior.
The cozy café was started as a furniture store by a local interior designer who specialized in restaurants.
She started putting out small tables to sell and offered coffees and pastries.
The resulting spot grew so popular that she had to add space and turn it into a full service café. (The furniture is also still for sale.)
Tastings here are seasonable, and today we sample hot mulled red wine (perfect with the cooler weather) and a savory pork belly pate on toasted warm bread.
Before spreading the pate, Jan has us rub thick chunks of garlic across the bread for added taste. The result is fantastic.
Finally, we move to the world famous Café Louvre, which has been in business since 1920. Intellectuals like Franz Kafka and Albert Einstein often spent their time here.
The restaurant must have done something right, because the tables are still filled all these years later.
Time to Taste My Favorite Czech Dish
It’s here that I taste my favorite Czech dish so far – svíčková – Czech dumplings, braised beef and cranberry compote mixed in a thick vegetable and sour cream sauce.
By now, we’ve spent all afternoon eating and sampling, but there is still room for one more dish, a classic Czech apple strudel.
It’s a little different from the Austrian variety, with thicker layers of dough filled with sweet slices of apple.
The custard topping varies in sweetness each time it’s made, in order to perfectly match with the sweetness of that day’s apples.
Although our visit to Prague was short, I now feel like I’ve been properly introduced to the Czech capital and its people through Jan and the places we visited.
The experience has whetted my appetite to see more of Prague, and I’m already dreaming of what I’d like to do when I return.
If You Go to Prague:
Eating Prague Tours is part of Eating Europe Tours, which offers daily culinary tours in Rome, London, Amsterdam and Prague.
Tours are guided by local experts, and include visits to neighhorhoods and restaurants that travelers often miss. eatingpraguetours.com