Czech cuisine, like most hearty foods from Central Europe, gets a bad rep elsewhere in the world. This is partly due to changing dietary trends with fresh, lightweight, Japanese and vegetarian cuisines triumphing over the centuries-long domination of the heavy meaty gout-inducing foods that fed those Europeans who went out to conquer the world. Another reason, though, is politics: Western Europe and America have dominated the consensus on food over the last century, and the Eastern Europeans were given short shrift in favor of saucy, French and Irish fare.
Times, however, are changing, not least due to the Atkins diet that promotes consumption of meat. So Czech cuisine, with meals that are derived from free-range animals, seems at once innocent and refreshingly traditional. Although potatoes only arrived in Europe in the 17th century, they quickly became a staple of the Czech diet. Potato dumplings, boiled and fried potatoes, and potato soups are all standard fare. Mushrooms, which show up in every dish during mushroom season in early fall, are very popular, and so is sauerkraut, made from both white and red cabbage. While the Czechs do not have a reputation for serving healthy food, those watching their calories can always opt for fish, with the trout from South Bohemia being relatively fresh and tasty. Fried cheeses are popular too, as is spiced cheese or hermelin served with green chili and various sauces.
In general, while Czech cuisine is not for the weak of heart, beer constitutes an important part of the meal, helping to wash down the fatty foods. Beware of eating in underground cellar restaurants, however, because you'll only realize how full your belly is and how drunk you are when you try to stagger up the stairs to the street above.
Gula: This dish is so ubiquitous that it has become an adjective in the English language, a synonym for a soup, a melting pot, a mixing of different influences. The real thing is a meat stew served in Czech with potato or bread dumplings. Hungarian goulash is spicier than the Prague variety, with hot rather than sweet paprika. However, sliced onions and parsley also contribute to the distinctive flavor of Prague goulash. The fluffy, bread dumplings are used to mop up the sauce after you are done with the beef (health-conscious diners, Atkins dieters in particular, will dive into the beef and avoid the dumplings entirely).
Svickova: This is another Czech classic, beef sirloin slices braised in the oven and then served in a creamy sauce made from sour cream and flavored with cranberries, giving it a slight Thanksgiving touch. The beef is often tough and stringy at the cheaper pubs but tender and juicy in more expensive restaurants.
Fried Cheese: This is a real classic (and the most unhealthy of this trio); only the Czechs could have taken the Viennese tradition of breading their meat in schnitzels and applied it to cheese. It is often served with a side of Tartar sauce and french fries. The creamy, bready cheese cutlet really is quite tasty after you have recovered from the initial shock of just consuming cheese (in case you dont consider Czech food worthy of your palette, be sure to note the similarities between French and Czech cuisine: both are sauce-heavy and both turn cheese into an entire meal).
Other Czech specialties include:
Roast goose: Often quite tasty, roast goose is a dark, slightly bitter meat, served with dumplings and red cabbage, which is rich in Vitamin D.
Roast pork with dumplings: A Czech classic that works for almost any occasion. A thick slice of pork served with dumplings and sauerkraut.
Bramborák: An appetizer, this potato pancake can be quite a savior on a cold winter night. Like the Russian blini, it can be served with beer or vodka.
Roast trout: The Czech Republic is a landlocked country and doesnt have the cod, herring or flounder of the Baltics and Scandinavia. However, pond-bred trout are a Czech favorite, especially around Christmas time. Served with mushrooms, another ubiquitous feature of Czech cuisine, braised potatoes, fresh lemon and some sprigs of parsley, they can be quite tasty and a nice change from the meat-heavy dishes.
Where to find it:
U Sádlu - Old Town
U Sádlu - Vinohrady