Destination Prague: the heart of bohemia by Christie Kiley
Walking the streets of Prague, you find yourself in another world set apart from the rest of Europe’s grand cities. Non-existent are the modern buildings of today which might obstruct a city scape view. Old world medieval-bohemia takes center stage here. Rather than getting around via taxi or the local trains, Prague inspires one to take in the views on foot. Take an easy walk over to Petrin Hill where you can get away from the cars knocking along the cobblestone streets. As you walk along the trail, a lush orchard of Czech Republic’s signature plum trees ascend into hundreds of almond trees. Continue the up the hill and the history of Prague spreads out before you. Gothic spires jut into the skyline and shadows of the sooty buildings inspire reflection of another era. Many bridges stretch out across the Vltava River, but that of the famed 14th century Charles Bridge is what stands out with its strong arches over the waters, the silhouettes of Baroque statues and the tourists who leisurely stop to visit each one.
Prague is a city for the history buffs and for those who wish to immerse themselves in the richness of the past and another human culture. It is for the romantics who have found themselves in the heart of Bohemia. And while many might not group the Czech Republic in with the ‘rest’ of Europe, it perhaps could be looked upon as where the dawning of an intellectual age began in this part of the continent. It can proudly boast the first university, Charles University, of central Europe. Even today it ranks in the top one and a half percent of the best universities in the world. And apart from historians and romantics, getting to the delicious part of this text, Prague is a city for those who are hungry, who want to delve into the comforts of Czech and Eastern European cuisine. It is also a city for the thirsty and those who wish to feel the fire in their bellies of spirits and beer to wash the gluttony away.
The Czech Republic is known for its cured pork from many delicious anatomical parts of swine. However it is known for a dish served on a regular basis in any Czech home. It is that of richly aromatic caraway, dense, yet fluffy, bread dumplings, lovingly called knedliky. A top the dumplings is the hearty tomato beef tenderloin sauce. And following such cuisine, the plate would not be complete without a healthy portion of tart, red cabbage kraut. While this stuff is delicious, it seems to take more of an obvious role in the dish to aid in digestion and keep the dumplings from sitting at the bottom of your stomach for days. All of that is washed down with a Kozel Lager and a celebratory shot of the local spirit, Slivovitz. This will set aflame the said fire to one’s stomach. Traditionally made from Damson plums, but now found in many boutique shops made with everything from cherries, to almonds to carrots, it is my theory to be the very thing which keeps the people of Czech so slim with such a hearty diet. This drink will come in handy if you are ever about to have an experience such as mine in Czech, an experience which has brought me to write this very piece.
It all starts downtown in Prague at a local butchery/small restaurant, Naše Maso, a name which directly translates as Our Meat. A place where you can get grass-fed, organic meats of pig and cow just outside the city limits. Window shopping at this shop-slash-mini-restaurant is taken to another level, which is kind of an unspoken prerequisite before you step foot in the door. As you pass by the front window you see a display case like in any other great butcher of various cuts of beef and pork and sausages. But have a walk around the side into a little alley where you can get an inside glimpse from inside their meat cooler where steaks hang to age and where on occasion, you can watch the owner himself grinding fresh meats and filling sausages. If you are not one who returns to Prague on a regular basis, call ahead to reserve their ‘tasting menu’. Warning: Coming from one who has experienced the tasting menu, I recommend that you abstain from any meat for at least three days prior to such an event.
Gluttony, if you noted, is one of the seven deadly sins has already been written. Therefore, Lust only seems to be the one which would accompany such an event as the Naše Maso tasting menu. So if you’ve got a lust for meat and a carnivorous spirit, have a seat at the round table where you might be joined with other diners who wish to binge on the many joys of meat, various cuts and preparations. Beer is included and on tap. However, not the ‘tap’ you might expect at any bar, actually, it is more appropriately called a spigot or faucet (depending what dialect you speak) straight out of the wall. Even better, it is self-serve and works on an honor system. They’re that nice. This is how the tasting menu will go:
A dripping candle of tasty beef fat that pools lusciously at the base of the plate for you to dip morsels of fresh-baked caraway bread and sprinkle on a bit of gourmet salt before you pop it into your mouth for the first orgasmic bite of the evening. The only next logical thing to do is have a shot of Slivovitz. Please do. Your arteries will thank you.
A platter of pâté preparations in which the chef/owner will tell you how to enjoy in their proper order. To help you keep a balanced meal, it’s served with some fresh cut vegetables with a lovely vinaigrette. Then, have another shot of Slivovitz.
Beef tartare. Quite possibly the best beef tartare you will have ever eaten. As a little side note, this is the very tartare they make their in-house burgers with. If you can’t get in for the tasting menu, you must pop in for the best burger you will ever have (they’re open til about 10pm) and quite possibly the tastiest on the planet. I realize this is a very lofty statement, but you’re hearing this from an all-American gal whose summers were filled with fresh-butchered beef from the local butcher where their cows would graze just outside the back door.
Follow up that tartare with a shot of Slivovitz.
Bone marrow and fresh-toasted bread with a salad of lovely fresh greens, flat-leaf parsley, onion and lemon vinaigrette.
Then, you guessed it. Before the next course, Slivovitz. Don’t worry, you won’t feel the least affected by the alcohol. All the protein and fat in your stomach will seem to instantly put it to good use. Don’t worry about a hangover. If you don’t drink the stuff, you’re going to experience another type, a protein hangover.
Wouldn’t you love to know? Go and find out for yourself, but it will be the final meat course to surely change your perception on how such a king’s cut of beef should ever be raised and grown on any bovine and thoughtfully prepared.
Had enough of Prague yet?
If you’ve got more room, especially for something frothy following the lustful and gluttonous feast, head across the street to the Prague Beer Museum where you can find 30 local beers on tap. Life. Does. Not. Get. Better. Than. This.
Please view the slideshow below…
International Sommelier and Chef Christie Kiley has over a decade of combined experience in both restaurants and wineries. While working in kitchens under talented chefs, she spent nights off serving guests in the dining room.
Her passion for food began overflowing into the wine industry and while laboring during wine harvests in Napa, she learned the nature of the product from soil to bottling. Experience working the back- and front-of-the-house in restaurants, wineries in sales, and as a food and wine educator, Christie has vast knowledge of the two industries.
Christie is currently living in Buenos Aires, where she received her Fourth level International Sommelier Certificate from the Escuela de Argentina Sommeliers (EAS) after two years of study. She is now travelling to fine-tune her knowledge and delve into the gastronomy and cultures around the globe. She works as a freelance writer to share her cultural experiences. Find Christie on Facebook