07 June 2011

Czech Food

Pork, soup and smažený sýr (which I’ll get to in a bit) were basically the only things we ever saw Czech people ordering out. And, of course, pizza. However, most places had menus that included at least two other types of meat, most often chicken and duck, and there was always some liver on offer. Merlin ordered “liver and pancake” assuming that the meat would be served alongside small, dense potato pancakes. Such was the case with his goulash a few nights earlier. However, it came wrapped in an enormous version that we soon-after realized was the norm.
Bramborák are pretty ubiquitous in the Czech Republic and seeing them being fried up at every other stand of a street fair does not make them more appetizing. Unlike latkes, they don’t seem to be made with any actual potato, just potato flour and lots of spices and onion. Their name translates literally to "potato," but also used to be the word for "pancake." So, you can be pretty sure these are the original Czech flatcakes. Equally common were houkové knedlíky, bramborák’s dainty sister. They are white flour dumplings, boiled and sliced into thick discs. Apparently they're light and fluffy, but being as they always serve the purpose of sopping up thick gravy, neither of us tried them out.
A different sort of pancake, small fluffy buttermilk, was served at a vegetarian buffet where we lunched. It’s under the grey and dilly mushroom gravy on the right. Most people forewent the salads altogether, filling their plates with grains, potatoes and falafel. Something we’ve noticed a lot here in Europe: “vegetarian” definitely means the exclusion of meat more than the inclusion of vegetables.
While carp was big in certain areas, trout was widely available. Here it is “grilled.” Fish was always served with slices of herb butter, which made sense in this case, but seemed strange alongside my smoked salmon salad.
The only street food we ate in Štramberk was the town’s namesake specialty štramberské uši or Štramberk ears. People walked around with what looked like vertical cannolis, brimming with whipped cream. Canisters of the cookies, long and skinny like pringles, were sold in vending machines. When we went to what seemed like the go-to place for fresh 'ears,' we ordered a “classic.” Somehow, this meant a plain one with nothing in it. It looked pitiful next to everyone else’s cone of festivity. The upside was that, unadulterated, the cookie’s flavor really popped out. It was intensely gingery and softer than expected.
Inside the “Little Wooden Village” skansen Merlin’s “dumplings with meat and sauerkraut” were pretty much what we both expected. They were a lot like Lithuanian cepelinai in that they were large masses of dough with meat at their center and more meat, cracklings, on top. This dough was much sweeter though and tasted like the lovechild of potato flour and polenta. They may look fluffy, but Merlin assures me that they were more “dense and sticky.” I had the below pile of food. Neither of us had any grains for dinner that night.
It was our very first menu that didn’t have a single fish option or some sort of broccoli dish. (Broccoli with cream, cheese or both popped up a lot as a non-meat main course). I felt lucky to be having kasha, as I knew what the other option would be. Smažený sýr, fried cheese, was available everywhere. When we first spotted it, we assumed it was fish. It resembles the golden sqaure in a Fillet o Fish from McDonalds. Nope. It was just a large, flat mozzarella stick. We successfully avoided trying one – focusing our cheese attentions in another direction.
As soon as we read one teeny tiny sentence about “stinky Olomouc cheese,” we made it our mission to search the stuff out. Our chase led us to a bar that was said to serve it. We were warned about the gaming machines inside, but apparently there was a porch out back. Neither of us could bring ourselves to walk through the black and fluorescent interior midday to investigate. When we saw a cheese shop, we figured that was a much better choice – but they told us that the only Olomouc cheese amongst their selection of mostly French, Italian and Swiss ones were a parmasen and some big bland one. We got both, wondering if “stinky” had been an overstatement. Then, at our last meal in the city, we saw “pungent Olomouc cheese” on the menu! It came sprinkled with paprika, plopped on a heavily buttered piece of rye and slathered with raw onion. Of course, we hadn’t brought out camera. Here it is from a package at the grocery store. It was definitely stinky, almost in a limburger way and had a bizarre consistency that could best be described as thick, gelatinous cheese on cold pizza.To cleanse your visual palate, I offer you this bowl of salad. Merlin would like me to mention that it was mostly leek, which is true. But being as I can still taste onion from something or other, it is a truth I would rather ignore right now. Let’s just bask in the summer freshness of this coleslaw, shall we?

2 comments:

  1. houkové knedlíky = houskové knedlíky this means dumplings with buns (houska = bun) bramboraky normally made of raw potato, eggs, majoram. The word Bramboraky is only used for "pancakes made with potato". The normal thin pancakes are called Palačinky.

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