Edited by Jessica Wright.
In a city as rich in history and cultural folklore as Prague, a multicultural metropolis so thickly blanketed in mythical tales of dragons, golems, and alchemical legend, that you really would expect nothing less than a cuisine to match. In that regard, the rustic, medieval nature of traditional Czech food – warm, hearty with ancient influence from surrounding European countries – does not disappoint. There is simply nothing as deeply comforting as a steaming bowl of goulash after exploring the streets of Prague in the depths of winter, nor as satisfying as a cold pint in the heat of summer. Prague cuisine is the stuff of folklore all on its own, but to know where to find those fairytale meals is certainly one of the most important tidbits for a successful Czech trip and one where you might need a little help. That’s where I come in; after a few years on the block, I’ve learned a thing or two and would be happy to point you in the direction of the best food in Prague, and of course where to eat in Prague. You could let me show you around or, of course, you could just keep reading.
Photo credit: commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Svíčková_
Svíčková (Braised Beef) With Dumplings
Svíčková – an introduction to delicious Czech cuisine that, while deeply satisfying, is also impossible to pronounce. This one is a classic among Czech specialties and a must-eat food in Prague. The dish consists of slow-cooked sirloin beef that has been marinated and braised, before being covered in a creamy sauce derived from root vegetables and served with bread dumplings – a foreign introduction of old that is now deeply rooted in Czech gastronomy, and not be confused with the Asian counterpart. Topped with cranberry compote, this delightful combination of sweet, savory, creamy, and salty makes for the ultimate comfort food but a comes with a mild warning – Svíčková is also the name of a costly cut of beef, one which is not served in this dish; a somewhat misleading name if ever there was one. A truly fall-off-the-bone version of this dish, can be found at Next Door; founded by a famous Czech chef with celebrity status and TV endeavors akin to the likes Gordon Ramsay. Cafe Louvre offers another take on this dish, and offers a culinary experience with historical flair, putting it firmly up on my list of where to eat in Prague. Open since 1902, this cafe´ has entertained the likes of Albert Einstein and Franz Kafka visited, as well as a host of philosophers, students and writers.
More commonly known to outsiders as goulash, this dish is arguably among the best food in Prague, and certainly makes a well-earned appearance on any Prague food guide worth its salt. While goulash is a prime example of external influence on Czech cuisine, having its roots in Hungarian cooking, it is nowadays considered one of the most typical and easily found Czech meals and offers its own take a dish that can be found in various iterations across the former Austro-Hungarian Empire. Czech guláš is prepared with fewer vegetables and contains greater portions of meat than the Hungarian version, and while beef is the most typically used meat, chicken or pork varieties are not uncommon. The slow-cooked meat stew and gravy is generously served alongside bread dumpling and is best eaten at the rustic Mlejnice, where it is served in the famous bread-bowl, after a walk around Prague’s Old Town Square and past the astronomical clock (one of many must-dos in Prague). This rustic venue with its old-world ambiance offers the ideal setting for this traditional dish, and – often packed from hardwood floors to rustic rafters with local patrons – offers a surprisingly palatable price for goulash.
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Another name that you will surely be unable to pronounce until you hear it in its natural habitat, this one – a dish of roast pork, bread dumplings, and stewed cabbage (or sauerkraut) – is worth learning to say if only so you can find it! Distinctly traditional and another must eat food in Prague, this hearty dish is can be found in different forms across several other central-European countries. Though based on the favorite duo of meat and potato, this dish feel somewhat lighter than other Czech food, possibly as a result of the cabbage whose sweet tang serves to cut through the richness of the roasted pork. Though most Czech restaurants offer it, I suggest you get this goodie at Lokál, found in two locations in Prague, where you can wash this Czech specialty down with unpasteurized pilsner straight out of the tank.
Photo credit: commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Chlebicky
These bite-sized open sandwiches are a staple of Czech cuisine. Easy to scoff down and quick to make, they form the ideal on-the-go snack and are often eaten for breakfast or lunch. Chlebíčky are a common finger-food at any Czech meeting or celebration. The dainty tapas-like nibbles are made up of a variety of toppings on a piece of fresh bread. The toppings range from ham and potato salad to smoked mackerel and are widely available. Sisters Bistro offers a modern spin on the traditional chlebíčky, creatively pairing unlikely toppings such wasabi mayo with pickled herring. The tiny bistro, with only four tables, offers new variations of these inspired pairings on a daily basis and while the tables are minute, the turnover is quick and the quaint view of the street outside is worth it.
Trdelník – Chimney Cake
Commonly mistaken as one of many Prague food specialties, chimney cakes are in fact Transylvanian in origin but are so commonly found in Prague that they have become part and parcel of the travel experience here nonetheless. These chimney cakes are something you will experience all around Central and Eastern Europe (in countries such as Hungary, Austria, Romania, and of course Czech) and certainly something you can indulge in on a locally led and personally tailored experience of Prague. They are fun to try at least once and are truthfully so delicious you will be happy to encounter them on numerous occasions. Made up of rolled yeast dough wrapped around a stick, they are roasted over an open flame to a crispy golden finish that leaves the insides gooey and chewy, before being brushed with butter and rolled around in cinnamon-sugar and nut mixture. They can be stuffed with a range of yummy things like ice cream and Nutella, and make for great pics – especially in front of Prague castle – just one of the many locations you can find this cheap and tasty treat – or late at night after you’ve indulged in a few beers. Though widely available, you can get these with an extra helping of cheer at Good Food, Coffee and Bakery – a small bakery near Charles Bridge whose owner is always standing outside to welcome you in.
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When it comes to what to eat in Prague it doesn’t get better than slicing into a deep-fried wheel of Czech camembert, and dipping fresh bread into the the gooey cheese that oozes out! This common street food is a recent post-war, nontraditional addition to Czech cuisine and involves slices of cheese (usually Edam, Gouda or Muenster) which are breaded, before being pan or deep-fried and served up with fries, salad, a bread roll and a Czech version of tartar sauce (tatarská omáčka). There are also variations of the dish that use Hermelín (Czech camembert) or Niva (Czech blue cheese). Czech food, as you may have already noted, is notoriously meaty which can be quite the adjustment if you, like me, are accustomed to lighter cuisine. This vegetarian delicacy makes for a delicious break from meat while maintaining all of the hearty flavor of Czech food. I suggest you get this one hot off a street-food stand; it is a great example of some of the delicious Prague street food available! Alternatively, if you're looking to savor it with a glass of wine and a laid-back meal experience, eat it at Lokál.
After a big savory meal of meat and potatoes, probably washed down with a mug of crisp amber beer, you might be after something a little sweeter. I would suggest this classic dessert; similar to a crepe this fluffy pancake is rolled up and served with an array of fillings such as jam, fruit, cream or nuts. Over the years this dish has evolved to even include savory fillings like meat or cheese, and though traditionally rolled up it can now be found in a number of artful arrangements. As you can imagine these make for a delightful breakfast paired with a cup of coffee, and can be found in cafeś and food carts across Prague. Spoil yourself with a glittering morning lost in time at Kavarna Obecni Dum, where the Art Nouveau interior, furniture and piano music will take you back a century. Here the palačinky is served with a dollop of ice-cream and smothered in fruit. Take your breakfast/dessert in courses (you’re on holiday, why not?) by choosing from a plethora of tasty pastries and cakes on the trolley; cheesecake, walnut cake, raspberry temptation or Schwarzwald cherry, pick your pleasure at what might be considered on of the best restaurants in Prague, certainly for a selection of dessert breakfast treats and positively captivating decor.
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After a breakfast dessert buffet, you might be in the market for something a little lighter for lunch. This creamy soup consisting of potato and mushrooms, flavored with dill and vinegar, and topped with a delicate quail egg and island of sour cream is just what you need on a wintry day. Hearty and cheap, it’s an ideal dish to make room for while sightseeing and exploring. Get it from U Kroka where locals squeeze in by the dozen for the quick service and tasty food and in the summertime you’ll be pleased to discover that the tables spill onto the outside pavement, where you can enjoy your kulajda in the summery air.
Pork knuckle (vepřové koleno)
In Central Europe there is not a dish quite as quintessential of the region’s combined cuisine as the pork knuckle. In Czech this particular iteration of the popular cut dates back to 11th century, and when you indulge in this dish of slow roasted pork, cabbage, mustard, horseradish you will find yourself transported back to medieval times. After centuries, this dish is as sought after and delcatable as ever. The meat is marinated in beer for between 12 and 24 hours, before being slow roasted and basted in fat until the the juicy meat is barely holding onto the bone, encased in crispy skin. Typically up to 400g of meat, you’ll need a good amount of beer to wash this one down, so be sure to have a good sized ale at the ready, and if a diet made up almost entirely of meat and beer has you feeling like you might be on the brink of scurvy, feel free to order a side of veggies. At Pivovarsky Klub each course is paired with an impressive selection of 240 bottled beers, perfect to wash down your meal. The brick arches and rustic wood furniture in this world-famous restaurant – mentioned by the famous travel author Anthony Bourdain – set the scene for this dish perfectly, and could be considered not only one of the best local restaurants in Prague but also a must on your list of things to do in Prague.
You might find it surprising to see this Vietnamese staple on the list of Prague’s yummy must-eats, but Prague is also home to a large Asian community, naturally lending itself to some excellent Asian food that dates back to before the fall of the Iron Curtain. Since then Vietnamese noodle shops have sprung up all over Prague and are exceedingly popular, almost always crowded during lunchtime. I love to cook and eat Asian food, and find it a refreshing break from traditional Czech which can be very heavy. I love to stop over at Pho Vietnam Tuan & Lan for a steaming bowl of beef pho that is not only cheap and tasty, but genuinely authentic and can be served with fried pork skewers. There are three branches of little gem on Slavíkova, Kodaňskà and Anglicka street, and I would definitely recommend that you give one of them a try.
BONUS - Beer
One of the things Prague is famous for is the beer; truly excellent beer at that! The world’s beer-lovers can thank the Czech Republic for Pilsner Urquell, Staropramen, and Budweiser Budvar among others, and in fact the beer here is so good that the locals drink it like water. In some cases it happens to be cheaper than water, which is perhaps why it is also the start to any good Czech meal. And of course where there is good beer, there is a vibrant bar scene! Hunt down one of the many cozy cellar pubs or breweries that Prague is home to, nestle in and spend the day clinking mugs over some meaty, starchy nibbles sure to soak up all the lager. Perfect for a cold day out, or for that matter a particularly warm one, and the best part is that Prague lends itself so beautifully to walking that you have no worries about getting home afterwards, except for getting lost which – in a city as beautiful as this – is not necessarily the worst thing.
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