First Impressions of the Czech Food Culture

21-02-2015

An American’s perspective on how beer and pub culture signifies the collective spirit of Czech society. This foodie travels to the land where beer is cheaper than water, and investigates the culinary culture of a land far different than her own.

Photo: Mohylek, CC BY-SA 3.0Photo: Mohylek, CC BY-SA 3.0 As I walk down the cobblestone streets of Prague, I pass an array of scents and sites that intrigue my mind and senses. While the city has undergone an extreme amount of hardship and tribulations, food, and the appreciation of food has not diminished in the slightest. The success of pubs and restaurants around the city define the country’s strength to keep moving forward, and keep adapting to change. Some of these businesses lie in buildings that date back several centuries, so it’s no surprise that when walking into any of these restaurants, you are instantly hit with a sense that history was made here, among these barstools.

Amidst the plethora of pubs and sausage stands lies a history and a promise. These establishments signify the opposition to the communist rule that almost destroyed Czech culinary traditions, and a promise to revive the free land through a mix of old traditions and new innovations.

Cuisine in Prague has blossomed in the last few years, making way for a multicultural menu of Czech, Vietnamese, Italian, and even Mexican delicacies to enhance the typical pub lunch menu. A city that just a few years ago would have been a vegetarian’s nightmare now offers more options than ever before.

For an American in Prague, there are several initial surprises that caught this foodie’s eye. Perhaps the most obvious is of course, the mass consumption of beer. Beer is always the first choice beverage to accompany any meal, while in the United States, beer does not have quite the same upstanding reputation. The beer in Prague is easy to drink, and is available on tap from almost any restaurant, café, or even coffee shop. For a 20-year-old who cannot legally purchase or consume alcohol back in the States, I have been instantly baffled by the sheer availability of the beverage. Czechs do not view beer the same way as Americans do.

Photo: Kristýna MakováPhoto: Kristýna Maková In America, beer is not considered an appropriate anytime beverage, as a matter of fact, alcohol in general is not typically consumed before dinnertime. Even though the country drinks the most beer in the world per capita, Czechs do not seem to drink just to get drunk. There is actually a whole lot more to the activity than getting inebriated. It’s a startling fact that just a little over two decades ago the country was under communist rule, but even through thick and thin beer is the thing reviving the country and its people.

In Prague, the consumption of beer does not make a social situation inappropriate or taboo, but instead allows for friends, family, colleagues, and even teachers and students to enjoy a tradition on an equal playing field. While everyone has their personal favorite beer, most beers cost about the same small price, and are consumed in similar quantities. Prior to coming to Prague I was never much of a beer drinker. I was actually worried that I wouldn’t fit in because my palate would not enjoy the thing that this country loves most. However, through some careful research and a lot of test trials, I can now confidently say that I have found my beer of choice. A good dark lager for me accompanied by a sausage with spicy mustard and I’m a happy camper.

Each street corner pub is conveniently adorned with a sign telling which beer that establishment has on tap. Whether it be Pilsner Urquell, Staropramen, or Budweiser (not to be confused with the American version), each pub is essentially set up the same way, offers the same menu, and provides diners and drinkers not only with an accessible commissary, but a confortable environment to well eat, drink, and be merry, any time of day. It seems to me that the beer and pub culture is what keeps Prague so comfortable and low-key.

Coming from the bustling metropolis of Los Angeles, I have been delighted at just how calm and collected the people and the general vibe is around the city. Even though the city is a major hub and tourist destination, people are not in as much of a rush as those compared to other cities. The attire is mainly confortable casual, and most people wear what they go to work in to the pub they end their evening at. Stopping for a beer or a bite or to even just watch the river go by seems to be an accepted break within the day to regain the strength and focus stay productive. In Prague, the consumption of beer may be as therapeutic and rejuvenating as meditation.

21-02-2015