What's cooking?

26-01-2003

Fruit dumplingsFruit dumplings Czech cuisine may not have the international reputation of its French, Italian or Japanese counterparts, but I wonder if that is just because it has not had the opportunity to flaunt itself on the international stage. While some may snigger, I have to admit that I quite enjoy Czech food, and I would be quite pleased to see my favourite Czech dishes readily available in London, New York, Paris, Sydney and Tokyo.

If some entrepreneur out there is keen to take on my idea and bring the wonders of Czech cuisine to the world, I can even recommend the ideal model to follow. It's called Ceska kuchyne, which in English translates as "The Czech Kitchen." Located in Prague's Old Town between its two most famous squares - Wenceslas and Old Town squares - Ceska kuchyne feeds anyone searching for a decent Czech meal at a reasonable price.

Ceska kuchyne is a buffet-style restaurant adorned with traditional-style wooden tables and chairs and other items of Czech kitsch. But its true beauty lies in the wide variety of Czech dishes that it offers. And, ever since I arrived in this country, it is a place that has always satisfied my cravings for Moravian sparrow and apricot fruit dumplings with curd - but you can also choose from several different types of goulashes, roasted meats and other main courses with dumplings, sauerkraut and spinach on the side, and different cakes or dumplings for dessert. And wash it all down with some good Czech beer...

I discovered Ceska kuchyne a few days after my arrival in Prague. The only problem at the start was that I didn't know exactly what all of the meals were (the menu board is all in Czech), and I discovered my favourites simply by trying everything. To ask any of the staff what something is would be breaking one of the unspoken rules of Ceska kuchyne: only speak when you place your order - no questions, no answers.

So discussion may not be the restaurant's forte, but it prides itself on other democratic principles, such as egalitarianism. Because it caters to anyone in search of a decent Czech meal, it attracts Czechs from all walks of life, from businesspeople to beggars, professionals to pensioners. And everyone pays the some way: you receive a piece of paper upon entering, and everything you order is written down on it. That piece of paper is your key to entering the establishment and to leaving it; without it you will not be served, and if you lose it you are fined five hundred crowns.

The system is all part of the charm of Ceska kuchyne. But would the rest of the world like it? Put it this way: although it is located in one of the most touristy areas in Prague, I usually don't see many tourists there, possibly because they are not courageous enough to face the enigma of Czech food without it first being explained in their own languages.

And in any case, would the global debut of Czech cuisine be so successful if we explained to the world exactly what is in jelito - or blood sausage?

26-01-2003