Czechs are early risers, something often credited to the 19th century emperor Franz Joseph, a reputed insomniac who insisted all the members of his court be ready to start business every morning at 6 am. They say the sovereign’s habit trickled down to the entire population of the Austro-Hungarian Empire; to some extent, at least, that tradition lives on in this part of the world.
Sour rye soup from the Giant Mountains, the south Bohemian štrachanda or rump steak goulash from Prague, these are just some of the Czech specialties, that will appear on the menus of Czech restaurants as of April. Czech Tourism, in cooperation with the Czech Association of Hotels and Restaurants and the Association of Cooks and Confectioners, have prepared a special project with the aim of promoting the Czech Republic through regional specialties. These dishes will appear on menus under the label ‘Czech Specials’.
There was a marked increase in the number of producers of organic food in the Czech Republic in 2008, according to figures presented in the January edition of the monthly Bio Obchod. Whereas at the end of 2007 there were just over 250 organic food producers in the country, at the end of last year that number had risen to over 400. There was also a 27-percent increase in the number of shops selling organic foodstuffs, and the Czech Republic’s two biggest bakeries started producing organic breads in 2008.
When it comes to New Year’s Eve, things have changed in the last 20 years. Now Czechs don’t just sit in front of their TVs on the last night of the year, noshing on chlebíčky and jednohubky, the famous open-faced sandwiches and canapés. They go out more, partying with friends and dining out; many theatres give special performances and neighbours just get together and celebrate the coming year. But one thing has not changed at all – their favourite drink to match the occasion is an original Czech sparkling wine – Bohemia Sekt.
My special guest in the studio this New Year’s Eve is cocktail expert Alexander Mikšovic, who has written eleven books on the art of the cocktail, and trained generations of Prague barmen. Alex is an expert on whiskies, and knows more of my native Scotland than I could ever claim to have seen, but is equally as proud of the Czech Republic’s own domestic offerings. I first asked him if, in terms of alcohol, there was more to this country than beer:
I have to confess to being somewhat perturbed over the years with the Czech system of addressing people in either the unfamiliar or familiar. The system exists in several languages, though not English – essentially in Czech, one addresses people that one is not familiar with in the plural “zdravím vás” as opposed to “zdravím tě.” As a kid visiting Prague, I would constantly forget myself and refer to people that I didn’t know in the familiar. Then, someone would later say to me “you ‘tykat’ when you should have ‘vykat’” – that is the way the two forms
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