Damn, it feels good to be documenting the delights a new location for the first time in… eight months?? Has it really been that long since my last border-crossing travel? Well, I was back in the U.S. for awhile over the summer, working my butt off to get myself back to Spain for another year’s worth of travel opportunity. But a trip home, back to living with mom and dad, sweating myself silly in Richmond kitchens doesn’t quite make for travel blog content.
Regardless, I’ve counted the months since my last big trip, which was between Spain and Portugal in March of 2018. Bueno, it’s a new year and a new round of documentation is in order because I (ahem – WE) have been crossing off some serious destinations in Europe.
Did I mention it’s not just me in Spain this time? Jeff tambien! My fantastic boyfriend, who puts up with my neuroses, wannabe blogging pitches and experimental cooking extravaganzas at ungodly hours of the night. Man, am I happy to have him here with me this time around.
Since October, we have been planning ‘the big trip’. As an English assistant in the Auxiliares de Conversacion program, you have a solid 17 days off in a row to make something big happen for yourself. It’s an auxiliar’s opportunity for hardcore traveling. We had been planning a serious trip, starting with Jeff’s out of-this-world awesome parents who visited and treated us to Christmas week in Sevilla and Madrid. After that, it was up to us!
In October, flights were already going (fast!). We had to find budget-friendly flight deals to countries we actually wanted to see. Oh, and did you catch that whole 18 day thing? Yeah, if you’re an Auxiliar living on that measly salary, you’d better be booking destinations where you can sustain yourself for that length of time. I think we hit the nail on the head with our picks.
I insisted on 3 cities for our 12 just-us days. To some, just 3 or 4 days per city may seem rushed, but I always want to make the most of my time in Europe by checking off those boxes. Once our contracts are complete, who knows when we’ll be back over the Atlantic (yikes, I don’t even want to conceive of that door closing just yet).
Back to our holiday city hopping – we went for three – Prague, Athens and Budapest! All varied in every way, all relatively cheap, and all FULL of activities you’ll actually want to do. But let’s get real… what’s that one activity you want to do, can repeat throughout the trip and justify dropping the money on, time and time again? EAT!
Yes, so we ate our way around these kickass destinations and at a great time of year, full of Christmas season delicacies. Starting with Prague. Famous for its Christmas markets, Prague was one of the most charming cities I’ve ever seen. All halls, streets and shops fully decked for the most wonderful time of the year. The city actually looks like it’s made of gingerbread houses.
My belly was full and my appetite satisfied at EVERY cobblestone turn in Prague. Jeff on the other hand… may have a slightly different take on the food situation… Prague is an inland city in a landlocked country. The capital is bustling with activity, but a larger portion of the surrounding country is relatively rural. Can you guess what I’m getting at?
Traditional Czech cuisine is heavily meat based. Sausages, slow roasted beef, chicken, duck and other poultry flooded the menus of traditional Czech restaurants. It wasn’t a huge problem, but put it this way… I was in a carefree, meatlovers’ paradise. And Jeff was sifting through restaurants’ Trip Advisor menu photos like it was his job.
Luckily, the Czechs are big on bread in every form. Potato bread, dumplings, deep fried breads, paninis and classic crusty cuts were served with every meal. I’m
fantasizing looking back on that memory fondly as I scarf down chia seed pudding with one hand, and type with the other at my kitchen counter. So Jeff got by and even found his new favorite dish… want to know what it is? Keep scrolling and enjoy my beloved list of 10 Essential Prague Food Experiences.
1. Czech Classics
Goulash, not to be confused with the Hungarian goulash (don’t worry – we’ll get to that *wink*), is a hearty stew usually made with beef or pork in a paprika-heavy sauce, often flavored with various herbs and in my case, caraway (if my taste buds are right!). Goulash is served with super spongy bread dumplings – they’re almost chewy! And topped with thinly sliced red onion. I’m pretty sure that this is the EXACT dish any and every person should enjoy during the frigid winter months after a long trek though those chilly Czech winds. I tried it at Cafe 22, just over the Charles Bridge in Malá Strana. Seriously, if you’re anything like us and you walk around for ages indecisively trying to decide where to eat for the first belated meal of the day, until your hunger is making you sick to your stomach, this is the plate of food you want plopped in front of you.
2. Chimney Cakes
This was the only food I had been advised to try before heading off to Prague. And man, the heads up wasn’t even necessary, because you couldn’t avoid these if you bird boxed your way through mala strana. These sugar tunnels are frequently available through picturesque windows and counter-only store fronts. I mean, several chimney cake shops hold down every street of central Prague.
Chimney cakes are a spiraled, cylindrical, hollowed out dough. The dough is stretched out, wrapped around what appeared to be a cast iron cylinder and cooked to order on a spit. It’s then brushed with some liquid – either butter or some sort of egg wash, and rolled in one of the following: Cinnamon, sugar, vanilla sugar, coconut or crushed nuts. Then, it’s filled with Nutella.
You can get it just like this, unless you’re an instagram fiend or honest to goodness sweet tooth – have it filled with ice cream and topped with more crushed candies, nuts or sprinkles. Once you’ve finished the filling, you can consume the spiraled dough in a pull-apart bread fashion.
While this is an essential Prague food experience, chimney cakes are actually of Hungarian-origin. The dessert is certainly prominent in both countries, but we found it so frequently in Prague, you’ve just got to try it should you visit this city and not Hungary.
3. Craft Beer at Bad Flash Bar
The Czech Republic has a reputation for its brew game. We sampled some pilsners like good little tourists during our trip, but what really satisfied our booze ambitions was the craft beer selection at Bad Flash Bar. Arriving to Prague at around 10 pm was a little rough, and if you’re not staying within 10 minutes walking of the center, it might not be worth the tram ride on your first night. So, we searched for the nearest place to grab a drink and wound up in pint paradise, Bad Flash Bar.
It was the perfect introduction to Prague. The spot was cozy and the bartenders – or should I say, the gatekeepers of a beyond-earthy bottle selection – were friendly as could be without being intrusive. If you ask me, NOTHING more perfect when you’re overtired, fresh off of a plane and hot out of a chatty taxi ride.
Bad Flash wasn’t directly in the center of Prague’s tourist action, rather, in a residential area near our hotel. We noticed a couple of nearby hostels, so you may come across it if that’s your choice accommodation. If not, the nearest tram stop is about a ten minute walk!
3. The Gingerbread Museum
While I actually don’t love baking, I am a former pastry cook, so specialty bakeries hit a sweet spot for me when exploring a new city. The Gingerbread Museum of Prague was no exception. That distinct smell of oven-fresh gingerbread will pull you in as you wander up the cobblestone streets of Mala Strana. If the smell doesn’t, the glass windows lined with perfectly shaped and decorated cookies will. This is the perfect place to pick up edible souvenirs from. I grabbed a couple of one euro packs of their signature gingerbread spice mix packets for gifts. You can even watch the most steady-handed Czech bakers decorate these cookies right in front of you.
Scattered throughout the outdoor markets were countless vendors with hot, greasy foods. It was hog heaven. Literally. I lost count of how many vendors offered variations of tempting pork sausages, roasted right in front of you. While they weren’t to keen on people taking their photo, I didn’t mind Jeff taking mine! As an awesome alternative, which my overfilled Christmas appetite resorted to, we found chicken and veggie kebabs.
5. Christmas Market Delicacies
The sausages weren’t even the half of it, y’all. Vendors had Czech roasted chicken leg plates, rotisserie chicken sandwiches, massive pots of potatoes and other stewed veggies, made to order crepes, hot chocolate, mulled wine, roasted chestnuts and even hot pumpkin soup! Any HOT street food to keep your hands warm while strolling through the cold, Christmas-spirit filled squares.
As I mentioned before, Jeff may have found his new favorite food in Prague. Lángos, or Langosh, is another Prague street food of Hungarian origin. Langosh are a fluffy, savory, deep fried dough. It’s in the approximate shape of a disc, between a half inch and 1 1/2 inches thick.
Fluffy on the inside, hot, crispy and greasy on the outside (think, dense, savory doughnut!), Langosh, in Prague specifically, are then brushed with garlic. Next up, topped with a hefty handful of shredded cheese and finally drizzled with ketchup or tartar sauce. There was a variation which we found in Budapest, but again… we’ll get to that *queue wink*.
7. Slovak Halusk
difficult impossible to get a truly appetizing even remotely appetizing photo of this dish – but sometimes, that’s how the BEST dishes are, am I right? Slovak Halusk, based on my post-trip research, is simply known as Czech grated potato dumplings, ham and cabbage. This was an out of this world dish which I wouldn’t go for had I read it on a sign or menu. I saw a giant, beautiful steaming pot of the stuff at a Christmas market stall and said ‘ring me up, good sir’.
The body of the dish was ‘potato dumplings’. IT WAS GNOCCHI! And it was delicious. They were smaller pieces than typical gnocchi, but were identically soft and chewy. The dumplings are accompanied by small pieces of ham, which is being roasted (I’m talkin’ massive cut of pork) next to the stall. The cabbage reminded me of sauerkraut more than fresh cabbage, as the dish altogether had that tangy-ness you get from sauerkraut and a sauce-like texture tying it altogether (which may have come from some sort of cheese? Can someone help me out here?).
8. Potato Chips on a Stick
Here we go on another street food. What can I say? This was half of what made Prague awesome and inexpensive. This little treat made the list because it was one of the cheapest, vegetarian-friendly snacks that actually would fill you up on your way to the Museum of Communism. It’s more food than it looks like on that little stick! Oh, and it doesn’t hurt that (despite my efforts), it’s one of those instagrammable essentials.
The ‘chips’ are actually relatively thick, so think more roasted potatoes than crunchy chips. All the more enjoyable!
9. Traditional Czech Plum Cake
Strudel is probably at the top of the list on must-try desserts or breakfast pastries in Prague, but try switching it up with some traditional plum cake! I mean, how often do you see this in the US? We tried a slice in all of its purple-y goodness at a cafe in the center. It was delicate, fluffy and topped with a crisp layer of sanding sugar. Without going overboard on the sugar like with chimney cakes, this hit the spot.
9. Artisan Hot Chocolate
So in case you didn’t get the memo… Prague is cold. Maybe not as bad as Budapest or Berlin, but you WILL want to be prepared. Whether you are or aren’t, you’ll be on the hunt for cozy spots to step in for a relaxing warm up. If you’re hankering for something other than coffee, but aren’t quite ready for beer, consider artisan hot chocolate! There are several locations in Prague for this treat. We stopped at Choco Cafe Betlemske and I was thoroughly impressed.
You could pick from a menu of chocolate flavors ranging everywhere between dark, milk and white. You could then choose your milk type and flavors, such as lavender, coconut and orange to add in. Jeff went with a classic milk chocolate. I tried it and it was delicious. Even thicker than Spanish hot chocolate (I didn’t know that was even possible!).
Choco Cafe had other little sweets you could pick from!
11. Underground Bars
Consider this your essential post-food experience. After a dank dinner, you’ll wander around, looking for a bar to head into, realizing most of them near the main squares are a little pricey, given the (well justified) number of tourists. Prague has these great bars which at first seem a little dark and cramped. Once you settle into a table with some friends, you’ll realize this is where the party’s at. Quite a few places feel like they’re housed in what was once a nuclear bunker. This was once of our favorite hole in the
wall ground drinking spots in the old center. Keep your eyes peeled as they’ll be harder to spot.