When it comes to kolaches, a few things are undeniable.
- They come from the Czech Republic, not Texas or Brooklyn.
- The traditional Czech kolache – small round yeast dough treats – come with sweet fillings, not the jalapeño sausage fillings like in Texas.
- The best kolache in the world come from the kitchen of Zuzi’s grandma in Moravia.
If you want to get as near as it gets to the perfection we call Zuzi’s grandma’s kolache (or their regional version called “vdolecky”), head over to Moravské kolácky Dolezal in the Vrsovice district. We love a place that has a focus, and this one is no exception. Combine that with coffee by Café Jen around the corner and eat them in the park above the Grébovka vineyard, overlooking the southern slopes of Prague. You’re welcome, guys. Not willing to travel outside of the centre? Cukrár Skála serves solid poppy seed and cherry kolache.
Buchty, sweet yeast dough buns, are something the heroes of Czech fairy tales would pack to go when they were about to embark on a journey. You know, to slay a dragon and win the princess or something. And for a reason: they are full of energy, delicious and entirely Czech. (And when we say “energy”, we mean gluten.) We eat them for breakfast, as a sweet snack with coffee, and if there’s no freshly baked buns on the table when you visit a grandma, people can take serious offence.
We eat our buns at EMA Espresso Bar, one of our favourite coffee shops in Prague. We go for the plum jam buchta, but they tend to disappear of the counter very quickly. For the same product, visit Café Lounge and Alf & Bet, EMA’s sister coffee shops. In either of these you are killing two birds with one stone, because coffee. ESKA, the hip restaurant in the Karlin district, is another great place to have buchtas – they use sourdough base (and you can taste the tartness a bit) but their fillings – plum jam, farmers cheese, poppy seeds or nuts – are of great quality. Finally, for a sit-down dessert version of buchtas, head over to the recently opened U Mateje in the Hanspaulka district: they are warm, served with melted butter and melting ice-cream, and just sinfully delicious.
PS: For traditional Czech pastries, please see our blog post about Prague pastry shops. Thank you.
We could debate extensively whether chlebicek, the Czech open-faced sandwich, is exclusively Czech. The truth is that you can order something fairly similar in the Trzesniewski or Zum Schwarzen Kameel delis in Vienna, and the smorrebrod ubiquitous in the delis of Copenhagen, Denmark, is not that far off, either. Still, Czech or not, the Czechs love the chlebicek: a slice of baguette-like bread or toast bread with savoury toppings, it is a jack of many trades. It serves as fast food, finger food at house parties, office food, and can be had at social events like theatre plays or senior proms here in Prague.
For the best modern version, head over to the Sisters bistro, where Hana Michopulu, a big personality of the Czech food scene, tried to reinvent the whole concept by fusing the Czech tradition with some Scandinavian influences. For a very authentic, old-school version of the same, you must visit the the Zlaty kriz deli, a place where time stopped in late 1970s and where hungry locals leave the last bits of any efforts for a healthier lifestyle at the door and devour the chlebiceks so full of mayonnaise. Need a more local touch? Try Chlebícky Letná in the Letná district, or Príma chlebicek in the Vinohrady district. No matter where you go, the classic potato-salad-and-ham combo is still the undisputed king of the category.
BEER AND CZECH BEER SNACKS
Beer is the national sport here in the Czech Republic, so it belongs to this list without saying. To accompany it go for Czech beer snacks. While Czech cuisine may be a bit light on appetisers, it more than compensates for it by a specific category of foods: “beer snacks”, or “snacks that go well with beer”. Yes, Czechs like to pair food with the ubiquitous Czech beer, not the other way around. More than often, “beer snacks”, which can be found on the menu of virtually every pub in Prague, consist of a piece of meat and a condiment. The classics include Prague ham with horseradish cream, pickled sausage (sold as “utopenec”) and any result of the traditional pig killings in the winter, like headcheese with vinegar and chopped onion, or blood sausages. Vegetarians may opt for “pickled cheese”, which is really Camembert-style cheese marinated in oil with spices. Yes, no vegetables are usually hurt in the making of beer snacks. We’d go to Lokal to try a proper selection, because that is pretty much the backbone of Lokal pubs’ menu, and virtually the only thing you can order after the kitchen closes at night. Pair with beer. Of course.
Let’s get real. You may not want to, but you should definitely try carp in Prague. It’s a game changer, as the French say. Imported from China in the Middle Ages and now representing 9 out of 10 fish farmed in the Czech Republic, it is the number 1 fish in the country by a wide margin, mainly due to the fact carp schnitzel with potato salad is the classic Christmas Eve dish here.
Don’t know where to start with carp? Glad you asked. Start with peprenky, or marinated carp, in the recently opened Vycep restaurant in the Vinohrady district. It’s an updated version of a classic beer snack served in many pubs, and it is absolutely delicious. U Mateje serves kapri hranolky, or carp fries. Think fish and chips, but carp. (Disclaimer: we were actually not impressed by that version on our last visit, but we trust the chef he’ll improve them.) Finally, look for carp on the menu if you visit Prague around Christmas. Served as schnitzel with potato salad, it is absolutely delicious.
Traditional Czech cuisine incorporates a specific type of dish: the main sweet dish. We’re talking something sizable, warm and sweet that is not served as dessert but as the main dish, usually after soup or appetizer. And the fruit dumplings are the absolute classic representative of that category: dumplings filled with fruit and served in a deeper dish with melted butter, sugar and other sweet condiments. While Café Savoy serve killer strawberry and apricot dumplings with butter and cheese curds, our heart belongs to the fruit dumplings at Krystal bistro in the Karlin district. The dumplings have seasonal fillings (although plum dominates outside of the strawberry, blueberry and apricot seasons) but they are always served with a delicious and rich side of melted butter, poppy seeds or farmers cheese, and jam made from the fruit that’s inside the dumplings. Conveniently, the dumplings are served in two sizes: one as dessert, or three… as an even bigger dessert. Go big or go home, right?