Imagine Prague: Food & Beverages

Published 28 November 2023
  • Annual Meeting
  • News

Two Czech pastries with a white exterior, red custard filling, and black seeds dusted on the top Dive into the culinary scene of Czech food. Find the most authentic Czech dishes in little local pubs or cafeteria-style restaurants in center Prague.

The Czech Republic should really be called “the land of dumplings”. There are dozens of different kinds of knedlíky, the Czech word for dumplings. The most common ones are bread dumplings, houskové knedlíky. There are also potato dumplings made of potatoes with the addition of flour and eggs. And then there are bacon dumplings made of bacon, flour, and eggs. Dumplings form the accompaniment for a variety of meats. The meat and knedlíky are often covered with a creamy sauce. There are also sweet dumplings made with a variety of dough and filled with fruit such as plums, apricots, or strawberries. And finally, there are “knedlíčky”, or “little dumplings”, made of flour or liver pâté and added into soups.

The most revered staple foods in the Czech Republic include:

  • Vepřo-knedlo-zelo: pork-dumpling-sauerkraut
  • Guláš: beef stew with paprika sauce served with bread dumplings
  • Segedínský guláš: beef stew with sauerkraut-based sauce, usually served with bread dumplings
  • A variety of meals that include roasted pork or beef
  • Řízek: that’s Czech for Wienerschnitzel, a large fried tender pork fillet covered in batter and breadcrumbs, usually served with potatoes, mashed potato, or potato salad
  • Poultry, such as goose or duck, with knedlíky and red sauerkraut.

Czech pastry covered in sugar cooking on coalsSweet entrees include those fruit dumplings described above, plus “buchtičky se šodó” which are little pastries covered with a sweet custard-like sauce, and “palačinky” or soft crepes filled with jam or cottage cheese. Yes, Czech people often eat these as their main course.

Then there are the real desserts such as koláče, buchty, and bábovka. These may contain interesting fillings such as milled poppy seeds, plum butter, or cottage cheese.

Czech street food can be purchased from little stands along streets and squares and includes:

  • Párek v rohlíku: sort of a hot dog, except that the dog is actually inserted into a hole skillfully drilled into the bun
  • Klobása: spicy sausage with bread and mustard
  • Bramborák: potato pancake made of potato, garlic, flour, spices, and fried to perfection
  • Smažený sýr or smažák: grilled cheese covered with batter and breadcrumbs
  • Utopenec: a pickled sausage (but translated means “drowned person”)
  • Trdelník (see picture): cinnamon-flavored sweet dough pastry baked over charcoal, often filled with ice cream or just sweet cream.

You may be relieved to hear that most contemporary Czech families have increased their vegetable intake and have modified their diet away from the traditional high-fat authentic Czech food. Many families now reserve the traditional food for special occasions and holidays, such as Posvícení, the Czech equivalent of Thanksgiving, at the end of the harvest season in early September. But don’t worry, during your trip to Prague, it can be Thanksgiving every day!

Now, we do have to spend a few paragraphs talking about “pivo”, meaning beer …

Person pulling a beer from a draft tap into a glassThere is something innately patriotic about beer-drinking in the Czech Republic. Nicknamed “liquid bread”, beer remains the primary accompaniment to most Czech foods, conversations, and social events. There is even a beer spa in Chodovar where you can take a bath in this liquid bread. Stop by a small pub or brewery for a “pivo”, to enjoy one of the many Czech beers on tap.

Book a day trip and stroll through the Pilsner Urquell Brewery Museum to sense the pride with which citizens of Plzeň have reconstructed their history and livelihood in this authentic medieval brewing house. The first mention of beer-making in Plzeň was in 1307 and the brewery was founded by Plzeň citizens in 1839. Stare into the 18 meter-deep well in the gothic malt house widely known for its remarkably soft water quality. For centuries, this well was the primary source of water for soaking the malt and allowing grains to germinate.

The cooling cellars were among the first of their kind, allowing bottom-fermenting yeast to grow. The use of bottom-fermenting yeast was a new Bavarian technique that evolved in Germany around the 1840s: it improved the beer’s clarity and shelf life, which, prior to that, were apparently rather questionable. The first Pilsner beer was made in 1842 as the world’s first golden beer. It was a success, and the beer was quickly exported all over the Austrian Empire. There was a special train between Plzeň and Vienna that exported the beer every morning. Today, the brewery is called Plzeňský Prazdroj and produces Pilsner Urquell, Gambrinus, and Primus. The Pilsner beer style, as a type of pale hoppy lager beer, is now produced by many other breweries around the world as an imitation of the original Pilsner.

Photo two steins of beer on an outdoor tableThe beer consumed in largest quantity in the Czech Republic is Gambrinus, although many Czechs are, of course, partial to Pilsner Urquell. But there are many other beers: Staropramen (made by Prague’s largest brewery), Bernard, Budvar, Radegast, and then there are some one-of-a-kind beers from small microbreweries that have sprouted more recently, including Dalešice, Pegas, Richard, and many others. For some historical flavor, make it to U Fleků, the microbrewery with the longest history of continuous brewing in Prague since 1499. Most of the medieval breweries are gone, although the Benedictine Břevnov Monastery brewery, which began beer brewing as early as 993 A.D., reopened again in 2011.

“Vienna may have its café Society, New York has its High Society, but Prague is the proud home of Pub Society.” The beer is central to the Czech pub. There are usually large wooden tables and you can rarely sit all by yourself during busy hours. There is “pivnice”, which one would translate most literally as beer-house. Then there is the most common term of “hospoda,” probably the closest equivalent of pub and it serves food as a restaurant. You can buy beer in pretty much any other establishment that feeds people, such as “restaurace” (restaurant) or “jídelna” (cafeteria). For drinking or partying later at night there are bars and “diskotéka” (disco bars). Drink responsibly and “Na zdraví” (cheers)!

Headshot of Tereza MartinuThe 44 th Annual Meeting & Scientific Sessions will take place in Prague, Czech Republic. This is the city of ancient spires, domes, and alleys; the land of preserved thousand-year-old history; the vibrant home of culture, music, and art. Spend your free time sightseeing, city-walking, dumpling-eating, and pivo-drinking. Get to know Prague and start planning your travel with the Imagine Prague articles originally written and edited by ISHLT member, Tereza Martinu, MD, MHS, of the Toronto General Hospital/UHN in Toronto, Canada.