We have a confession to make. Hana Michopulu was an inspiration to us even before we met. It took only one year at law school for Zuzi to realize that law was not her calling and she remembers reading the food section of the Marianne magazine and later the Apetit magazine, which was founded by Hana, thinking it would be great to have a job like hers. Jan was discovering his love for food through the Apetit magazine and even bought Hana’s cookbook for his mom as a Christmas present because she mentioned it. Of course, he marked all the recipes he liked in the book first.
So we dare say that if you love food and have lived in the Czech Republic for some time, you know who Hana Michopulu is: a food writer, former editor-in-chief of the Apetit magazine - the most popular food magazine here, a cookbook author and the founder of the first farmers’ markets here. To sum it up, she is one of the most visible and popular personalities on the culinary scene in Prague.
About half a year ago, she and her sister opened their own bistro that focuses on the “chlebicek”, the classic Czech open-faced sandwich, marrying the traditional recipes with some modern, Scandinavian-inspired trends. It became an instant hit: so much so that we have changed the route of our tour and now start at her place. We met her to talk about her place and food in the Czech Republic in general.
Why did you decide to open Sisters?
I used to work in print media but that field is now struggling and I have really achieved all I could in print, anyway. Then some changes happened in my personal life and I needed to look for new opportunities. We visited a friend in Vienna and went to Trzesniewski, which is a classic, retro place for bread and spreads, similar to the Czech chlebicek. The chlebicek was a logical choice but I could not find a take on it that would make sense to me. I wanted something modern.. And then a friend said it: Scandinavia! The smorrebrod, the detective stories, the fashion: it’s a trend now! It all made sense.
What do you think makes chlebiceks special?
I really like small plates and dishes because you can taste more of them in one sitting. So to me, chlebicek is a small dish that packs lots of flavor. For me, the big Czech portions mean you get bored halfway through the plate. On the contrary, chlebicek is a dish that should give you lots of flavor in a small package but also satisfy your hunger.
Your favorite chlebicek?
Definitely Prague ham and potato salad. It’s not really a looker compared to some other varieties, and most travelers don't order it unless I point it to them. But it is the best. I use Cornishons rather than Czech pickles - I don’t particularly like how sweet they can be sometimes. They tend to overpower everything else in the potato salad.
We know that you are trying to small, organic suppliers. Do you have challenges finding certain ingredients?
Not really. I made lots of friends when I organized the farmers’ markets. I can even convince some farmers to grow exactly the radishes I want because I will buy them all.
But things have improved overall. Even the big food wholesalers have been inspired by the success of the farmers’ markets and now offer organic produce from local sources. You can really get nearly anything on the market these days. Many people love to complain about the variety of food available here in the Czech Republic but I really believe finding good ingredients is no longer a major problem.
You’ve been into food as long as we can remember so in our eyes, you must know everyone. Is there anyone whom you admire in the industry?
That’s easy. Tomas Karpisek (the founder and owner of the Ambiente group of restaurants). Have you seen the magazine they now give away in their restaurants? It is really a reflection of who he and the entire company are: they simply love food. They don’t just buy meat. They really reinvent an entire animal and recreate the traditional farming methods based on historical sources. He was a mentor to me when I opened the bistro. When we opened, we let him in and asked for feedback. He ate some chlebiceks, walked around, looking at things silently. We were so nervous! Then he said: “You need a tray for tips.” That was it! We were happy.
Where do you like to eat out in Prague?
What do you do on your days off? Your ideal Saturday?
We live in a village near Prague so we go to Prague to see an exhibition, have a walk around, do some shopping for the girls. If we have two or three days off, we like to visit some nearby European cities: Vienna, Munich etc. But sometimes I also love to get away, walk in the forests, enjoy the sun. I have also recently picked up golf so that’s one of my hobbies now, too.
Do you have a favorite junk food? Guilty pleasures?
Yes, I do. Potato chips and mayonnaise. I consider myself a connoisseur of mayonnaise, I’ve done extensive research on the topic and I love the one we use in the bistro. It’s only for wholesale (but now you can buy it at Sisters). It feels so wrong when I take a 1kg bottle home from work. I can eat it on its own but often with vegetables and other things. As for chips, just salted, no additional flavors. Preferably in bed.
What ingredient couldn’t you live without?
Tomatoes. Love them.
What is something about you most people don’t know?
I don’t know… I have completed the two-week Le Cordon Bleu crash course in London. It was intense, super expensive but definitely worth it. And it was in London, too... :-)