He likes to call himself Taste of Prague’s “Supreme Leader”. Until Zuzi enters the room. Anyway, nerdy and mostly lovable - and “too nice” according to Karolina (Zuzi shakes her head in disapproval), Jan is a people person. Zuzi sometimes complains that when she walks off to the restroom and comes back, she can hear Jan’s loud voice, as he’s chatting with the other people in the restaurant. And it’s totally true. He just can’t help it.
Jan has a discerning palate and appreciates great food, yet shows no traceable elements of will-power whatsoever when it comes to various types of junk foods. Nutella, French fries, burgers and pizza, you name it, he’ll eat it. The faster the better. Apart from food, he is a translation nerd (“That’s Doctor Jan to you!” he exclaims whenever he’s fighting with Zuzi over anything and loses, referring to his quasi-doctorate) and his biggest life achievements are the facts that he was an extra in Barbara Streisand’s Yentl (true story) and went to high school with Beyonce for a year (true story, too).
Five Prague Favourites
I am a man of simple tastes. I’m always satisfied with the best burger. And I have not found better than Dish. (Although the dry aged burger at Nase maso comes close.) And I looked everywhere. Sure, the bun is a tad too big. And some of the variations are a bit busy. But hey, nobody’s perfect, and the burgers at Dish come fairly close. In all honesty, if Zuzi and I didn’t eat together, I would be eating at Dish a lot more. More than I should, that's for sure.
I stopped drinking in college and did not drink until we started running our Prague food tours. Then I picked up the bottle again because I thought I simply needed the insight into wines and beers, and still am more of a wine than a beer drinker. And when I get thirsty for a few glasses of wine, I head over to Bokovka. There's so many reasons to like it: the interiors are beautiful, the wines are interesting, the cheeses and fermented vegetables are nice, too, and I like the people who work there. And it's a bit hidden in a courtyard of a 16th Century brewery from all the stag parties and madness that ten to plague Dlouha street's nightlife. Zuzi and I go to Bokovka nearly every Saturday evening, and I don't plan to change anything about that in the near future.
I always tell during our Prague food tours that it’s hard for me to drink a cold, fresh Pilsner and not to sing the national anthem. Yes, it’s an exaggeration but then again, not really. There’s something magical about having, let’s say a school reunion, sit down with people you’ve known forever, and just drink good beer with them. It feels good. It feels safe. It feels like home. Lokal takes some of the classic details of the pubs you’ve been visiting forever and nails them. The bartenders tell me that the average number of beers Czech patrons have in the evening is nine. With the beer that good and the atmosphere so drinking-friendly, I am not surprised.
Coffee is a big part of my life. Let’s be honest: I am an addict and will sometimes go for mediocre or straight down bad coffee (think every gas station, or the Sophie’s Choice every time we visit Zuzi's dad - Turkish coffee or Nescafe?) but of course enjoy a great cup when available. Misto is a five-minute walk from where we live, and while we do have some gripes about it, I really like the atmosphere and the plentitude of light inside. It is also a place where I seem to get lots of work done, and when I don’t feel like work, there’s always some friends I can chat with. (And onesip coffee was already taken by Zuzi.)
There are not many places in Prague that in my mind could survive in the merciless jungle that is the NYC food scene, but Sansho is definitely one of them. I am yet to have a disappointing dining experience at Sansho. I remember when it opened: spending relatively big money on food while sitting at communal tables? Whaaaat? But then you have the first bite of the salmon sashimi and it all makes sense. Just let it all hang out and enjoy. And how many good restaurants in Prague serve fun cocktails with dinner? Exactly.
Five favorite Instagram accounts:
Whoever has dabbled into food writing in Czech and says he hasn’t drawn some inspiration from “Mr Zucchini” is a damn liar. Martin has set up standards of conduct for food bloggers few have been able to adhere to. I also personally think he’s a sleepless vampire because the amount of reading and research he does is astounding. In that way, he’s a window to the world, bringing global knowledge to our little pond. He now does video, which makes me super jealous. We should do them too.
I am a big fan of all things Momofuku, and David Chang is a hero of mine. And he knows how to instagram: I could honestly watch close-ups of pressed bacon release its fatty juices, or chicken wings bubbling in the frier, for hours. I also like the way he thinks about food - he’s a true restauranteur and a visionary, not afraid to try new things, and not afraid to show his love for foods that would be below most snobby foodies. And he seems like a guy you’d love to go to a pub with (if you were on his good side, that is).
The owner and chef at Jimbocho Den in Tokyo, Japan, a great restaurant we’ve had the pleasure of visiting. I haven’t met many chefs who had just so much fun with what they did, while remaining super humble about it. And he’s an avid mushroom picker. When we told him Czechs pick more mushrooms than anyone, he said it’s probably the reason why I was so tall. Who knows? Check out the account of his little dog, @puchi.jr. (Which begs the question, what happened to Puchi? I don’t want to know.)
Like the magazine, love the instagram account. If you want to impress some cool friends with your knowledge of the most trending restaurants, just memorize a few from this feed, because they hardly cover anything that is below 9 on the global hip fine dining field. I must say I do love the behind-the-scene shots. It shows life that many of these glossy food magazines work hard to conceal.
Because science says dogs are the cutest.
Secret tip in Prague:
I don’t do this very often anymore, but there is something magical about playing ping-pong in the dodgy, slightly smoky pool hall in the V Cipu street behind the Palace hotel. The place looks like something from the 80s post-apocalyptic movies: just a dark, dusty, abandoned palace that now serves as a cheap pool hall with… wait for it… two ping-pong tables in the back. Just ring the bell, enter, give the clerk a deposit, collect two ping-pong paddles and a ball, and swing away.
As a child ping-pong champion of my block (I was actually stripped of a gold medal at my housing estate championship because I was not a pioneer, which was a Communist version of boy scouts - damn those Communists!), I feel right at home in this environment. Drinking alcohol usually adds excitement… and takes away precision but that’s okay: is there anything that goes better with ping-pong that booze and second-hand smoke? I didn't think so. And hey, who else will have THAT story from Prague? See, there. You’re welcome, internet.