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Czech sweets you should buy and try

Czech sweets you should buy and try

A beautiful crystal chandelier? A larger-than-life painting of the Prague Castle? A 4-feet Moser vase? No. None of these are great gifts when you want to bring a cheap, fun souvenir from Prague to your colleagues, classmates or friends in your chess team. But some classic Czech sweets, candies and chocolate bars? That’s an entirely different story: they are cheap, fun and also unique to the Czech environment. Not something you’d give your loved one for Valentine’s Days, sure, but they are lots of fun for the right person.

Now, of course, you can go very, very wrong with choosing the right kind. Not all of classic Czech sweets taste great or - more importantly - have a story behind them. Because let’s be honest: story sells. Even gifts. You want a sweet or a bar that has a rich history, something that has a track record behind it, something that was the primary cause behind our first cavities, drilled without anesthesia when the whole school went to the dentist like we used to do in the last years of Communism (but that’s an entirely different story). You want some sweets we grew up with. You want sweets like those listed in this post.


What to do in Prague - Perfect Saturday Morning

Ahhh, we love Saturdays! Especially when the weather is nice and we did not stay up late the night before, Saturday morning is definitely one of our most favorite times of the week. We will reveal the secret of a great Prague Saturday morning: a visit to the farmers' market at the river embankment under the Vysehrad fortress! It's a great way to blend in with the locals, taste some great food and enjoy sights and places that only the locals (and now you) know about.


Lost in Translation: Czech Dishes Explained

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Ordering food in a foreign country can be tricky, to say the least. Nowhere was this clearer than when we visited the Basque Country two years ago: dish after dish, every meal was a surprise - we were thinking we knew what we were ordering until the meal actually arrived. Thought we were ordering beef? Nope, it was fish. Fancy chicken? No, you'll be having duck. And although we think the level of English in Prague generally ranges from ok to high, sometimes the actual dish may surprise you, too. This post will try to clear some of the mystifying items in Czech menus.

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Lesson 1: When cheese is not cheese.

Our guests have often commented on two items that caused some confusion: pickled cheese and head cheese. Pickled cheese ("nakladany hermelin") does not sound really appetizing but in reality it's quite delicious and all our guests who had the opportunity to taste it really liked it, we think. It's basically Czech Camembert-style cheese cut in half, stuffed with spices and herbs and marinated in oil. It's a good way adding some additional flavors to the cheese. The cheese thus marinated is more flavorful and gets a very soft, almost gooey texture. Why "pickled cheese", then? Easy: the Czech language uses the same word for pickling and marinating, and the pickling is the first equivalent you find in a dictionary. Therefore, "pickled cheese" is a lazy translation, or mistranslation, of what should be "marinated cheese". In any way, there is no vinegar involved.

Head cheese is quite different, though, and an item that causes serious confusion. Head cheese is not cheese at all: it's a meat product, sometimes called, in a joke, the "Czech carpaccio". Basically, you boil a pig's head, which creates a stock in a gel structure. You add meat and, according to some recipes, other ingredients (like root vegetables), and you let it cool in a form or a thick salami tube. When cooled, you cut the resulting "salami" in thicker slices and serve them with vinegar and raw onion (hence the carpaccio reference), and it sourdough bread with it. Now, Zuzi and I agree to disagree on that one: while I absolutely love it, Zuzi is not a fan.

Lesson 2: A metaphor goes a long way

Another problem faced by many foodies in the Czech Republic is the fact that the Czechs have sometimes preferred metaphorical over descriptive names of their dishes. The result? Dishes names like "Spanish birdie", "Moravian sparrow" etc. Don't worry - no birds were harmed in the making of these dishes. "Spanish birdie" is basically a stewed beef roll filled with bacon, a pickle, sausage and hard-boiled egg, usually served with bread-roll dumplings or with rice. The name of the dish was coined by Mr Rettigova, the author or probably the most famous Czech cookbook ever written (which dates back to 1826). "Moravian sparrow" are roasted pieces of pork belly or shoulder marinated in garlic and caraway seeds and then served with dumplings and sauerkraut. Again, something that the name would not imply. The metaphoric approach to naming Czech dishes finds its peak with the "drowned man", which means nothing more than pickled sausages (this time they are really pickled), served with pickles and bread and served with beer.

Another classic example is the "Basta", which is basically an assortment of meats served with various kinds of dumplings and usually sauerkraut and red cabbage. This dish is quite heavy but great if you want to taste a bit of everything in the Holy Trinity of Czech cuisine: pork - dumplings - sauerkraut. Czech classic dishes with slightly confusing names also include "svickova": beef with root vegetable and cream sauce served with a slice of lemon, cranberry compote and dumplings. Here the confusion is subtle: "svickova" means "tenderloin" although in reality cheaper cuts are mostly used. The same goes for pastries: virtually none of them have a descriptive name. Some of the most famous are included in the glossary below

Lesson 3: A brief glossary of term

Because Taste of Prague is primarily an educational project (ok, not really, but we'll go ahead with this argument when we apply for EU funding sometime in the future), we provide below a brief summary of very brief classic dishes and their explanations:

Czech termLiteral English translationDescription

Nakládaný hermelínPickled cheeseCzech Camembert-style cheese marinated in oil and stuffed with herbs and spices

TlačenkaHeadcheeseSlices of meat and collagenised stock served with bread, vinegar and raw onion

Španělský ptáčekSpanish birdieStewed beef roll filled with bacon, a pickle, sausage and hard-boiled egg

Moravský vrabecMoravian sparrowRoasted pieces of pork belly or shoulder marinated in garlic and caraway seeds

SvíčkováTenderloinBeef with root vegetable and cream sauce

BaštaDelightAssortment of meats with an assortment of dumplings with sauerkraut and red cabbage

VěnečekLaurel wreathChoux pastry filled with vanilla cream and covered in sugar glaze (sometimes with lemon)

VětrníkWindmillChoux pastry filled with caramel and vanilla cream with caramel glaze

RakvičkaLittle coffinSweet oblong and hollow biscuit, usually served with whipped cream

This list is far from exhaustive, of course. There are many, many other dishes with names that may confuse you. And this is where we turn to you: have you ever had a surprising experience when you ordered Czech dishes? Have you ever seen a puzzling name of a Czech dish? Let us know in the comments!


Letna Apartment DVD Collection: Waiter, Scarper!

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As you may know, we have a cool, newly refurbished rental apartment in the Letna district available for rent. However, the apartment goes beyond providing mere accommodation. We have conceived it as more than just a place to store your luggage and sleep in during the night. We want our guests to get immersed into the Czech local culture and society, to get an insight into how the locals live and how they think. In short, we want our guests to understand the Czechs.

That is why the apartment includes many audio CDs and films on DVD that will help them understand the "Czech experience" in the 20th Century and at the beginning of the new Millennium. In a series of posts, we will be introducing some of these films and albums because we think they would make for a cool souvenir that truly goes beyond mere tourism and we do not want to keep the movies that we love to ourselves and the guests that visit our apartment only.

The first movie we will write about may not seem like the first candidate (having won no Oscars and so on) but if you talk to any Czech, they will be able to pull out quotes from that movie on the spot and confess it's one of their favorite movies of all times.

Vrchní, prchni! (English title: Waiter, Scarper!)

IMDB link

We used to give this movie on DVD to our guests on the tour as a present, until we bought off all the cheap copies originally sold as an insert in a magazine. We do not know if any of the guests have actually watched it, but we still think that the movie is a great window into the ordinary lives of Czechs and Slovaks under Communism in the early 1980s.

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The plot is very simple [spoiler alert!]: Mr Vrana, a book seller, is a victim of his own sexual fantasies. Even the title sequence, in which women in bathing suits swim in a pool, turn out to be the creations of his imagination. And Mr Vrana is not afraid to act on these fantasies. This has a sad effect for Mr Vrana: he has to pay a lot of alimony payments to various women around Prague. In a desperate attempt to get more money, he begins posing as a fake waiter cashing bills in restaurants and cafes in Prague, and later throughout Czechoslovakia.

Now, we have to set one thing straight right away: this is not drama - this is a laugh-out-loud comedy. We see the main character first getting mistaken, by a mere coincidence, for a waiter in a motorway restaurant, then seeing him embarrassed when comparing his life to all his successful classmates at a high school reunion, and finally the first, shy tryout "jobs" in a few restaurants. What follows is a transformation into what becomes known as the "Phantom of Restaurants and Cafeterias" (to explain: "Restaurants and Cafeterias" was the quite apt name of the only company in communist Czechoslovakia that owned and operated… you guessed it… all the restaurants and cafeterias). He has to hide his "side job" from everybody, including his friends and family, and, of course, the police. This leads to many funny situations, especially as he keeps bumping into his rather obnoxious and nosy neighbor. We won't spoil the ending for you, you'll have to watch it for yourself.

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While being primarily a comedy, this film offers a serious glimpse into a much larger problem that has plagued the Czech and Czechoslovak society to this date: corruption and back-hand deals. After the Soviet occupation, it seems that the people turned to themselves and just focused on playing the system and the black market to their own advantage. The aim was to take and to take. A very popular saying at the time proclaimed that "who does not steal from the state, steals from his own family", and, unfortunately, many people have failed to abandon this policy after the old regime collapsed. There is a perfect scene in the movie where the main character twists a very popular fairytale (pigs in the rye) to his children: the pigs who disobeyed the orders and ate the rye were killed. But so were the other pigs, and the pigs who ate the rye could at least say they got a taste of the rye. Get rich or dye trying.

Consider the following scene (please fast forward to 8:20 in the video): at a high school reunion, an old classmate explains how he makes big money by striking backhand deals and bribing his suppliers. We are proud to be independent ourselves and are strictly against any bribery and backhand deals, but we are afraid half of the tourist industry here in Prague still works along the same lines.

Anyway, the movie is a real gem and we definitely recommend it (heck, that's why we chose it for our DVD collection in the rental apartment). If you decide not to stay in our apartment, you can still buy it on DVD with English subtitles (which range from inspired to just ok). We probably recommend the Bonton store at the bottom of the Wencesas Square. Enjoy!

Have you seen a Czech movie you liked? Let us know!


Paternoster elevators

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It's important to enjoy the small things in life. While some visitors to Prague love the big cathedrals, the splendid vistas and the baroque palaces (and there's nothing wrong with that, of course), we actually have a small, hidden gem, that some of you may enjoy too. Not the latest or the flashiest thing in Prague, or even the oldest or the most valuable things you will see in Prague. But still, it surely has a place in our hearts. Yes, we are talking about the humble, old paternoster elevator. What is a paternoster elevator, we hear you ask? A “paternoster” is an old-timer elevator that consists of a chain of open compartments that move slowly up and down in an infinite loop (which reminds you of a Rosary, hence the title "pater nosher", "Our Father"). To get to the floor you need to get to, you hop in a compartment and, on reaching the required floor, you just hop off. To see what it's about, have a look at this video:

We have also made a small video how a ride in the elevator looks like. We are sorry for the quality: we have made it using the iPhone and it was the first video we have ever made, so we won't win any awards with this one for sure:

You cannot stop the elevator, you cannot call the elevator. This just goes and goes in an infinite loop. With the European Union energy label going from A to G, this would probably get... something like a W: this must be incredibly energy-inefficient, going 24-7, day and night. On seeing one of these, one of our Jewish guests actually suggested it would make a great Shabbat elevator (the Jews may not start any electric current throughout the Shabbat), and we agree.

If you have ten minutes to spare, we really recommend hopping in when you're in Prague because... they're the best ride this side of the Disney World! Don't be intimidated: these are much slower that they look. We would liken this to an escalator - it may be a bit scary when you ride them for the first time, but you become a pro rider very soon.

So if you're in Prague, forget about the hop on, hop off bus and ride the hop on, hop off elevator. We have put together as small map of these gems. You're welcome.

Show Pater nostery on a larger map


Flat White in Prague

The most common complaint we get from our coffee-loving Australian guests is that they went on for weeks without a nice cup of flat white. What is "flat white"? Well, it's basically a cappuccino with a double shot of coffee, usually served in a short glass. We think it might be called a "latte" in Australia but here "latte" means a coffee drink with a single shot of coffee, milk and milk foam. To be honest, Jan had a flat white a few weeks ago for the first time, having heard about it so much on the tours, and is a complete convert. There is no going back.


Prague souvenirs: Terry Posters

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This is another episode of our ongoing series about the souvenirs we would recommend you buy in Prague. We have a different take on Prague souvenirs, though: instead of something that would shout "Prague", we recommend things that are not directly souvenirs per se; they are, rather, things we grew up with, things that really are a reflection on the country and on the times we live in or used to live in not that long ago. Today, we will suggest a souvenir for those who love movies. The filmmaking business in the Communist era did, to some extent, flourish, although it was heavily regulated. Instead of a competition between producers and production team, there were basically a few production centres in the Czech Republic producing movies subject to approval of regime censors. Some of the movies were genuinely good, especially the movies of the "new wave" of Czech cinema in the 1960s, while other movies were not that great, just like in any other country.

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What was unique was the way filmmaking was funded in Communist Czechoslovakia. In addition to government funding, the Czech moviemaking business had another, perhaps surprising, source of income: sales of US and Western movies. You see, people craved Western things, including movies, and the Czech films importer, as a government-owned monopoly, could make good use of that. With no legal competition to speak of, the monopoly distributor could really dictate the terms on which the rights to the movies were bought to be shown in Czechoslovakia. And they were tough. The Czech importer would always offer a low, fixed sum, e.g. USD 20,000 for a movie, take it or leave it. And many Western producers decided to take it, simply because it was better than nothing. Therefore, the monopoly importer made incredible amounts of money from the ticket sales, having just paid a ridiculous amount for the rights. And this money was later used to fund production of new Czechoslovak movies.

However, there was one caveat: the movies did not come with their original posters. The Czech distributors thus had to make their own posters, very different from the originals displayed elsewhere, with some of them true pieces of modern art and graphic design. And that's our souvenir tip today: Terry Posters, a shop run by Union Film Ltd and the people behind the Aero and Svetozor, two art cinemas based in Prague, that sells these old, Communist posters. Mind you, these are not copies or reprints: these are the very originals, often with visible folds. That is why some of the posters shown in the online shop (yes, they do have an online shop, too) are not for sale: they only have one poster of that kind in their collection.

Therefore, we recommend that you visit the Svetozor art cinema (which is where the Terry Posters shop is located at), see a movie and buy a poster for a movie you love, but a poster with a clear twist.

Terry Posters

Cinema Světozor

Vodičkova 41, Prague 1

Opening times 

(as of June 2013): Mon to Fri 10-20, Sat 12-5 

(The poster shown above: Twelve Angry Men, source)

Source of the featured picture (Critters) 


24 Hours: See the best of the city in just one day

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In just one day, you'll get a mere glimpse of Prague, but beware: it will surely whet your appetite for more, and you may have to extend your stay in the end!

Historic building around every corner, spires in almost every view – sightseeing in central Prague can feel overwhelming at first. But Prague is a wonderful city to stroll around (if you don't mind the cobblestones). Take time to wander down its narrow streets, savour every mouthful of delicious food and every sip of great beer, but - most importantly - resist the temptation to follow the crowds of tourists and sightseers. Our advice to anyone who finds him or herself with 24 hours to spare in the Czech capital is to stop, breathe, appreciate, indulge and maybe try some of these ideas.

Start the day with the Prague Castle, the most noticeable and impressive of Prague's landmarks. Come early in the morning and enjoy the place's history without hurry. Take a leisurely wander around Hradčany (If you're facing the castle gates, go to the left, follow the gardens and castle walls and then pass the square until you get to some smaller streets. Wander around, be sure to visit Nový Svět, don't miss the tiny pink house at the end of that street) and look up for impressive architecture without fear of bumping into other tourists. Secreted in a valley that used to be the northern moat of the Prague Castle is a pedestrian tunnel linking deer gardens on either side of the Powder Bridge. This simple 2002 creation by architect Josef Pleskot of AP Atelier is off the beaten track and all the better for it. Halfway through the tunnel is a niche with the remains of the preserved foundations of the original Renaissance bridge on display. Move up the moat's slope to the plateau, where you find Eva Jiřičná's first building in Prague, the Orangery in the Royal Garden.

Walk down the Petřín Park, former vineyards, a beautiful collection of lawns, orchards and pavilions, and treat yourself to breakfast at Café Savoy. Sit at a window table overlooking the leafy square outside and order one of several all-day breakfasts (we recommend Savoy Breakfast with a juicy portion of Prague ham served with horseradish and grain mustard. Tip: Book a table in advance and save place for dessert).

After the breakfast, take the 12 tram for a trip past the sites of Malá Strana and on towards the Holešovice district and the DOX centre for contemporary art, which has the potential to kick-start the gentrification of the northern part of Holešovice. David Černý's famous Entropa sculpture was shown here in early 2010, with further edgy shows soon following in its footsteps. Unless you had a coffee at the centre's roomy terrace, visit arguably the best coffee house in Prague, Muj šálek kávy (which translates as "My cup of coffee" in English) and enjoy every sip of a perfectly prepared cappuccino.

With your caffeine addiction well fed, climb up the steep Vítkov Hill and enjoy an exquisite view of Prague. Even though the austere National Memorial looks like it was build by the Soviets, it was actually completed before the Communist era. Now run by the Czech National Museum, it boasts impressive interiors, and hosts a permanent exhibition on 20th century Czechoslovak history - a great way to learn about Czechoslovak history and the life in Czechoslovakia in the past century.

Now take the subway and after just ten minutes (take the C line to the “Vyšehrad” station), you'll find the best kept secret in Prague – Vyšehrad. Situated on a rocky outcrop just south of the centre, Vyšehrad (which means “castle on the heights”) offers a stunning view looking back over the city and Prague’s ‘main’ castle. The Vyšehrad Park is a perfect spot for a picnic or a romantic walk on the winding path that offer sweeping views. The area also houses the splendid Vyšehrad cemetery where many famous figures of Czech and European culture and science were laid to rest: look for a map directory of the famous names at the entrance.

Now it's time for a traditional Czech dinner! Depending on your budget, head over to either La Degustation Boheme BourgeoiseČestr or Lokál. Eating at the former is a memorable experience, and with such impressive food and wine pairings, the real surprise is that the restaurant is yet to receive a Michelin star (we blame the biased Michelin commissioners). Tip: have a piece of smoked beef tongue with chickpea puree and pickled shallots and bear in mind that the LDBB has no a la carte menu and that each of the seven courses of the Bohemian tasting menu is preceded by its own amuse-bouche, so reserve at least three hours for a meal.

We love Cestr – this Czech Steak House reminds us so much of our childhood. Inside, the restaurant feels like a butcher's shop: clean, bright and metallic; a place you know uses only top-quality meat. Beyond the atmosphere, Cestr truly triumphs on the plate – real Czech recipes, composed of Czech ingredients and prepared by Czech chefs. Pick up your piece of meat from the menu printed on paper, folded around a cardboard "map" of cuts from a cow. Tip: splendid beef tartar, superb steaks, rich gravy, homemade fries, Valhrona chocolate cake with homemade peanut ice cream, tank beer and poppy seed buns in vanilla crème.

Lokál brings the traditional beer hall concept bang up to date. The interior features wooden wall panels decorated by graffitis and a glass bar counter housing stainless-steel barrels and cooling pipes. Do not expect fine dining, but rather “like mum used to make” food, lots of locals, low prices and great beer. Enjoy either fast and high-quality meals such as pickled cheese, headcheese or sausage made by the Dolejsi family of butchers from Davle, or bigger, regular meals like Beef Tenderloin with Cranberries; Pork, Dumplings, and Cabbage; or Roast Duck with Red Cabbage. Tip: Waiters will keep bringing you extra beer if you finish your first glass, so make sure you say "no" before it's too late.

In the evening, take a twilight cruise of the Charles Bridge. The crowds along this biggest tourist attraction begin to thin out as the sun sets. The shadows fall and the statues become silhouetted by the remaining light. It’s a magical place to be at this time of day. Make sure that you spend some time on Kampa Island, which is just off of Charles Bridge. Walk through the park and enjoy the view of the bridge and across the river.

And finally, there's no better place to end the night than in one of Prague's bars. Go to the Hemingway Bar and try Absinthe with cold water dripped over a sugar cube into the drink (that makes it significantly more palatable) or head to a small, very pleasant Vinograf Wine Bar and discover wonderful Czech wines.

Have a wonderful stay whatever you are up to and remember: stop, breathe, appreciate and indulge.

What are your tips for getting the most out of the city?