At the end of the day, Prague is a city of magic. Prague isn’t sterile the way most Western European capitals are, but it’s not a post-communist wreck either—it’s caught in the middle, somewhere in between daily reality and the realm of legends. And we don’t just mean “legend” legends, like the one about the Golem of Prague. We mean the legends of people—these cobblestone streets were once walked upon by Franz Kafka, after all. There’s also the legend of Charles IV, the ambitious Czech king who dreamed up Prague the way it looks today (aside from the fast food restaurants, those came later). And then there’s the far more recent specter of communism, which left the entire country in a hangover that still hasn’t ended. Speaking of hang- overs, we haven’t even told you about the beer which is cheaper than water, about the cafés which teem with easy-going locals, and about the art, which creeps around in all forms, from the subtlest of jazz melodies to the heaviest of modern sculptures. There will be moments in between, when all you see are other tourists breathing at your neck, Western shops turning the city into just another European capital, and the Czechs either not speaking English or speaking it in an offensive way, but it’s the moments of magic for which you came here. For these, the entire trip is worth it.
Czech food tends to be simple, hearty, and meat-heavy. Ironically, the most iconic Czech meal is the fried cheese (hermelín or eidam), which rose to prominence thanks to communism, when meat was in short supply. Among other staples are pork knee, goulash with dumplings, and schnitzel (basically a chicken-fried steak). Consistent deliciousness comes at the price of variety. Most restaurants share practically the same menu; after a while you’ll probably be looking to diversify. American and Mexican food is common, especially in bars and expat restaurants, while Chinese and Thai restaurants are also pretty easy to come by. The cheapest way to eat in Prague is to buy your own groceries. Forgroceries, head to chain supermarkets (Albert, Billa, Tesco) or small, usually Vietnamese-run corner stores.
No explanation of Czech cuisine is complete without a description of beer, the only liquid substance Czechs seem to consume. Czechs drink beer with every meal, and in restaurants, it’s cheaper than non-alcoholic beverages (including water). There’s a whole army of dishes that are eaten mainly with beer, including pickled sausages, cheese, or cabbage; “head cheese” (meat inaspic); and deep-fried bread. If you need a break from beer, try Kofola, the Communist answer to Coca Cola.
MEET THE RESEARCHER-WRITER
Nick spent the summer traveling through Germany, Poland and the Czech Republic. He’s really enjoyed—Sorry, what was that? What’s Nick wearing? That’s his fanny pack. Anyway, Nick had a lot of fun—Look, Nick really doesn’t see what’s so funny about it, unless you think keeping your valuables safe is some sort of joke. Now, where was he? Oh yeah. Nick met some wonderful new people and—Seriously, guys. Knock it off. You know, in Europe, people make fun of you if you don’t wear one. At least, Nick assumes they do.