A fairy tale land in the heart of Central Europe, the Czech Republic is famous for its frothy beers and imposing medieval castles. But after you’ve admired the castles, and downed a beer or two, you’ll find yourself hungry. Time to try some Czech food!
Czech cuisine has a relatively low profile internationally, as the country’s hallmark export is its beloved Pilsner beer. For foreigners, ordering a meal at a hospoda (pub) or restaurace (restaurant) can be a whole new culinary experience. There are so many traditional dishes to try, the only question is where to start? We offer you this list of our favorites.
1 – Tatarák – Beef Tartare
If you’ve never encountered tartare before, this dish may shock you at first, but this is a menu item you really should try before you knock it. Traditional Czech tartare consists of raw ground beef with an uncooked egg yolk on top. (It can help think of it as a more honest version of a hamburger). Alongside the meat, you’ll be given a range of seasonings, spices, sauces, onions, and pickled vegetables. And wait, there’s more to it— once you’ve mixed your spices and egg yolk with the beef, the mixture is spread on a slice of deep-fried bread that has been lightly flavored with raw garlic. The whole combination has a delicious kick. If you like your steak served very rare, this is one for you.
2 – Klobása – Spicy Sausage
It wouldn’t be winter in the Czech Republic without the alluring scent of grilled klobása in the cold air. Sold at nearly every street stall, pub, and traditional restaurant, this spicy smokey sausage is a level up from the average hotdog. Commonly served with bread, mustard, horseradish, and ketchup, once you have one klobása you’ll soon be hankering for more.
3 – Štědrovečerní Večeře – Czech Christmas Dinner
Around a week or two before Christmas, you will see stalls all around Czech towns selling live carp. Yes, you read that right. Live fish. Traditionally, a few days before Christmas, Czech families will buy a live carp and keep it in their bathtub until Christmas Eve. That evening they kill and prepare the carp and then pan-fry it—so it is very fresh! The carp is then served at Christmas dinner along with fish or cabbage soup and some homemade potato salad. If you’re traveling in the Czech Republic during the holidays, see if you can join a Czech family for the meal to experience this local custom. It certainly is a contrast to an American or British Christmas dinner!
4 – Smažený Sýr – Fried Cheese
Ever wanted more from a mozzarella stick? Look no further than smažený sýr. This culinary wonderment involves taking a block of cheese—usually Edam or Hermelín— then breading and deep-frying it until the center is melty and gooey. If that’s not enough for you, the whole thing is served with a tartare sauce and a side of potatoes. Speaking of tartar sauce, this condiment is beloved in the Czech Republic, and you’ll find it on everything from fries to cauliflower. The tangy, creamy, pickle studded sauce makes a surprisingly good complement to fried foods.
5 – Guláš – Goulash
Goulash is originally a Hungarian dish. However, Czech people absolutely love it—and who among us doesn’t steal a good recipe when they taste one? Czech Guláš is a thick, slow-cooked stew with hints of paprika and tender meat. One of the special things about this dish is that the ingredients are flexible depending on what you have in the kitchen. The meat most commonly used is beef, but there are pork, mutton, and even mushroom variations. Czechs classically serve goulash with bread dumplings. This dish hits the spot after walking around the Old Town on a cold December day.
6 – Chlebíček – Open Faced Sandwich
Chlebíček is a perfect midday snack. These open-faced sandwiches are popular across Central Eastern Europe and for a good reason. A complete meal balanced on a piece of bread, a good Chlebíček is a work of art. Soft bread is spread with butter, cream cheese, or a deli mix. Next is some type of meat, cheese, egg, or fish (or even all of the above). Then the protein is paired with a vegetable or parsley garnish. Chlebíček is practically everywhere you look in the Czech Republic, from train stations to local bakeries, so there’s really no excuse not to try one.
7 – Utopenec Nebo Nakládaný Sýr – Pickled Sausage or Cheese
The perfect pairing with your Pilsner Urquell and a mainstay on most late-night menus, these pickles are a typical Czech bar snack. Utopenec translates as ‘drowned men,’ which is perhaps fitting when you think of the sausages drowning in a jar of vinegar, mustard seeds, and onions. The joke darkens, however, when you learn that the pickled hotdogs were invented by a pub owner in central Bohemia, Mr. Šamánek. Legend has it, Šamánek himself later drowned.
Nakládaný sýr is more cheerful, consisting of Hermelin (a brie-like cheese) pickled with spicy peppers and garlic, and left to mature in oil. Served with bread and especially delicious late at night, these pub snacks are sure to have you ordering another round.
8 – Vepřové Koleno – Pork Knuckle
As soon as you arrive in Prague, you’ll see pork knuckle listed on menus all over town. Deservedly so! This classic Czech dish takes a knee of pork (a little larger than the knuckle you may have imagined) and marinates it in dark beer before slow roasting it for hours. The result is a tender, melting piece of pork. You will find yourself craving this dish long after your last mouthful. To make it a complete meal, you’ll likely get some pickles, horseradish, cabbage, and dumplings on your plate alongside the pork. Don’t leave the Czech Republic without trying this traditional and locally-loved dish!
9 – Česneková Polévka – Garlic Soup
Česneková polévka is the perfect soup to cozy up with on a long winter’s day. The strongly flavored, delicious soup is made with garlic, croutons, potatoes, broth, and depending on who is cooking – an egg and some melted cheese. Czechs take great pride in their locally-grown garlic, and being able to cook this soup is a point of honor. Known to cure just about anything from a common cold to a hangover, this is a Czech delicacy that no one should miss out on.
10 – Houskový Knedlík – Bread Dumplings
Ah, bread dumplings. Found cozying up to every bowl of stew and guláš in the Czech Republic, these fluffy, pillowy dumplings are a Czech gastronomic icon. Made with old bread, a testament to the Czech wast-not-want-not resourcefulness, the dumplings are boiled and serve as sponges to sop up any accompanying sauce. Although you can buy these at the store, arguably the best way to eat houskový knedlík is at a Czech grandmother’s house.
This list has barely scratched the surface of Czech food. There’s so much more to this European heartland country’s cooking. Hearty, tasty, and comforting, Czech cuisine is like a warm embrace on a winter’s day. The more of it you try, the longer you’ll want to extend your stay in the Czech Republic.