Reaching for another slice of meatloaf, I realised I was already in serious danger of getting full. An hour into what was going to be a four-hour food tour, I’d already wolfed down one of the most delicious apple strudels I’ve ever had, tasted three unusual types of chlebíčky (open-faced sandwiches) and stuffed my face with Přeštice sausage and Prague ham. Now I was going back for more of the meatloaf at Naše Maso, just the third of seven stops on the Eating Prague tour.
Prague is now home to three food tours (that I know of) and I’d been invited to try the newest: Eating Prague was launched in June this year by the company behind the Eating Italy tour, as well as tours in London and Amsterdam.
The Prague version aims to give visitors a “real taste of Czech culinary tradition and a glimpse of authentic life and culture in the Czech Republic”.
For a taste of something classic, we stopped at Café Louvre for svíčková na smetaně (beef in cream sauce) with bread dumplings. The smaller-than-usual portion was still very filling, sitting in a sauce so thick and creamy that some of the guests were convinced it was carrot soup. Svíčková is done a little differently everywhere, but this sauce was unusually thick and not my favourite.
There was also that strudel I mentioned, which we started with at our meeting point and first tour stop; the café at Gallery Le Court, tucked away in the Old Town. Not only was the strudel exactly how I like it (light, slightly crisp pastry, chopped apple rather than pureed) but they’d immediately managed to show me somewhere new. As our guide Mirka said, few locals even know this place exists.
And there was more. My favourite stop on the tour was Zvonice (the belfry), the tiny restaurant at the top of Jindrisska Vez (Jindrisska Tower). As soon as we stepped inside, I was kicking myself for not coming sooner. It’s a cosy, romantic space, all dark wood and pink linen, with a little loft space sitting over the bell itself.
A bowl of thick, creamy soup was placed in front of us and we were asked to guess the ingredients. We did a good job of identifying sauerkraut, chanterelles and some kind of game, which turned out to be venison sausage. It was incredibly rich with a deep, complex flavour. This was the Old Bohemian sauerkraut soup, and it was much more exciting than the name sounds.
A surprise hit was the trip to Novomestsky Pivovar, where the manager showed us where and how the beer is made. It’s a very touristy place, the sort with souvenirs for sale and pretzels on the table, and I’ve heard bad things about the food, so I was a bit surprised to see it was a tour stop. But everyone enjoyed the behind-the-scenes brewery tour and the manager’s sense of humour. Of course the best part was trying their 11° lager, which was light, refreshing and crisp.
The last stop, Choco Café U červené židle, was hidden away near the busy Karlova street. I don’t usually like the gooey, thick, overly-sweet hot chocolate served in most Czech cafes, but here they take their chocolate very seriously. It had a slight spiciness and an almost intoxicating aroma. I wanted to bathe in it, but settled for dunking these big wafers filled with fresh cream into it instead. We had two of those each, which was just way too much food.
Even after a couple of years here, I got to broaden my horizons on the tour. Not only did I discover some fantastic new places, but I discovered some new foods – I probably wouldn’t have ordered meatloaf, or sauerkraut soup, or chlebíček with pickled herring, if left to my own devices. (lets face it, they don’t sound that tempting!) But as usual, I ate whatever was put in front of me and I liked it.
The tour ostensibly takes four hours, though in our case it was almost five. You’ll be in a mixed group of up to 12 people. Ours turned out to be a group of six. Of course, they’ll be just as interested in food and travelling as you are, so you’ll have plenty to talk about!
The tour stops can vary, and it’s worth pointing out that you don’t get to meet any of the Czech ‘food heroes’ as mentioned on the tour’s website. I thought maybe they were all preoccupied on my visit, but other reviews have said the same, so don’t get your hopes up!
75 euros a ticket may not be cheap, but there was a huge amount of food. So much that none of us could finish everything. It’s a long tour, and it isn’t just hours of feasting – even I was intimidated by the prospect of eating for four straight hours! There’s also a lot of strolling around and looking at cultural and architectural sights, all within Prague 1, and the tour packs in lots of history and insights into Czech culture.
But of course, what I was really interested in was the food. The emphasis at many of the tour stops is very much on fresh, locally-sourced, and somewhat healthier takes on traditional Czech food. The fresh and local food trend is fast catching on here, at least with Prague’s trendier and wealthier residents, though how representative that really is of Czech food and culture as a whole is up for debate.
We were warned that places like Ovocný Světozor Hajek aren’t so good, because of their use of things like margarine, additives (smurf-blue ice cream, anyone?) and ingredients from who knows where. Fair point, though this is a popular place and I dare say that their run-of-the-mill version of chlebíčky is a lot closer to what most people eat than the versions at Sisters.
If it’s laid-back local authenticity you want, there’s a lot to be said for simply visiting a regular Czech hospoda (pub) and ordering a plate of potato pancakes and a few Pilsners.
Still, the tour shows us some of the very best food Prague has to offer, and it manages to prove that Czech cuisine can be something pretty special.
Joining a food tour is undeniably one of the quickest ways to learn about the local cuisine and find good places to eat when you’re in a new city, which can always be a challenge, and Eating Prague is no exception. As one of my fellow foodies on the tour put it: “who knew Czech food could be this good?”