17 March, 2009

Prague Spring.

I would love to write about food right now, really I would. What I know of Czech food, however, is pretty much limited to what I've found online. Based on this past weekend, I have the strong impression that in Prague, the authentic Czech dining experience has generally been either "Disneyfied"--i.e. become a low-grade, relatively standardized copy of the real thing--or co-opted by showier "international" cuisine.
I'll settle for writing a bit about beer in Prague. I am absolutely not an expert, but I do enjoy dark beers, and there were certainly enough to choose from, even in the land of golden-hued pilsners. Like everywhere else, the draughts are superior, and the ideal would be to head to the off-the-beaten-path, poorly advertised beer halls and gardens. True beer nirvana, and still inexpensive to boot. As I was in Prague briefly and with a group, we didn't have the latitude for too much impromptu adventuring, but we made out well enough... My personal favorite was a draught brewed on the spot in a former monastery-turned restaurant, called the Strahov Brewery, on Strahovske nadvori 301, in the Prague Castle District. The location itself is a pleasant respite from the bustle in the center further below. Founded in 1140 by King Vladislav II, the monastery has a wide-open, spare feeling to it, which helps mitigate the reality that the restaurant's location and its prices, which are a touch higher, mean that it caters more to tourists. The first mention of the brewery dates back to the turn of the 13th century. The brewery was completely overhauled first in 1628, and again in the last few years. And the beer I had was, well, just plain delicious. The waiter called it a dark beer, but it looked more like a dark amber to me, which is a beer drinker isn't at all the same thing (see above). It was full-flavored and so refreshing yet low enough in alcohol that having it with lunch entailed no later regrets.

Apparently a real treat--even for locals--is the brief annual appearance of the sought-after Strahov Christmas beer, feted at a Christmas Mass held December 4th on premises (also featuring a choir and orchestra, natch). The "limited-edition" brew is described as a darkish Doppelbock that is well worth the trouble. If you are around in that period, reserve yourself a spot, and bring on the holiday cheer!
Or how's about a Bud? Yes, a Budweiser, but not the kind you think (see the logo above). After a lengthy and bitter dispute with Annheiser-Busch, Budweiser/Budvar (made in Budweis since 1785) is now marketed in the US as Czechvar, while the US namesake is now usually known outside of the US as Bud. This widely-available beer (third largest producer in Czech) puts the American one in the shade. Which isn't that hard to do, I'll admit. I also enjoyed a bottled version of Krusovice (see above), but was underwhelmed by the bottled version of the Czech number two, called Staropramen. I'm also convinced that Pilsner Urquell, the internationally most well-known Czech beer, really doesn't taste as good as it used to. I did some czech-ing around (...) and they recently "improved" their brewing processes, switching to a more modern approach. Sigh. It isn't the only thing to have changed.

Nice stop at the airport, but skip the soggy sandwiches.

In fact, a whole lot has changed in Prague since the turning-point that was the spring of 1968. I was able to visit the city with Prague "veterans" who have repeatedly visited over the past few decades, and they remain surprised by the rate of change.

Yes, vintage Skodas are still around; for a decadent tourist tour, that is.

Much of this change is due to tourism and the ready currency it brings. To give you a little sense of the scale of tourism, some 1.2 million people call Prague home; last year alone, some 4 million tourists came. Tourists (like me) are inescapable in any season but come in suffocatingly large numbers during summer, by all accounts. Behind this is also the 66% increase in low-cost air travel seats in just the past four years. This degree of mass tourism means, at least for me, that you have to make a concerted effort to ignore the omnipresent ground floor trinket shops (Genuine Pashmina Shawl 10 euros, or Bohemian Nesting Dolls ad nauseum, anyone?) and generally low-standard food establishments. Concentrate your attention on the gorgeous variety of buildings, clustered dizzyingly close together--there are pristine examples of Art Nouveau, Baroque, Renaissance, Gothic and Cubist theory, among others. But I have to sort out my photos first before going on; the architecture of such a city deserves an entry of its own.

1 comment:

  1. hello! nice report... although i'm sorry you weren't so satisfied with the food... in March it is still cold enough to enjoy it fully, whereas in Summer it's true that it's better to turn to "international cuisine". For your next visit, don't hesitate to skip the restaurants with big boards in english in the most touristic streets, and rather go to any restaurace/ hospoda on your way... they really often translate their offer in english as well once inside. You'd get the proper thing.
    Thanks for visiting my blog, and feel free to use my pictures on yours, as along as I get credit for them I'll be glad.


Thanks for visiting my blog and joining in the conversation!

Related Posts with Thumbnails