Learning about food, photography, and writing. Sharing what I find.


Saturday, February 20, 2010

Meat and Beer - International Favorites

With the combination of a new job, a long-weekend road trip, and an all-in-the-family stomach bug, I haven't been cooking much lately. I think that means it's time for another International Favorite.

You know by now that, last year, Penn and I lived in Italy for about four months. Penn studied art and writing . . . and I ate. Okay, I did a little drinking of cappucino and Prosecco, too. And, fine, I did join the Travel Writing course towards the end of the trip when I was so full of pasta and the joys of Italian living that I just had to learn how to write it down—and well. But, sorry to disappoint, this entry won't be about Italy. I don't have enough strength back after a bout with that nasty virus to even venture to describe all that is heavenly about Italian eating. That'll be another day's work.

Today, we'll go to Prague.

We planned our post-Italy trips perfectly, if I may say so myself. We weren't ready to come back the The States, but we desperately craved food that didn't end in a vowel and that we didn't have to twirl around a fork. The culture shifts and culinary contrasts during our three weeks of Italy detox kept us invigorated and excited. Prague was so different from our little cliff-top hometown in Orvieto, Italy. Right when we needed a change, Prague was there to provide it.

The most important variation was dietary. Knowing that I was SO done with risotto, God put a Mexican restaurant across the street from our hostel in Prague, a city that is located 6,000 miles from the origins of the chimichanga as I know it and the Latino country that makes my favorite type of cuisine. Praise Him for transporting a burrito to the Czech Republic (and for the English-speaking host who had heard of Magners on ice and made a mean spicy pork taco. Seriously, the pork filling for his various dishes was some of the best I've had. I don't know how authentically Mexican it was, but it was just what we needed).

Prague has its own food, too, don't get me wrong. We were just thrilled by the plethora of cultural influences there—they are powerful examples of the excitement the Czechs felt when, in the late 80s, they were finally allowed to open their doors to their global brothers and sisters. We felt accepted in Prague, even though we were obviously tourists—American tourists at that. Having only been able to mix with others for a couple of decades, they haven't been jaded by centuries as a tourist hot-spot. With all the hype surrounding Prague in the traveling industry, I don't think I would have appreciate it nearly as much if we hadn't gone to the dinky, silly Museum of Communism on the cusp of Wenceslas Square in the Old City. I was so moved by the fact that, while I lived a fat and happy toddler-hood in Connecticut, the young people in Prague were leading a Velvet Revolution to be able to dress, travel, and live as they pleased in their own country. What a captivating city to explore. Plus, beer flows like water in Prague, plentifully and cheaply.

We, as artsy folk, reveled in the spectacular architecture, new and really old, in Prague. It is a wandering traveler's dream. I could have walked around the streets all day long (actually, we did). In our wanderings, we tried all sorts of spaetzle and dumplings, pork knee, goulash, and their famous cinnamon and sugar trdelnik pastries.

Because we needed this flavor change so desperately, we really enjoyed it all. We're not talking gourmet stuff here, but it feels like eating something a little old lady drummed up just for you. You do have to try to seek out the restaurants with the old-world feel and ask for recommendations from the locals (or the crazy American kids who lead the free tours around the city, one of the best things we decided to do).

If I had to pick my favorite culinary specialty we came across in Prague, I would go with the slightly sloppy-looking but ever-tasty assortment of meats and sauces that we washed down blissfully with more than our fair share of Pilsner Urquell after a sweaty and exhausting walk up to the Prague Castle.

This little pub was dark and narrow and went deep into the side of an old set of buildings. We found it on our way back down the steep street that had guided us to the ancient castle. After scarfing most of the contents of this platter, I came home determined to put marinated onions on everything. They are amazing. They lose all that can be offensive about onions and gain all that is wonderful about vinegar and spices. I think I even ate the pickles in the middle, though I am usually a devoted sour dill girl (sometimes a sour, dull girl, too. Just ask Penn).

Are we noticing a theme here? Just when our bodies and bellies are at their breaking points, whether from long walks up hills to important historical landmarks or long stints jammed in a flavor rut, the part of God that cares about my victual vitality directs my path to a special treat. Or maybe food just tastes better when you're desperate.

P.S. If you ever go to Prague, stay here, Miss Sophie's Hotel:

It was the cheapest, cleanest, most WiFi-filled hostel we came across during all our travels! Make sure you stay in the main building, pictured above. The prices may have gone up since we stayed there, but it was a GREAT find for us. And just look at that building!


  1. Mmmmmm.... marinated onions are my FAVORITE!!! Had some today, in fact (the icing on the cake that is Dominican breakfast...)!!

  2. ...yeah, maybe that was a bad allusion to use, it makes it sounds like we had a really gross onion-slathered pastry or something, now that I read it back...