Food (and beer) from this part of Eastern Europe can be soul satiating this Christmas
If you are looking for a magical Christmas experience this time of the year, try the mystical Bohemia, with its castles and churches, solemn music, beautiful countryside, boisterous bars and captivating nights in the smallest of towns. Or simply book yourself a holiday and visit Prague, one of my favorite cities on this planet– literary, stunning, haunting and romantic all at the same time. Not for nothing has it been called the most emotional city in the world.
But you can’t feed off atmosphere only, can you? Bodily nourishment is needed and holidayers everywhere are right when they want to choose their intended destinations based on the quality of food and drink available. In Prague and other towns of Bohemia and Moravia, you will not be stuck for choice. There’s plenty of modern European food going and then there’s Czech pub grub plus those authentic warming stews and breads.
But first the beers. The country is a haven for beer lovers; it has the highest beer consumption in the world and was one of the first to start brewing the brew.
You may be already acquainted with all the famous brands like Budweiser, Budvar, Kozel, Pilsner,Bernand, and Staropramen. They are all Czech and loved the world over even if people don’t actually know the provenance. Interestingly, what many people also don’t know is the fact that Pilsner, the popular pale lager takes its name from the Czech city of Pilsen in Bohemia, where it was first produced in 1842, and from where it spread around the world.
In all the pubs that I visited during my charming but ah-too-short vvsit to the region, I sampled some fabulous beers. The white wheat beers and also the dark, slightly chocolaty “lady’s beers” as they are populary callled in Czech bars.
Czech food on the other hand is simple breaded deepfried fish,beef croquets,sausages,sour cabbage and boiled potato salads .The most distinctive feature are dumplings made from flour or potatoes that are served up with stews and meats,with a little cream and pureed fruit sauce for garnish. Plus, there’s goulash.
Recently,I came across a young chef from the country,Michal Jerabek,who was cooking at the Eros in Delhi,and he taught me a couple of simple recipes you can replicate at home.
Chef Michal , currently a Sous-Chef in Hotel Hilton Prague, had been especially flown in to New Delhi to create traditional Czech dishes and culinary specialties at Blooms, the cofffeeshop at the hotel.
Th recipe that he gave me for the stew is as follows: For a kilo of meat (a mix of chicken and pork),you would need a kilo of onion,plus garlic,salt and pepper,caraway seeds,paprika,tomato puree and marjoram.Fry the onions and the meat brown and season these.Then add the puree and paprika,and add water to boil.Cook on a low flame for an hour or so till the meats are tender and the flavours well blended
The Czech chicken broth also uses the technique of slow cooking.But it is as simple as putting pieces of chicken,celery,onion,carrots,bay leaf and all spice in water and letting it all simmer for two hours.You can add home-made noodles for a one-pot lunch or dinner.
Finally, let me leave you with a little bit of Christmas magic. There are certain ingrediients that have always been held to possess special powers this time of the year in Czech cuisine. Add them to your life and who knows your Christmas may be as magical as anything in Prague!
Garlic: is an essential part of Christmas that should not be missing
at any Christmas dinner. It is believed to provide strength and
protection. A bowl of garlic can be placed under the dinner table.
Honey: is believed to guard against evil. A pot of honey can be placed
on the dinner table.
Mushrooms: health and strength. Mushroom soup can be
served before dinner.
Grain: A bundle of grain dipped in holy water can be used to sprinkle the
house to prevent it from burning down in the next year.
Váno?ka (Christmas bread): Feeding a piece of váno?ka to the cows on Christmas Eve will ensurethat there will be lots of milk all year.