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Food and Drink

Czech Republic - Food and Drink


Food

Czech food is hearty and suitable after a hard day in the fields. It is heavy and quite fatty, and is excellent in the winter. Traditional food inclues knedlíky (translated as dumplings but more like slices of white bread), served as a side-dish with Czech classics such as guláš, similar to Hungarian goulash but with a thinner sauce and less spicy; Svíčková na smetaně, beef sirloin with a creamy root vegetable (carrot, celeriac, parsnip) sauce, served with a tablespoon of cranberry sauce, a slice of orange and whipped cream; Vepřo-knedlo-zelo, the combination of roast pork, knedlíky and sauerkraut. The latter combines very well with the world-famous Czech beer, the major brands being Pilsner Urquell, Gambrinus, Budvar, Staropramen, Velkopopovický Kozel and Krušovice.

Other Czech dishes include pečená kachna, roast duck again served with bread or potato dumplings, and red and white sauerkraut; moravský vrabec, known as 'Moravian Sparrow', but which is in fact pork cooked in garlic and onions; smažený kapr, fried carp breaded and served with a very rich potato salad and eaten on Christmas Eve; pečené vepřové koleno, roast pork knee, served with mustard and fresh horseradish; bramborák, garlicky potato pancakes; smažený sýr, breaded deep-fried edam (the most popular cheese in the Czech Republic) served with boiled potatoes or french fries and tartar sauce; párek v rohlíku, long, thin hot dogs with crusty rolls and mustard or ketchup. If you must, you can always get hranolky - french fries. And of course, the ubiquitous zelí (raw cabbage), which is served with absolutely everything. Game is also very good, and includes dishes such as kančí, wild boar, bažant, pheasant and jelení or daňčí, both types of venison. These are almost always served either with dumplings and red and white cabbage, or as guláš.

Don't expect a wide selection of zelenina, vegetables, unless in the countryside - peppers, tomatoes and cabbage are the most commonly-seen side dishes, often served as a small garnish.

US-citizens may be surprised when they find "American potatoes" in the menu. These are like fried or baked potatoes, usually spiced.

Also try traditional beer snacks, often the only food served in some pubs (hospoda), and designed to be washed down by a good beer:

Utopenec - (means 'drowned man' in Czech) a pickled sausage with onion, garlic and other vegetables and spices.

Zavináč - (rollmop) a slice of pickled fish, most often herring or mackerel, rolled-up and filled with various pickled vegetables (sauerkraut, onion, sometimes carrot or pepper).

Tlačenka s cibulí - (brawn with onion) a slice of haggis-like meat pudding, sprinkled with vinegar and garnished with fresh onion slices. Beware, can be rather acidic due to vinegar.

Nakládaný Hermelín - pickled Brie-like cheese, often marinated with garlic and chilli.

Pivní sýr - beer cheese - a soft cheese, with a strong, Cheddar-like flavour. You should add a splash of beer to the cheese, and then mash it all together, and serve it on traditional Czech bread - Šumava (the name of a region in South Bohemia) is the most common bread, a very tasty dense loaf made from rye and carroway seeds.

Tvarůžky or Syrečky - traditional cheese with a very strong aroma, and very much an aquired taste. Often served deep-fried, but can be eaten alone, just with some chopped onion, mustard and bread. Sometimes also marinated in beer ('syrečky v pivu'). This cheese naturaly contains almost no fat (less than 1%).

Romadur - tradional cheese with strong aroma. Aroma is similar to Tvarůžky, but Romadur is different type of cheese.

Czechs also have a sweet-tooth so try some of the following:

Spa wafers from Mariánské Lázně and Karlovy Vary (major spa towns in Western Bohemia better known by their German names of Marienbad and Karlsbad) are meant to be eaten while "taking the waters" at a spa, but they're good on their own, too. Other major spas are Karlova Studánka (favourite destination of Václav Havel - former Czechoslovakian president), Františkovy Lázně, Jánské Lázně, Karviná, and Luhačovice.

Try Bábovka, a traditional cake, similar to marble cake, fairly dry, and usually served dusted with icing sugar; Buchty, traditional buns filled with tvaroh (curd cheese), mák (poppy seeds), or povidla (plum jam); Jablkový závin or štrůdl, apple strudel, often served with whipped cream. Rather popular are Koláče, flat tarts topped with various sweet fillings like tvaroh, povidla, mák, fruit jams, chopped apples and nuts. Their size ranges from bite-sized ('svatební koláčky') to pizza-sized, which often contain several fillings combined into an elaborate pattern ('Chodský koláč'). Try also the wide variety of rich cream cakes usually found in a Kavárna (a cafe), or a Cukrárna (a shop which sells all things sweet together with ice cream and drinks, found throughout the Czech Republic and often the only place open in small towns and villages on Sundays). Czech cakes are similar to their Viennese cousins due to the shared history of both countries under the Austro-Hungarian empire. Sample also Vídeňská káva (Viennese coffee), coffee served with a mountain of whipped cream. Recently "trdlo" is being offered in Prague. It is the medieavel sweet roll from eggs and flour.

Tipping is a standard 10%, and is not normally added to the bill. Don't be confused by the percentage figures listed at the bottom of the bill - by Czech law, a receipt must show the VAT paid (19% in most cases) - the VAT is already included in the final amount, and you should add 10% to this. It is normal practice to give the waiter the tip BEFORE you leave the table. Tip is not obligatory - if you weren't satisfied with services offered, don't bother tipping.

In a vast majority of better restaurants located in major cities you can pay by credit card (EC/MC, VISA), but don't be surprised if a few will not accept them. Make sure to check the door for respective card logos when entering the restaurant or ask the waiter before ordering. Czechs sometimes use special tickets (stravenky) to pay in some restaurants - these are tax-prefered and subsidised by employers. You won't get these tickets unless you get a job in the Czech Republic, just don't be surprised when you see them.


Drink

The Czech Republic is the country where modern beer (pivo in Czech) was invented (in Plzeň). Czechs are the heaviest beer drinkers in the world, drinking about 160 litres of it per capita per year. Going to a cosy Czech pub for dinner and a few beers is a must!

The best-known export brands are Pilsner Urquell (Plzeňský Prazdroj), Budweiser Budvar (Budějovický Budvar) and Staropramen. Other major brands which are popular domestically include Gambrinus (produced at the same brewery as Pilsner Urquell, and the number one choice for discerning Czechs), Kozel, Bernard (a small traditional brewery, with very high quality beer), Radegast, and Starobrno (made in Brno, the capital of Moravia). Other fantastic beers worth tasting are Svijany and Dobřanská Hvězda. Although many Czechs tend to be very selective about beer brands, tourists usually don't find a significant difference. And remember, real Czech beer is only served on tap – bottled beer is a completely different experience. High-quality beer can almost certainly be found in a hospoda or hostinec, very basic pubs which serve only beer and light snacks. Take a seat and order your drinks when the waiter comes to you - going to the bar to order your drinks is a British custom!

Beers are sometimes listed by their original sugar content, which is measured in degrees Plato (P/°). The difference is generally apparent in the final alcohol content. Normal beer is about 10° (such as Gambrinus and Staropramen, which results in 4% ABV), lager 12° (such as Pilsner Urquell, which results in about 4.75% ABV). The latter is stronger and more expensive, so you should specify which one you want when you order. Czech lager is nothing like the fizzy lagers found in many other countries. Instead, it has a very strong, hoppy, almost bitter flavour, and goes very well with heavy dishes like duck or pork and dumplings or strong cheeses. It always has a thick skim on the top when it is served, but do not be afraid to drink "through" it, it is fun and it slowly disappears anyway, nevertheless do not drink the beer too slowly as the fresh cold taste (especially in hot summers) quickly fades – the "true" Czech connoisseurs do not even finish this "tepid goat," as they call it.

Wine (víno in Czech) is another popular drink, particularly wine from Moravia in the south-eastern part of the country where the climate is more suited to vineyards. White wines tend to be the best as the growing conditions are more favourable for them. For white wines, try Veltlínské zelené (Green Veltliner), Muškát moravský (Moravian Muscatel), Ryzlink rýnský (Rhine Riesling) or Tramín (Traminer), or red wines such as Frankovka (Blaufrankisch), Modrý Portugal (Blue Portugal, named after the grape, not the country), or Svatovavřinecké (Saint Lawrence). Also try ice wine (ledové víno) made when the grapes are harvested after they have frozen on the vines, or straw wine (slámové víno) made by leaving the grapes to ripen on straw) – these wines are more expensive and are similar to dessert wines. Bohemian Sekt is also popular with Czechs, and is a sweet, fizzy wine, similar to Lambrusco, and drunk at celebrations. The best places for wine are either a wine bar (vinárna), or a wine shop (vinotéka) which sometimes has a small bar area too.

For spirits, try Becherovka (herb liqueur, similar to Jagermeister, tastes of a mixtures of cloves and cinnamon, and drunk as a digestive), slivovice (plum brandy, very popular as a pick-me-up), hruškovice (pear brandy, less fiery than Slivovice), and so on. Spirits are made out of almost every kind of fruit (Plums, Peaches, Cherries, Sloes, etc.). Czech unique tuzemský rum (made from sugar beet, not from sugar cane as the Cuban rum, sold under brands like Tuzemák to conform with EU market rules). Be careful as all are about 40% alcohol.

For non-alcoholic drinks, mineral waters are popular, but tend to have a strong mineral taste. Try Mattoni, or Magnesia, both of which taste like normal water and still claim to be good for your health. If you want bubbles, ask for perlivá. If you want it non-carbonated, ask for neperlivá. Sometimes you can see jemně perlivá – it is "lightly bubbled" water. Kofola, a coke-like drink is also very popular, and some Czechs say it is the best thing the communists gave them. Many restaurants don't make any difference between "sparkling water" and "sparkling mineral water".

Restaurants and pubs do not offer water for free. Not surprisingly, as beer is the national drink, it is usually the cheapest drink you can buy, with prices ranging from 15–60 Kč (0,50–2 EUR) per half litre, depending on the attractiveness of the pub to tourists. Drinks are brought to your table, and often each drink is marked on a small slip of paper which is kept on the table in front of you, so you can keep count of what you have had. When you are ready to leave, ask the waiter for the bill – he or she will calculate the bill according to the number of marks on the paper. It is common to share tables in busy pubs and Czech people will ask Je tu volno? (Is this seat free?), before they sit down.

Try also svařák, hot mulled wine served in all pubs, and outdoors at Christmas markets, grog, hot rum and water served with a slice of lemon - add sugar to taste, and medovina, mead, again usually served hot, and particularly good for warming up at a cold winter market. Finally, if you are heading into Moravia, try burčák, a speciality found only around the end of the summer, or early autumn. It is extremely young wine, usually white, and is the cloudy, still fermenting stage in wine production when the wine is very sweet, and very smooth to drink. It continues to ferment in the stomach, so the alcohol content at the time of drinking it is unknown, but it is usually high, creeps up on you, and it is very moreish. Czechs say that it should only be drunk fresh from the vineyard, and many small private wine makers are passionate about it, waiting up into the night for the moment when the wine reaches the "burčák" stage. You can see it at wine festivals around the country, and sometimes in markets or wine bars too.


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