Czechs rediscover the taste of long-forgotten treats
AFP - 2 hours 2 minutes ago
PRAGUE (AFP) - - Prague is rediscovering the taste of long-forgotten Czech delicacies thanks to traditional cafes and sweet shops, closed during the communist era, that have reopened in the heart of capital.
"We are witness to a resurrection of Czech gastronomy," said Pavel Maurer, perhaps the country's most influential "foodie" and the man behind the much-touted "Pavel Maurer's Grand Restaurant Guide".
The trend is a shift for the picturesque capital known more for pleasing the eye -- with its cobblestoned streets, ancient clock tower and historic bridge -- than the palette.
One revived shop, Mysak, established in 1904 and nationalised in 1950, once again boasts an old-world mosaic floor, ceiling paintings and marble staircase following a painstaking restoration that finished in November.
The shop, which had been shut for years, is particularly proud of its "karamelovy pohar" -- a caramel ice cream that was a favorite of the first president and founder of Czechoslovakia Tomas Garrigue Masaryk (1850-1937) who would stop by to indulge his weakness.
When asked his secret, master confectioner Pavel Juraska spins off with precision its mix of "quality vanilla ice-cream with caramel sauce, which is 35-percent cream mixed with caramelised sugar, topped up with ground grilled almonds and decorated with whipped cream."
But the secret of "karamelovy pohar", he says, is not so much the recipe but the "honest" preparation and "above all respect for traditional procedures that date back to the First Republic" -- the period of democracy during Masaryk's presidency from 1918 to 1935 that, in modern-day Czech, is shorthand for quality of craft and values that were often abandoned during the communist era (1948-1989).
Another shop, the Jan Paukert, founded in 1916 and known as a paradise for lovers of hams, sausages, cheese and pates, also went through a bad patch following its nationalisation in 1952.
Hana Paukertova, the wife of the founder's grandson, said the shop was "nicer than ever" since it reopened in October after a complete revamp.
In gastronomic folklore, Jan Paukert was the inventor of a Czech specialty known as "oblozeny chlebicek," a slice of white bread garnished in a thousand and one ways.
For food crusader Maurer, "oblozeny chlebicek" is a rarity, something one cannot buy anywhere else in the world.
"In other places, they sell hamburgers or toasts. But the classic-style 'oblozeny chlebicek' with ham, potato salad, an egg and mayonnaise, that's an original Czech product," he said.
"For me, the tradition of the First Republic means above all that there is an owner who takes care of his company in an honest manner and wants to imprint a typical product on it," said Zdenek Pohlreich, owner and chef of the Cafe Imperial, an eatery in a hotel of the same name.
Cafe Imperial reflects the country's recent history: it was a luxury establishment in the period between the two World Wars, whose upper crust clientele was replaced by Nazi soldiers during occupation from 1939-1945. After World War II, it was nationalised and transformed into a recreation centre for the communist unions, later neglected, abandoned, then restored after the collapse of communism and reopened in August 2007.
"It is not always so easy, the competition in Prague is strong," Pohlreich said under the gilded, art-nouveau wainscotting typical of many of the capital's grand cafes like the Slavia, the Obecni Dum and the Evropa.
"We opted for Czech cuisine and now we can see it was not a bad choice," he added, noting the "great success" of the cafe's "kulajda" soup, a specialty from southern Bohemia with white mushroom and potatoes.
Maurer said it was "logical" that it took a bit of time after the fall of communism for Czechs to rediscover their own culinary specialities.
"Since the 'Velvet Revolution,' we have become familiar with the whole spectrum of exotic tastes," he said. "But our stomachs have always stayed at home."
Recommend this article
Average (0 votes)
Sign in to recommend this article »
Most Recommended Stories »
Related Articles: Entertainment & Lifestyle
'Mamma Mia!' Britain's biggest-selling DVD everAFP - Thursday, January 1
Album sales plunge, digital downloads upAP - Thursday, January 1
Jamaica songwriter Ford dies; penned Marley tunesAP - Thursday, January 1
Time Warner may lose MTV, other channels to Viacom fees spatAFP - Thursday, January 1
Actor Matt Dillon charged with speeding in VermontAP - Thursday, January 1
People drink coffee at Mysak Cafe. In the heart of Prague, several traditional culinary signs abolished under communism are making a triumphal comeback, and Czechs are rediscovering the true taste of bygone specialities.
Most Popular – Entertainment
Japanese tourist spends 3 months in Mexico City airport
Two thousand and strange: offbeat stories of the year
Actress Jennifer Aniston appears naked in GQ magazine
Defiant governor fills Obama's senate seat despite graft scandal
Hamas defiant as Israel rejects Gaza truce
View Complete List »