Dr. José P. Rizal might seem an unlikely reason to travel to Prague, but on my first visit in 2009, he was exactly the purpose of my trip. The Order of the Knights of Rizal, the European Union, and the Czech Embassy had awarded me the chance to attend a gathering of Rizal scholars in Prague after winning a nationwide essay writing contest. On that first trip, I wasn’t able to explore the city’s culinary scene, too busy attending conferences and symposia in palaces and hotel function rooms.
Fast forward almost ten years later, I returned to Prague with my friends, and this time, I had more time to acquaint myself with Czech food.
I’ve always seen Prague as a destination with a different orthography, unfamiliar cuisine, but unquestionably charming urban architecture. Once the capital of the Kingdom of Bohemia and a residence of Holy Roman Emperors, Prague’s appeal is the wide variety of architectural styles that dominate the city of soaring spires, spanning Gothic, Baroque, Classical, and Art Deco aesthetics.
Returning to the city after my first time, I still wasn’t expecting much from Czech cuisine. On this second visit, however, I was able to enjoy and relish its hearty and delicious cookery.
Slightly off the usual tourist route, Restaurace Tiskarna is brightly-lit and spacious, enticing guests to feel relaxed as they start the meal off with handcrafted beers. In fact, it possesses a very “millennial” air, offering traditional Czech food but presented for the Instagram generation. Since it was our first dinner in the city, it was no surprise that my friends and I ordered goulash, 200 grams of beef shin with shallots and potato dumplings, a mouthwatering and filling choice perfect for the frigid 5-degree Celsius weather.
We also ordered a tart but clean-tasting pickled sour river trout served with potato salad, gherkin, dill, and quail eggs.
Noticing that Czech cuisine loves meat, we enjoyed a 600-gram piglet knee slowly roasted in its own juices and enhanced with chives, red onions, thyme, and honey.
Prague is honored with the appellation of “City of Spires” and this title can best be appreciated at Villa Richter located within the St. Wenceslas Vineyard complex in Prague Castle. Villa Richter is a neoclassical gem that gives guests the opportunity to bask in the city’s enthralling Old World skyline. Its restaurant, Piano Nobile, features a terraced dining area where one can indulge in exquisite food, while enjoying the marvelous views of the city.
With its classic approach to dining service, lunch at Piano Nobile was a grand experience. Here, we ordered quintessentially Central European staples: duck confit with sweet and sour red cabbage and potato gnocchi, and veal shoulder with estragon, potato violette, and zucchini ravioli.
Since the restaurant is located in a vineyard, it was only right that we tried the house wine, a 2015 Villa Richter Pinot Noir St. Wenceslas Vineyard. Although I am no sommelier, I can say that it was perfect with our meal.
Finally, to epitomize the elegance of Old World dining, we felt it was de rigueur to have brunch in a Prague institution, the Hotel Savoy.
Brunch at its Restaurant Hradčany is popular among locals and tourists, thus a reservation is highly-advised. (Actually, we noticed that in almost every restaurant we visited, we were asked if we had a reservation.)
With its genuine Art Deco aesthetic and big, arched windows, we felt that we were in for a treat and boy, did we enjoy that Sunday brunch of soft-boiled eggs, ham and cheeses, a variety of breads, perfectly paired with cold mimosas.
Prague’s culinary scene is, for lack of a better word, a revelation. Initially dismissing the cuisine as composed of just game and cabbage, I was treated instead to a wide variety of interesting and delicious options. The restaurants I visited showcase the graciousness of a former imperial city and exemplify what I always yearn for whenever I travel: a chance to be proven wrong of certain stereotypes and an opportunity to affirm the things that I admire most about Europe—its art, cultural heritage, cuisine, and most importantly, its people.
Forking my way through Europe has been a “mouthful” of experiences, all of which were savory, heartwarming, and memorable.
Restaurace Tiskarna, Jindrisska 940/22, Prague
Piano Nobile, Villa Richter, Staré zámecké schody 6/251, Prague Castle, Prague,
Restaurant Hradčany, Hotel Savoy, Keplerova 218/6, 118 00, Prague
Photos by Joaquín Carlos U. de Jesús