The Prague Foodies Tour is one of those tours that would serve you best if you do it on one of your first days in Prague because it is both a stunningly comprehensive introduction to the Czech food scene and also incorporates a cultural tour through all the key areas in Prague, so that you can earmark places to return to for the rest of your stay.
It was an absolute pleasure to have Vladimir as a guide. As a Prague native with a cultural anthropology background in Mongolian studies, he’s full of rich and exciting stories from his travels all around the globe. He talked us steadily through the entire five hour tour without ever coming across as too overbearing, and enthusiastically gave recommendations of places to visit and where to eat.
We met Vladimir outside our apartment in the Old Town district and he promptly took us on a weaving journey through the area, and then across the river to Lesser Prague. Prague is small enough to get by on foot and full of secrets hidden in small alleyways and side streets – the perfect destination for a walking tour.
Vladimir pointed out everything from the Brutalist remnants of the Communist era, the distant hill that once housed the world’s largest Stalin statue that was completed just as he died, and the ironic meaning behind David Cerny’s ‘Pissing Statues’ sculpture. He added personal anecdotes about growing up in Prague, his experiences with tourists and, helpfully, also knew the best spots to get a picturesque photo of Charles Bridge, complete with white swans.
After about 40 minutes of walking, we reached our first food destination, Malostranska Kavarna, and we were starving. This is a good thing, on a food tour. Don’t eat breakfast.
Duck seems to be a specialty food in Prague and you’ll see a lot of places advertising they have the best. According to Vladimir, Malostranska Kavarna – quite simply – does the best duck. Unfortunately I didn’t get to taste the rest for a definitive ruling but it’s hard to beat the roast duck with red wine cabbage and selection of dumplings. It’s everything you could ask for: crispy skin covering tender, vividly seasoned meat with caraway seeds and salt, with a tang of sweet acidity from the pickled cabbage and sauce to cancel out the fattiness. We washed it all down with some famously cheap Czech beer, which is light with a wheaty flavour profile that really shines through. How to tell a tourist trap restaurant in Prague from a genuine one? Look at the price of a specific type of beer. You’ll have to talk to Vladimir to find out which beer!
Goulash is usually associated with Hungary but I have to say that I actually might prefer the Czech beef goulash, which uses roasted onion and beer as a base. What results is a dish with thicker consistency, somewhere between a stew and curry, that tastes great with the Czech dumpling which has the consistency of a Chinese man tou bun.
After lunch, we rounded the other half of Lesser Prague and visited the John Lennon wall, the famous graffiti wall in Prague. Here’s what a lot of your tourist pamphlets probably don’t mention: John Lennon never actually visited Prague! “People just named the wall after him that because they thought he was a cool guy,” Vladimir tells us, laughing. Walking across the Charles Bridge, Vladimir kept up an impressive running commentary of information about our surroundings – the fact that all the statues are replicas (dream ruined!), that there is a statue of a boy and girl hidden off the side of the entrance where he has a hand up her skirt (!!)
It might seem easy to copy the places on a food tour but it truly isn’t the same. Case in point: there are many small passageways in the winding streets of Old Town that used to be open in the 1980s but were closed off to public use when the government awarded amnesty to a bunch of criminals and released them from jail and they began stealing things and escaping through the passageways. Some of them are just being re-opened to the public, but only at certain hours of day and only identifiable through street signs written in Czech. You have to have a local handy when you’re hunting for hidden churches, and he’ll point out the various street art installations you may have easily missed, like the Hanging Man by David Cerny.
Butcher culture is evidently a huge part of Central Europe and Prague is no exception. Our next stop is a butchery that produces a range of intriguing meat, cheese and bread.
I highly highly recommend the boiled beef sausage dipped in sweet and tangy homemade mustard. It’s had a truly unique, slightly ‘springy’ texture that I loved. The Domaci Nadivka is also a local favourite and incorporates egg, flour, herbs and meat to make a dense, savoury ‘bread’ that tastes a bit like condensed homemade stuffing. The most unique dish was the pork jelly, something my Chinese father and Vladimir bonded over because the concept of wasting animal parts is not something you find in Czech or Chinese culture. It incorporates pork meat and small cooked vegetables like peas and carrots into a savoury ‘jelly’ made of pork collagen, meant to be dipped in white vinegar.
The Red Pif means the ‘Red Nose’ and is another gem of a place hidden away off the main drags of Old Town. It’s beautifully minimalist, with quirky window blinds in the shape of wine bottles, and full of warm, clean textures and antique barrels. It’s obviously a favourite place of Vladimir’s as the owners greeted us with warmth and hospitality. Charles IV brought wine culture to the Czech people in 1344 after growing up in the French court and, today, Czech people mostly drink white wine – though red is popular and rare – with 99% of native Czech wine coming from the Moravian region in Slovakia and Austria.
Our first wine was the Pinot Regina. At 13.5% alcoholic content, it was dry but quite light and fresh. The Stapleton & Springer Ben’s Reserve was a pinot noir that arrived in Moravia in the 14th Century. It was sweet with a strong woody taste from being aged in French oak, but still lighter and less full-bodied compared to Australian reds. The last wine was a dessert wine – the Getberg Palava which was smooth and sweet with a light tang to it. Considerately, the sommelier also gave us some Nestarec Milan Nealco drink that was non-alcoholic.
The last part of Vladimir’s tour brought us to a slightly lesser known part of Prague – the ‘New Town’, south of Old Town (which is where the main tourist attractions are). Though the architecture remains stunning, this is where the slightly more modern side of Prague emerges, along with the primary business district where Prague natives work. Not to mention the rotating 42 layer sculpture of Franz Kafka’s head, also by David Cerny.
Our final destination was a cafe patisserie, Cukrárna Myšák that had gorgeous interiors furnished in Art Nouveau style with a little balcony on its second floor that gave us an unencumbered view of the buildings opposite us in the street. Beautiful has stopped being an effective descriptor but there really isn’t another word for the intricate decorations. We had to try the most iconic Czech desserts, which turned out to be pies.
The Old Czech pie was a traditional Czech dessert, full of sweet nutty flavours with a dense, soft pastry shell and dusted in sugar. It was probably my favourite of the lot, though both the Blueberry sponge and Raspberry cheesecake were solid and tasty classic desserts.
There is real heart and warm hospitality that I could sense from Vladimir throughout the Prague Foodies tour. He radiates energy and genuine curiosity about other cultures, ideas and lifestyles, and you can really feel his thirst to show off aspects of Prague that you can’t find on tourist pamphlets. Prague in summer is a tourist-heavy spot so if you’re looking for cuisine, culture and exploration that is slightly off the beaten track, Prague Foodies is worth every cent and second.
I Ate My Way Through dined as guests of Prague Foodies.