Eating and travelling are two of my great loves and combining both of them together is my favourite thing of all. During our recent trip to Prague, S and I wanted to familiarize ourselves with Czech cuisine and we knew from past experience that taking a local food tour would be just the way to do that. We learned about the Prague-based food tour company Eat with Locals whose goal is to help visitors discover local tastes as well as learn about Czech culture. After finding out that they had tours available during our planned trip, we eagerly booked an Eat with Locals food tour in Prague.
Eat with Locals offers two main food tours – an Old Town Food Tour and a Karlin Foodie Tour, Karlin being one of the neighbourhoods of Prague located just off of the Old Town. They also offer a shorter surprise foodie lunch or dinner for anyone who would like to sample the best of Czech cuisine in one delicious meal. We had a hard time choosing a tour since they all sounded fabulous, but in the end we decided on the Karlin Foodie Tour since we had already planned to do a lot of sightseeing in the Old Town and wanted to discover Karlin, the area of Prague with the most dynamic gastronomic scene.
Prior to the tour, our lovely guide Lenka sent us not only details about our upcoming food tour, but also helpful guides of her recommended eateries all over Prague, as well as tips for visiting authentic souvenir and design shops. Lenka’s guides made eating out in Prague so much easier to plan and we visited several of her top recommendations during our trip.
On the day of our tour, we met Lenka in Karlin and were surprised to learn that we would be having a private food tour just the three of us – what a treat! Lenka greeted us warmly and we had the immediate feeling as if we were meeting up with our long-lost foodie friend in Prague.
The day of our tour was particularly cold and snowy, so after introducing ourselves, we quickly made our way to the first restaurant stop at Nejen Bistro. Nejen means ‘not only’ in Czech, so we were visiting not only a bistro, but rather a modern, open and innovative Czech eatery.
We settled in to our reserved table and Lenka placed our orders. Not long after sitting down, we had the chance to taste our first Czech beer from Dalešice brewery. I’m not normally a beer drinker but had heard so many good reviews of Czech beer that I had to try some for myself. Though Germany is well-known for its beer consumption, I was surprised to learn that the Czech Republic actually has the highest beer consumption per capita in the world. The Czech Republic is also one of the few countries in the world where beer is cheaper than water, so I suppose this statistic makes sense! S and I both enjoyed our pilsner, which was smooth, foamy and refreshing.
Our dishes appeared shortly afterward – raw beef tartare with chili mayo and tanned veal marrow, homemade pork jelly with Czech bread and smoked butter, duck sausage with fried onions and mustard sauce, and beetroot carpaccio with fresh sheep cheese.
Lenka explained that Nejen Bistro’s philosophy is to serve traditional Czech food and ingredients with a modern and fresh interpretation. For example, traditional beef tartare is normally served simply seasoned and with a raw egg yolk and small pieces of toasted rye bread on the side. Nejen Bistro’s version of beef tartare is seasoned with chili mayo, served with a fried quail egg and sandwiched between two thin slices of curved toast. In the same creative vein, their beet carpaccio celebrates fresh local beets, a deviation from the usual Czech pickled beet.
During our meal, Lenka told us about the high time in Czech gastronomy during the 1920s and 1930s. Young apprentice chefs were training overseas and bringing new ideas and techniques to the Czech food scene. During the communist regime, food experimentation came to a halt as food supply and quality diminished. Only now, roughly two decades after the Iron Curtain was lifted, are the Czech people rediscovering their cherished traditional recipes and breathing new life into them.
On our way to the next stop, we had a nip of homemade Czech Slivovice, a strong brandy made of plums. Lenka told us that homemade tastes best as the fruit flavour really shines through as compared to commercial brands. The brandy was the perfect little digestif and stomach-warmer on that cold winter evening, I can tell you!
Our next stop in Karlin was Sklizeno farmer’s shop. Here we sampled tasty Czech goat cheese, cow Gouda and matured sheep cheese, all locally produced. Farmer’s markets are the latest trend in the Czech Republic as the country is embracing local, sustainable and organic products. After the end of communism, exotic foreign foods were prized and Czech foods slowly fell by the wayside. As the novelty of foreign foods has now slightly worn off, the Czech people are reviving their own regional dishes and turning back to using their own locally-grown products. Farmer’s shops such as Sklizeno carry carefully-chosen, high quality local products and are becoming more popular than ever.
We carried on to our next stop, Eska restaurant, a new hit eatery featuring cutting edge Czech cuisine. Eska’s unique restaurant concept aims to use common Czech ingredients but to interpret them beyond recognition. They also focus on reviving old cooking techniques such as fermenting, drying, wood-heating and fire-roasting. The restaurant has only been open for a couple of months but is frequently booked up with reservations due to its massive popularity. We felt incredibly lucky to visit this restaurant on the tour!
Upon entering the restaurant, we were in full view of the open kitchen and chefs hard at work. We were then escorted upstairs to our table in the Scandinavian-inspired dining area. To drink, we had our choice of flavoured fermented lemonades – S chose kombucha and strawberry while I chose grape and mint. To start, we were served an amuse-bouche of crispy catfish skin, dill mayonnaise, pickled trout and a tiny potato chip alongside house-made Czech buns and accompanying butter topped with herb salt. We learned from Lenka that the eclectic mix of silverware and dishes at the restaurant were actually purchased from flea markets and antique stores, so we were dining with traditional Czech porcelain that you would find in homes across the country. I loved this idea!
For our main course, we feasted on perfectly cooked catfish with cauliflower and dill and roasted duck with aronia, apple and carrot. For dessert, we tried their innovative juniper ice cream with wild forest berries and rosemary meringue, an altogether new flavour profile for me and one that I quite enjoyed. Every dish was gorgeously prepared and presented, as well as inventive and flavourful.
After dinner, we were expecting to head out to the next stop, but Lenka guided us into the kitchen for a special behind-the-scenes kitchen tour with one of the restaurant chefs. I was giddy with excitement as he handed each of us a spoon and lead us around their busy kitchen, showing us their mise en place, kitchen pantry and work stations. We even got to sample some fermented radishes, fresh herbs, Russian caviar (ooh la la!) as well as their own kefir. Just when I thought my Top Chef fantasy was about to end, we were led to the bakery area (Eska operates as both a bakery and a restaurant) to learn about Czech bread making. Before I knew it, I was wearing an apron and stirring a batch of their dough for the next day’s batch of bread loaves! Man, bread making is hard work!
Floating on a cloud of culinary impressions from Eska, we made our way through the snowy Karlin streets to Veltlin , a small wine bar featuring a selection of authentic wines from Moravia in southeast Czech Republic, site of the former Habsburg monarchy.
Our server was very knowledgeable about wine and poured each of us a sample of natural white, orange (yes, that’s right), and red Moravian wines. I’d never tried (or even heard of) orange wine before so it was a real treat to try. It turns out that the orange colour comes from the long maceration time of the skins on the grapes. We learned that the Czech Republic only produces a small amount of wine so it isn’t exported internationally. Therefore, while you’re in the Czech Republic, do try some local wine since it’s hard to come by elsewhere.
Our final stop on the tour was at Můj šálek kávy (meaning ‘my cup of coffee’ in Czech), currently one of the most popular cafés in Prague.
We had actually been there for breakfast the same day because the café was on the guide of recommended eateries and cafés that Lenka had sent us prior to our tour. We were pleased to return to this trendy spot as our morning coffees had been excellent and we were eyeing the cake display case that morning but couldn’t really justify ordering a slice of cake before noon!
We tucked in to decaf cappuccinos and lattes and we shared a slice of pumpkin cheesecake. I only had room for two bites though because by then I was completely stuffed with all the delicious foods we’d sampled throughout the tour.
S and I so enjoyed our Karlin Foodie Tour with Lenka and felt as if we’d not only sampled some amazing Czech food but also learned about Czech history, recipes, food trends, culinary techniques, and innovations. Lenka was an incredibly knowledgeable, approachable, charismatic and enthusiastic guide who is clearly passionate about Czech gastronomy. If you are planning a trip to Prague and want to discover the Czech food scene, then I can wholeheartedly recommend taking a tour with Eat with Locals.
Thank you Eat with Locals for hosting us and many thanks to Lenka for an unforgettable food tour!
What are your favourite Prague eateries? Have you tried Czech food before? What did you think of it? Let me know in the comments below!