All photos by Linda A. Rapka
Rounding out my three-week vacation in Europe, I spent two glorious (and all-too-brief) days in Prague. This remarkably preserved ancient city in the Czech Republic left me breathless with its unparalleled beauty, history, architecture, people, culture, and — perhaps most importantly — incredible food and drink. In this entry, I will focus on the latter.
Beer flows more readily than water in this part of the world, and is the cheapest thing on every menu — literally costing less than bottled water. A typical half-pint of Czech brew costs about 20-25 CZK, less than 1 U.S. dollar. The Bohemians are credited with inventing the world’s first clear, golden beer. Prior to the development of Pilsner in 1842, beer was dark, cloudy, and quite thick. Says BeerAdvocate:
The birth of Pilsner beer can be traced back to its namesake, the ancient city of Plzen (or Pilsen) which is situated in the western half of the Czech Republic in what was once Czechoslovakia and previously part of the of Bohemian Kingdom. Pilsner beer was first brewed back in the 1840s when the citizens, brewers and maltsters of Plzen formed a brewer’s guild and called it the People’s Brewery of Pilsen.
Other types of lagers soon followed, and today we enjoy hundreds of variations of this liquid elixir of life. (For anyone who caught this silly allusion to the Czech Republic’s ties to alchemy without clicking the link, kudos.)
Naturally, one of my first stops while exploring the medieval Malá Strana district (the “Little Corner” of Prague, founded in 1478) was into a pub to get out of the cold and warm up with some historic hops brew. I found myself an original Pilsner Urquell at the Malostranská Beseda Pilsner Urquell Restaurant. Hops were very present, with a slightly spicy bitterness and mild buttery aroma and finish. I reluctantly limited myself to one, as there was too much more to explore. (More about these adventures soon.)
Adventuring in this historic city found me mightily peckish, and nearing my UNESCO hostel I decided on dining at U Krále Brabantského, a candlelit Medieval tavern that has been open since the year 1375. (Touristy and overpriced by Prague standards, but my bill for a full rack of ribs and 2 large drinks was under $20 USD, so I was not displeased in the slightest.)
After a tiring day of sightseeing, I ravenously wolfed down an enormous plate of fire-roasted ribs, peppers, and house-made Czech beer, archaically without the aid of utensils. Provided a bowl of fresh water to cleanse my hands, I was readily prepared for a happy saunter back to my nearby accommodations for some much-needed rest.
That evening, I made my way to a Shakespeare poetry slam at the Swan Divadelní Klub, located in the basement of the baroque Gothic Kolowrat Palace, at the kind invitation of my lovely new friend Derek. Here I enjoyed my first taste of Becherovka, an herbal bitters drink made of several secret plants, invented in the Bohemian region of Karlovy Vary. True to legend, this cinnamon, clove, and ginger-accented liqueur tastes just like Christmas.
On my final day in Prague, my hospitable self-proclaimed tour guide taught me much about this ancient city’s history by way of architecture, alchemy, and comedy (yes, it’s true; Czechs do have a saucy sense of humor!). One of our stops was at U Medvídků, which serves up traditional brew brazenly stolen by the American Anhauser-Busch (Budweiser) company during the days of communism when it was figured nothing could be done about it. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, litigation is going on to this day by the Czechs to restore this historic name and logo to their rightful owners… but this is another story.
The brew here is insurmountably better than that of said thieves, no doubt about it.
Stay tuned for many more tales from the Old Continent…