International Cooking: Food from Czechia

Czechia, which most people probably know as the Czech Republic, is located in Central Europe, bordered by Austria, Germany, Poland, and Slovakia.

The land that is now Czechia has gone by a few different names throughout history and has been controlled by many different powers. It was part of the Duchy of Bohemia in the late 9th century, which was later recognized as an Imperial State of the Holy Roman Empire, before becoming a kingdom in 1198. Czechia was part of the Austrian Empire in the early 19th century, and after World War I most of it became part of the First Czechoslovak Republic, known as Czechoslovakia. Czechoslovakia underwent Nazi Germany control, a coup, and a Soviet-led invasion, before finally being dissolved into Czechia and Slovakia.

Today, Czechia is a highly developed country with universal healthcare and free-tuition university. It ranks as the 8th safest and most peaceful country, and the food is pretty good too, so it sounds like a great place to live!

What Do People Eat in Czechia?

A typical Czech meal will start with a soup, followed by a main dish, with an optional third course which is often a dessert. Beer is very popular; in fact, Czechia has the highest per-capita consumption of beer in the world.

Main dishes usually include meat, with pork being the most common. Beef, veal, and chicken are also popular. Fish, mostly trout and carp, are common at Christmas. Other kinds of fish are imported, and slowly becoming more popular. Common seasonings include caraway seeds and herbs such as marjoram and parsley.

Probably the most common side dish is dumplings, which in Czechia are similar to bread, but there are also smaller dumplings made of potato. Potato is served in many different ways, such as in potato salad, mashed potatoes, as French fries, or simply boiled. Noodles and boiled rice may also be served as side dishes.

There seems to be less emphasis on vegetables, but onion and cabbage (often in the form of sauerkraut) seem to be pretty popular. A variety of mushrooms grow in the forests in Czechia, and so they are popular in many meals too. Other common vegetables are carrots, celery, turnips, cauliflower, lettuce, leek, and kale.

There are some main dishes in Czechia that surprised me because they sounded more like a dessert, or maybe a sweet breakfast. There are noodles or potato dumplings served with ground poppy seeds, powdered sugar, and melted butter. It sounds to me like some kind of strange dessert, but it’s actually served as a main, and it’s delicious! There was also a dish described to me by someone on Reddit, which consists of steamed dumplings with unsweetened whole plums inside, topped with grated milk curd, powdered sugar, and melted butter. Even though the plums aren’t sweetened, the dish as a whole sounds like it’s on the sweet side, but it’s a main.

I also just have to mention one dish that I considered but ultimately did not make. There is a Czech dish consisting of a thick slice of cheese, usually Edam, which is breaded and fried, served with tartar sauce and French fries or potatoes. I’m sure this would be delicious and I would love to try it one day, but I wasn’t feeling like eating something so unhealthy this week!

There are many delicious Czech desserts. I wanted to make a dish that consisted of yeast buns with a custard sauce, but I ended up getting sick and didn’t get around to it on time. There is a wide range of cakes and pastries that I would love to try some day! Poppy seeds, fruit, and jam are common dessert flavorings or accompaniments.

What I Made

Veka (Czech Bread)

Veka (Czech bread)

Veka is similar to French bread, and is used as the base for Czech open-faced sandwiches which I made later. It was easy to make, but I think my dough needed a bit more water and I didn’t let it prove enough. This is my fault for not checking it properly; I was a bit busy with the holiday season and just left it for as long as the recipe said, which is not generally a good idea when it comes to bread. My kitchen was super cold and I guess the air was very dry so my bread came out quite dense. However, it did taste good, and that’s what matters!

If you would like to make this, I used the recipe from Cook Like Czechs.

Bramborový Salát (Potato Salad)

Bramborový Salát (Potato Salad)

This is a Czech potato salad. Aside from the potato, it includes peas, lightly cooked carrots, pickles, onion, and eggs, and a dressing made of mayonnaise, mustard, salt, pepper, and pickle juice. Mostly, this doesn’t seem too different from a regular potato salad (aside from the carrots and peas), but something was making it extra delicious. I’m pretty sure it’s the pickle juice, which I have seen in potato salad recipes before, but usually ones with a vinegar-based dressing. I think it makes all the difference here.

This is traditionally served with fried carp for dinner on Christmas Eve, but it can accompany just about any main dish and is a common topping for open-faced sandwiches, which is what I wanted to use it for.

This recipe is from Cook Like Czechs.

Obložené Chlebíčky (Open-Faced Sandwiches)

Obložené Chlebíčky (Open-Faced Sandwiches)

I love putting things on bread. There are just so many possible variations, and I’m always eager to see what toppings are common in other countries. Open-faced sandwiches are popular in Czechia, and can be topped with just about anything. Usually, Czech white bread (veka) is used as the base. I used a typical topping of potato salad, ham, Edam cheese, boiled egg, tomato, and pickle. I should have sliced my veka a little thinner, but aside from being a little messy to eat, these were really good!

I used a recipe from Cook Like Czechs as a guide when assembling these.

Vepřo Knedlo Zelo (Roast Pork, Bread Dumplings, and Braised Sauerkraut)

Vepřo Knedlo Zelo (Roast Pork, Bread Dumplings, and Braised Sauerkraut)

This is considered Czechia’s national dish, and I think its status is well-deserved. The name of the dish is an abbreviation for slow-roasted pork, bread dumplings, and braised sauerkraut.

Pork shoulder is used for the roast, and it’s cooked slowly in the oven with onion, garlic, and crushed caraway seeds. The leftover juices are combined with water, flour, and as much salt and pepper as necessary to make a flavorful gravy.

The bread dumplings showed up in a lot of the dishes I looked at making this week, so they are evidently very popular. They are slices of what is essentially a steamed loaf of bread (though it can also be boiled), with cubes of stale bread interspersed. They were easy to make and I can see them going well with any saucy dish.

As for the braised sauerkraut, I was pretty apprehensive about it. I don’t think I had tried sauerkraut before this and I wasn’t sure I would like it. I tried some raw, and it was pretty strong. But this recipe has you combine it with onion, bacon, crushed caraway seeds, and a little sugar. Towards the end, a little flour is added for thickening. I was pleasantly surprised to find that I really enjoyed this dish! The sugar was not enough to make it super sweet, but I think it took the edge off the sourness of the sauerkraut. I’ll add that I used water rather than brine from the sauerkraut, and would probably do so again.

There are three recipes here, all from Cook Like Czechs (when I find a great resource for a country I tend to return to it):

Česnečka (Garlic Soup)

Česnečka (Garlic Soup)

This Czech garlic soup is considered by some to be one of the best garlic soups in the world. The ingredients and method are very simple. First, you lightly saute some diced potato, then add thinly sliced garlic and bay leaves and saute a minute more, before adding chicken broth. Bring to a boil, season with salt, pepper, and dried marjoram, and cook until the potatoes are soft. This took me only around 10 minutes, maybe less, compared to the 20 minutes in the recipe, so keep an eye on your potatoes!

This soup is usually topped with croutons, typically made with rye bread, but I used some of my leftover veka. I also added some grated Edam cheese on top. Other optional additions are onion or caraway seeds, and you can also add ham or drizzle in a whisked egg. I decided to keep it fairly simple to make sure I could taste the actual soup since I had not made it before. I’m glad I did because it was really good! I was surprised to get such great garlic flavor from such a simple soup.

This recipe is from Cook Like Czechs.

Utopenci (Pickled Sausages)

Utopenci (Pickled Sausages)

Utopenci means ‘drowned men’ and refers to pickled sausages. Polish sausage is used; I used kielbasa. There is also onion, chilis, bay leaves, allspice berries, and black peppercorns, in a brine made of water, white vinegar, salt, and sugar. I was meant to remove a casing from the sausage but I couldn’t find something I could remove, and my sausages look enough like those in the picture that I wonder if this was some extra casing that mine just didn’t have. I sliced the sausage segments most of the way through and stuffed them with some onion and chili before putting them in the jar. The mixture has to sit in the jar for 1-2 weeks before it’s ready.

I ate my utopenci with leftover veka, which made a nice lunch. I also found later that it goes really well with cheese and it reminded me of when I was younger and used to enjoy pickled onions with cheese.

I used the recipe from Cook Like Czechs.

Šťouchané Brambory (Mashed Potatoes with Scallions and Bacon)

Šťouchané Brambory (Mashed Potatoes with Scallions and Bacon)

This is a simple dish; it’s a Czech version of mashed potatoes. I like to include a few easy dishes each week when possible, since sometimes some of the things I make are complex or time-consuming. I’m also a big fan of mashed potatoes and so I was interested to try another country’s version.

These mashed potatoes contain bacon and scallions and are meant to be more on the chunky side. The recipe called for less butter than I typically use in mashed potatoes, but I followed it anyway and I think the bacon makes up for it. These were really good!

This recipe was from Cook Like Czechs.

Nudle s Mákem (Noodles with Poppy Seeds)

Nudle s Mákem (Noodles with Poppyseeds)

This was so strange that I just had to try it. The dish itself is very simple – you cook the noodles, put them in a bowl, and top them with a mixture of ground poppy seeds and powdered sugar before drizzling with melted butter. There is also a similar dish that uses potato dumplings instead of noodles.

I ground the poppy seeds in my spice grinder and probably should have ground them longer. The spice grinder is new so I wasn’t sure what I was doing. However, I think the dish turned out fine. It was actually pretty good!

This is so simple that I could make it again without a recipe, but for this first time I used one from Cook Like Czechs.

Final Thoughts

This was a great week! I enjoyed everything, particularly the česnečka and bramborový salát.

Next week, I’ll be cooking food from the Congo. Yes, it’s a bit out of order, but I was originally going to split the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Republic of the Congo, and at the last minute decided to combine them, so I’m slotting them in here.

Join the Conversation

  1. I’m astounded by how beautifully prepared the dishes are! Rebecca, you did an excellent job; the meals look delicious and authentically Czech. Yum!

    1. Thank you so much Petra! I’m glad you stopped by and that you approve. I couldn’t have done it without your amazing recipes!

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