Sunday, January 8, 2012

Mastering the Art of Czech Cuisine

Sometimes this blog does come off a bit like a confessional. The truth: when I first moved to the Czech Republic I thought the food was...well...less thatn desirable. It's a very heavy working man's kind of fare. Lots of meat and dumplings and all these piles of cabbage. Then there are the cream sauces. Talk about heavy. The first thing I learned to order was Smaženy Syr, also known as Fried Cheese. I was good with that. Yeah, it's heavy, but there's something about that gooey cheese and crispy breaded crust, not to mention the horrifyingly delicious smear of tatarska (Czech Tartar Sauce) that never fails to delight. Throw in some nice greasy fries, and a slice or two of cucumber and tomatoe, and it's amazingly delicious. I had no trouble telling my students it was my favorite Czech food, although it's sort of like telling people in HK that my favorite food there is Hong Kong style French Toast. I'm still the kind of girl who orders what she knows she likes, because why would I want to pay for something and be disappointed? When you live with a Czech family, however, you have to learn to expand your horizons. There's lots of oil and fat and heavy starches, but when prepared correctly with lots of spices, Czech food actually is quite tasty. This weekend my mom-in-law was free from work, so she set about teaching me a couple of Czech classics. I still can't claim to have them mastered, and I still need some help with the translations, but I did help out and even got my hands dirty every now and then. On Saturday we took on the collossal task of making Svičkova. Roughly translated it means "Candle Sauce." Funny name, but probably this is due to the bright orange color provided by the carrots. The meat and vegetables have to cook for a long time until the meat is tender. I'm thinking it could be translated into a crock pot recipe, but it's just a thought. I was surprised to learn that the sauce is mostly made up of the pureed veggies that were cooked with the meat. They are forced through a flour sifter and then slowly mixed back in with the juice together with cream. I really didn't do anything but watch the process for this one, but if I can get a translation of the recipe, I think having seen it being made will be useful. It was then served with store bought bread dumplings, the sauce and meat, with a dollop of cranberry sauce and a bit of whipped cream as a garnish. Today I learned the art of making potato dumplings. (Note: there is acutally a store here in town that exclusively sells dumplings. Not something you find on every street corner in America for sure. Bread, potato and fruit varieties are in great supply in these parts.) I actually got the hands on experience this time, although the meat was already totally cooked by the time I joined in, I did see a bit of the spinach preparation. It was a slight variation on the classic Czech dish of Knedlo, vepro, zelo. The original being served wtih cabbage instead of spinach. I was quite pleased with the result of my potato dumpling making experience, and was likewise excessively full. I don't think I'm quite ready to open a Czech Kitchen in America just yet, but I'm hopint that if I can at least figure out some of the basics I'll be able to make my husband happy every now and again with a taste of home. I would really like to learn how to make the Czech Potato salad, but everyone tells me that American Mayo isn't as good as the Czech variety, and therefore it just won't taste the same. Who knows? For now I'll just keep plugging along. Hard to believe we're already almost half way through our time here. I still have lots of things I'd like to do, and people I'd like to see, so hopefully there will be more entertaining posts to come. The truth is, just like life in America, when you're here all the time life in any country is just life. It only seems more exotic when seen as something foreign. Today, however, was about changing sheets and cooking lunch. But I'm still hoping for a little of that feeling of adventure that makes traveling so grand.

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