A Czech food guide
The Headstart Prague Pre-travel Kit has a much more detailed version of this Czech food and menu guide with all the special Czech characters included.
Also check the Restaurants page with tips on restaurants to try and discounts available when reserving a table.
It was during a visit from friends that I detected a note of fear. The fear of going into a restaurant that had a Czech menu with no English translation. We went in and I ordered Czech food from a Czech menu for all resulting in a great meal and everybody agreeing that the cabbage was never this good in England. At that time I sat down and tried to work out the best way of introducing the average tourist to Czech food, restaurant etiquette and tipping Czech style. And so below you'll find my Czech food and menu guide.
Czech Food - A Czech Restaurant Menu Guide - Entering the Restaurant
As you look around a Czech restaurant, the first question is where to sit. You would not normally be shown to a table. A Czech restaurant usually does not have no smoking areas. A restaurant may have tables for four or six people and it is normal practice to ask someone if you can sit at their table if no others are free. The most simple phrase to find out if the seats are free is to ask "je to volno" (yeah too volno). Unless there is a very definite shake of the head, it means you can sit down. Be careful of hearing the word "no" as in Czech this is a shortened version of the word "ano" which means yes. Look at the mannerisms of the person already at the table. Congratulations, you have just sat down.
Czech Food - A Czech Restaurant Menu Guide - The Waiter
You will now be approached by a waiter who will give you the menu and immediately ask "co si date k piti" (what do you want to drink). You might not fully understand the Czech phrase but, they'll be waiting for your drinks order. You have options, "pivo prosim" (beer please) this should get you a 0.3l glass of the house beer however, you may be asked if you want "male nebo velke" (ma-lay neb-oh vel-kay) small or big (0.5l glass). You may be asked about the strength of the beer and you may hear the waiter say the word decitku (des-seet-koo) this means a Czech beer with a strength of 10 degrees (UK 4.5%) which is standard here. If in doubt just say normal or normaal.
If you want juice, a restaurant will stock orange pomerancovy (pomeran-chovee) and most stock multivitamin (moolti-vitameen). There maybe a question of how much juice. The Czechs have a specific measurement called deci (dessy) and a 0.3l glass of juice in Czech would be tri deci (tree dessy).
To order two beers for example you can say "dvakrat male pivo prosim" (dvakraat ma-lay pivoh proseem) or for two orange juices "dvakrat pomerancovy dzus prosim" (dvakraat pomeran-chovee dyoos proseem)
If you are on your own substitute the word dvakrat (two of) with the word jedno (jednoh - one of). Congratulations, you have just ordered your drink.
Czech Food - A Czech Restaurant Menu Guide - Menu Format and layout
A restaurant will have a Czech food menu which will follow the format as listed below;
Optionally you may find;
- Predkrmy - Starters both hot and cold.
- Polevky - Soup
- Drubez - Meals based on poultry.
- Speciality - House food recommendations.
- Hotova Jidla - Ready made food served quickly.
- Minutkova Jidla - Available meals but, must be prepared and will result in waiting.
- Ryby - Fish
- Salaty - Salads
- Prilohy - Vegetable/Accompaniments (Chips, Sauces etc)
- Bezmasa Jidla - Vegetarian or more accurately "food without meat".
- Moucniky - Dessert
- Detsky Menu - Childrens Menu
- Denni Menu - Daily fixed lunch menu, maybe two or three courses with drink NOT included.
TOP TIP - If you order similar Czech food i.e. all beef or all pork etc, you will find the service much quicker than if you order a range of different meats as all meals will wait for the slowest one to be prepared.
Czech Food - A Czech Restaurant Menu Guide - Starter
A restaurant will offer two or three kinds of soup.
Soups will be under the category called "Polevky",
1) Hovezi (hovee-ehzi) polevku or bujon. It will be a clear beef soup and may have an addition of noodles (hovezi s nudlem) or small meat balls.
2) Gulasovy (goolash-oh-vee), thick gulash soup with pieces of ham and sausage, onions and peppers.
3) Bramborovy (brambor-oh-vee) thick potato soup with green veg and somtimes mushrooms although this is only popular in the winter months.
4) Borsc (borshk) A left over from Russian times. Similar to goulash soup with heavy use of cabbage and sausage.
Bread usually comes with the soup, in some places it is free but, in others you pay 2 or 3kc for a slice or a long roll. If you have to ask, say "mate rohliky prosim" (maatay-rohh-leeky) Do you have bread rolls?
Other popular menu starters are;
Sunkova rolka se slehanou a krenem - A roll of ham with cream and horseradish sauce.
Tlacenka s otcem a cibuli - Brawn with vinegar and onions.
Smazene Zampinony - Fried mushrooms.
Topinky (se syrem) - Fried garlic bread (with cheese).
Czech Food - A Czech Restaurant Menu Guide - Main Course
Hovezi Gulas - beef goulash - This classic Czech food will automatically be served with sliced bread (houskovy) dumplings. The meat will be garnished with fresh onions and peppers.
Veprove Gulas (vepr-oh-vay) - pork goulash - Again, a Czech food staple. Same as above but with pork meat.
Svickova na smetane - slices of beef - (svichkova-na-smettan-eay) will automatically be served with sliced bread dumplings. The meat will be covered in a gravy and topped of with cranberry jam and cream.
Smazeny kureci rizek - chicken fried in breadcrumbs. Similar to a Wiener Schnitzel but in the Czech food style they don't use cheese. Most often served with a cold potato salad "bramborovy salat" or boiled potatoes "varene brambor".
Smazeny veprove rizek - same as above but, with pork.
Kureci prsa - chicken breasts - can be served with anything but often a dish which can come with "bramboracky" (bramboratchky) which is potato that has been grated and then fried into small patty cakes.
Biftek - beef steak - With Czech food, meat is generally cooked medium. If you want well done say "propecene" (propetchenay). Normally served with chips "hranolky" and possibly with an egg on the steak "vejce" (vigh-it-seh).
Pfeffersteak - Pepper Steak - Steak cooked to your requirement with peppercorns on the steak or with a side dish containing the sauce or with the sauce already on the steak. Czech food, especially meat, can be served with a lot of sauce.
Pecena Kachna - roast duck - (petchenay means roast but, the 'ch' in Kachna has no English equivalent as it is a sound made in the back of the throat. The closest description is the sound made before you spit) served with sliced bread dumplings and "zeli" (zeli looks like sauerkraut but, it is much finer and sweeter).
Smazeny Syr - Cheese fried in breadcrumbs served with a side salad.
Kralik (kraaaleek) - Rabbit, usually roasted and served with zeli.
Some other useful Czech Menu translations;
Smes (smee - ess) - possibly you will see "Kureci Smes". Basically, it means that the meat is in small pieces. Literally it means "mixed".
Prsa - Applied to chicken only it means you will get the breast.
Piquant or Dabelsky or Palivy (paa-livy)- The meal or the sauce is spicy or served with chilli's.
Czech meals are highly adaptable, if you like the basic food but, for example, don't like the sauce, just ask for it without the sauce. The phrase you require is "Bez Omacku" or (Bess omatchkoo) translated as "Without sauce" and is useful when ordering a steak etc. The same applies to the type of potatoes etc and there is an example in the next category.
Czech Food - A Czech Restaurant Menu Guide - Ordering the meal
Don't be too surprised if you smell garlic in the air. It's used in varying degrees in Czech food. The waiter will have returned to your table with the drinks and will now take your Czech food order. Lets say that your meal will consist of the following; (based on one person ordering for himself).
1 x Hovezi Polevku
1 x Svickova
"Si dam jednu hovezi polevku a jednu svickovou prosim"
see daam jednoo hovee-ezi polevkoo ah jednoo svichkovo proseem
(I will have one beef soup and one svickova na smetane, please).
The second person may have a slightly different Czech food order;
1 x Hovezi Polevku
1 x Kureci Smazeny Rizek
There may be two problems here as the letter 'r' in these words is unpronouncable for most Czechs let alone the rest of us, you will only need to point to the food guide to stop any confusion. Let's say however that the meal comes with boiled potatoes (varene brambor) and you want potato salad (bramborovy salaat). You can say to the waiter;
"Si dam jedno hovezi polevku a jedno kureci smazeny rizek ale bez brambor, si dam bramborovy salat" (I will have one beef soup and one chicken fried in breadcrumbs but, without boiled potatoes, I will have potato salad).
The accompaniments to the main meal (on a Czech food menu it will say "Prilohy") are;
- houskove knedliky - bread dumplings
- bramborove knedliky - potato dumplings
- ryze - rice
- hranolky - chips
- bramborak - fried potato cakes
- smazene brambor - fried potatoes
- varene brambor - boiled potatoes
- zeli - sweet cabbage
You may see something called "oblouha" at the end of the meal. This is just small offer of lettuce, red cabbage, white cabbage and maybe pepper. It provides colour.
The waiter may also ask if you want a salad as many Czechs will have it as a side dish. These can be;
- Michany - Mixed pieces of cucumber, tomato, peppers etc.
- Sopsky - (shop-ski) Same as above but, with Balkan cheese on the top (strong flavour).
- Rajcata (rye-chatta) - Tomato salad, just slices of tomato.
- Okurky - Cucumber Salad
Congratulations, you have just ordered your main meal.
Czech Food - A Czech Restaurant Menu Guide - Dessert
You've not had enough yet?
Any restaurant will offer at least two of the following;
1) Zmrzlinovy Pohar - A glass with fruit and ice cream.
2) Palacinky (palachingky) - On it's own it is just a pancake but "palacinky s ovocem a zmrzlina" turns it into a pancake filled with fruit and ice cream.
3) Kolac - (kolaach) Cake.
4) Jablecny zavin - (yab-bletchnee zaavin) Apple Strudel.
Czech Food - A Czech Restaurant Menu Guide - Tea/Coffee
When you have finished your meal you can call over the waiter. You may be asked if you want coffee "si date jeste neco? kavu?" (see daatay est-yeah nyee-et-so, kaavoo) Do you want something else, coffee?.
You may reply "ano, dam si jedno videnskou kavu" I will have a Vienna coffee.
For two coffees it changes slightly to "dame si dvacrat vidensky kavy, prosim" (daamay see dvacraat videnskey kaavy proseem). Tea is not popular here and a restaurant may offer only cerny Caj (cherny chai - Black tea) or ovocny caj (ovots-nee chai - Fruit Tea). If you want tea with milk you should go for the Black tea and to get milk you have to add the following phrase "s mlekem". Saying it in Czech phonetically will be "cherny chai smlekem prosim" (black tea with milk please). The sugar either comes with it or is already on the table.
Czech Food - A Czech Restaurant Menu Guide - Paying the Bill
To pay the bill you have to ask for it first. When the waiter comes over simply say "za platim" (I will pay).
Generally it works like this;
The waiter may say the word "dohromady" (doe-hromar-dee) which means do you want to pay altogether. It is easier to settle one bill but, they will separate the bill if you want. If paying seperately, you need to say the word "zvlast".
- the same person who you ask for the bill takes the money or;
- a different person will come to the table to take the money (a smaller restaurant may only have one person who takes the money).
If the bill comes to 230kc for two, you can give the waiter 250kc and tell him to keep the change. If you feel more comfortable, let him give you the change and you immediately give the tip back to him. Czech people do not leave a tip on the table.
Czech Food - A Czech Restaurant Menu Guide - Bar Food
The latest addition to this Czech Menu guide may come in handy to those brave souls willing to tackle a Czech Bar when you look up at the chalk board menu and wonder what the hell it all means. Below you will find some of the more popular "bar food" and what it is.
Klobasa - That BIG German sausage thing that really should be called salami in a sock. Served with bread and mustard.
Parek (or parky) - Little sausages that have the appearance of frankfurters only the Czech ones taste better. On the street it is called Parek v rohliku (sausage in a roll) but, in the bar you will normally get two sausages joined together and served with bread and mustard. If you hear the phrase "dva nozichkey" just nod your head as you are confirming the normal order of two sausages.
Tlacenka - Pronounced "tla-ching-key" it is like brawn in a thick jelly. My least favourite meal.
Sekana - As mentioned above it is like meatloaf but, will almost certainly be served with only bread instead of potatoes as like a main meal.
Topinky (Topinek) - Is essentially fried bread and you wipe raw garlic on the top mmmmmh. It's my favourite (I'm a garlic fiend). Also maybe called Dabelske Topinky which is the above with the addition of cheese and chilli seeds.
U Topince - Not to be confused with Topinky. This is locally known as the "bloated man" i.e. it is a short fat sausage completely submerged in vinegar. Usually served with the onion/vinegar sauce and dry bread.
The Prague pre-travel Headstart Kit contains a much more detailed printed A5 version of the menu guide with full Czech special character translations.
I hope you enjoyed your Czech Food, I'll be working on this page from time to time to increase the choices and to suggest specific Prague places to try it out. At the moment my favourite is U Suteru in Palackeho. Another popular place for a quick meal is U Bakalare in Celetna (next to Ambiente) where you will pick your meal from a chalk board. Another location is the Novomestsky Pivovar (New Town Brewery - www.npivovar.cz) which offers a wide range of beers and excellent Czech Food, although it does have English Menus if you want them.
This link to a Guide to Czech Wine provides some information on the good and bad years of production and offers advice on selection. You can also find some classic Czech meals and their recipes here.
Finally, if you want to learn how to prepare traditional Czech dishes on your own, then Chefparade offers cooking classes in English. You'll prepare, cook and eat your own classic meal. They also have an option for vegetarians. I guess this is a classic Czech vegetarian dish. Lots of fun. See the website for prices and dates etc.