Our next destination was the central European nation of Czechia, better known to Americans as the Czech Republic. Czechia was part of Czechoslovakia for most of the twentieth century, until it separated from neighboring Slovakia in 1993.
Like many central Europeans, Czechs now enjoy a diet rich in meat and dairy—quite different from the plant-based dit than most of the region’s poorer inhabitants had maintained in centuries past. For breakfast, many Czechs eat an assortment of cured meats, bread, and cheese. The vegetarian breakfast that Jess made on Saturday morning featured scrambled eggs, fresh rolls, and two kinds of cheese: Edam, which the Czechs also like to fry, and Camembert, which is similar to a Czech cheese called hermelín. We enjoyed everything with some strong black tea.
Later that morning, Jess also began to prepare a batch of apricot fruit pies called kolaches from The World Cookbook.
For lunch, I prepared some traditional Czech sandwiches made with sliced radish and cream cheese on hearty white bread. (Our loaf was baked at a Polish-American bakery in Rochester.) Meanwhile, Jess stirred up a tasty cabbage soup called Zelnečka, made with potato and vegetarian kielbasa. We had learned that Czech meals often feature a soup before the main course.
By the time that we had finished eating, the fruit pies were out of the oven and Jess had set them out to cool:
After enjoying a couple of little pies, we walked over to the Resurgence Brewing Co., on Buffalo’s West Side, to try its Czech-style pilsner beer. Unfortunately, the brewery was sold out of the pilsner, but we tried an assortment of other brews including loganberry beer, sponge candy stout, and a special Oktoberfest variety.
Oktoberfest is primarily a German festival, of course, but this was not the only time that it would give us a window into central European culture during the course of the weekend. We left the brewery and headed around the corner to Broderick Park, located on a narrow island in the Niagara River. We walked through the park until we were standing under the Peace Bridge, which arched overhead towards Canada on the opposite shore.
We ate dinner at Cole’s in Elmwood Village, where we were excited to order from their special Oktoberfest menu. I ordered the pork schnitzel with roasted apple spaetzel (similar to pasta), a dish that is just as popular in Czechia as it is in Germany. Jess ordered the potato pancakes with sour cream and apple sauce, also popular in both countries.
The pancakes turned out to be appetizer-sized, so Jess ordered a hearty salad as well. We were too full to order dessert, but we snacked on some more of Jess’s tasty fruit pies later that evening while watching Divided We Fall (2000).
The film offered a frightening but often humorous look at life during the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia during World War II.
On Sunday morning, we ate another hearty breakfast of scrambled eggs, bread, and cheeses. We spent the morning doing some chores. For lunch, Jess cooked a vegetarian (not vegan) version of this recipe for Czech goulash, made with seitan and served with homemade knedlicky dumplings.
It was delicious, especially with the dumplings! That afternoon, we caught up on some short, informational videos about the Czech Republic. We first watched an overview of the country from Geography Now, followed by this picturesque documentary from UNESCO:
We also saw a short film that explained why Czechia and Slovakia split up in 1993.
For dinner, I followed a recipe for staročeský kuba, a mushroom and barley casserole from Prague. Czechs are known for strolling into the forest with a basket and emerging hours later with a harvest of wild mushrooms.
We didn’t have the wherewithal to go mushrooming ourselves, here in Buffalo, but we managed to find some dried porcini mushrooms at the local co-op.
Our weekend ended with the Prague episode of Rick Steves’ Europe, which introduced us to many of the popular sights around Czechia’s capital city as well as to the country’s music and culture.
Before we knew it, our final weekend of globetrotting to a country beginning with the letter “C” had come to an end. We had learned a lot, while stuffing ourselves with lots of carb-heavy breads and beers in the process. While we were somewhat relieved at the thought of returning to a more normal diet, we came away from our weekend in Czechia with a newfound appreciation for its cuisine, its culture, and its people. Until next time, ahoj!