Prague is a city of fairytales: perched on the edge of a forest with hundreds of spires punctuating the sky, some of which helped inspire the design for Disney’s Cinderella Castle, it makes one feel like this is the place where storytelling was indeed born. In this fairytale kingdom the food is also enchanted, and you might have a peculiar sensation, after each meal, of wanting to order a second portion for take away, and then finding some helpful fairy to cast a spell on the thing that allows it to be transported back to your home, fresh as the moment it was made. (Note: the green fairy ubiquitous in Prague—absinthe—is not a helpful one. You’re welcome.)
Fortunately there are ways and means to take tastes of this golden city home with you at the end of your trip. In the (edited) words of a different kind of storyteller: “We’re going to need a bigger suitcase.”
Related Reading: Why International Grocery Shopping Is the Best Food Tour
Spices: Paprika and Caraway Seeds
Many of the ingredients that inform traditional Czech cooking are available at conventional American grocery stores, so if you don’t have the wherewithal to visit you can certainly invite some flavors into your life with everyday ingredients from your neighborhood spice aisle. Juniper, dill, and ginger also bring Czech flavors to light, but those that linger most in my brain from my recent trip are paprika, especially its inclusion in goulash and goulash soup, and caraway seeds, which are found in the hearty bread that will always be brought to your table everywhere from pubs to fine dining restaurants. Caraway seeds also made an appearance in the single greatest steak tartare I have ever eaten. Pick some up in a Czech supermarket while you’re there, to bring a smile to your face whenever you see the accent-decorated lettering, or snag a bit from a Saturday farmer’s market.
Try this at home: Czech Goulash
Czech Rye Bread
Speaking of the bread: oh my god THE BREAD. I’ve been a carbohydrate queen since birth, but never before have two styles converged to nourish my soul so thoroughly. Dark sourdough plus rye equals magic. These are the fairytales of my persuasion. Thick slices of these hearty loaves will be served with just about everything. This bread made me want to do 23andMe or something because the degree to which it made my heart sing cannot be overstated. Bring home a loaf to ward off the Sunday scaries. The Monday following vacation will be a happy one when you dunk this treasure into your morning eggs.
Further to the fairytale vibe, in Prague gingerbread isn’t only for Christmas. It’s Christmas all year round in local bakeries, where the gingerbread cookies are softer in both texture and mellower in ginger flavor, which may make you all the more hesitant to bite the poor guy’s head off. But do it anyway. And then pick up an army’s worth to bring home to your friends and family for Christmas in July. Or March. Or whatever month you get to visit.
Red Currant Jelly
I had an experience at a local market where I spotted bushels of a tiny red berry that I had never seen before. It was no small feat to figure out what they were, via language barriers and the specificity of the thing itself. I’ve had currants in jelly form before, but had never witnessed them in raw form. Spend some koruna at a farmer’s market for a jar or two of red currant jam from an artisan vendor. Give as a gift, or gift yourself the ongoing magic of Prague served with the aforementioned rye bread or alongside a wheel of Czech-style marinated cheese.
Try This at Home: Czech Marinated Cheese
The Czech Republic boasts a few small but burgeoning wine regions in Bohemia and primarily Moravia where they’ve been pressing many of the same grapes as Germany and Austria for just as long and arguably just as well, but without all the fanfare. Even the smallest weekday farmers’ markets in out-of-the-way squares boasted a few vendors of local wine, and larger wine merchants stock them aplenty. Pick up a veltlínské zelené (gruner veltliner) for a snappy white, or a Svatovavřinecké (Saint Laurent) for a juicy red. (Look, I told you in the first paragraph you were going to need a bigger suitcase. You’re also going to need some packing material.)
Related Reading: The Best Wine Clubs & Subscriptions That Bring the Vino to You
Cola – Kofola
Here’s a relic from the era of communism when products such as Coke and Pepsi couldn’t be imported. The country is now a democracy, and in true democratic style the people have spoken and Kofola—the national cola with a sweeter, spicer, and more caffeinated edge—lives on as the most popular choice.
Prague Map Coasters, Set of 4 for $25.99 on Amazon
A place to set down your Kofola, or better yet, Pilsner Urquell, to fondly remind you of your vacation.
Condiments: Pickles, Mustard, Horseradish
Probably the best way to extend the shelf life of your vacation to Prague is from the shelves of the condiment aisle. Even as I write this I am sensing that in Prague I have found my epicurean spiritual home for the following reasons: the horseradish is spicier (and native), the mustard is creamier and mellower, and anything that can be pickled is pickled. (No comment on the citizenry.) My genetic code might be mostly French and English, but I’m seriously starting to believe that my heart is Slavic.
Related Reading: What Is the Difference Between Pickling and Fermenting?
I resisted for as long as I could, but I passed one too many candy stores around the city that had these festive baubles in their front window to not need to go inside and investigate. Among more familiar selections such as sour gummies, marzipan, and licorice, these sweets turned out to be marshmallow confections decorated to look like their namesake flavors. In this case, strawberry, but bananas were also common. (You might even find a conventional candy bar in a market with the same idea.) It made me wonder: Is Prague the very birthplace of Peeps? A magic kingdom indeed.
Orion Banany Chocolate Bar, 3 for $4.99 on Amazon
Banana, marshmallow, and chocolate for that fairytale life.
Header image courtesy of Max Geller/Getty Images.