Flavours of Autumn
Autumn in Central Europe is a right royal feasting season. With dropping temperatures comes a growing appetite, and local dishes that were too heavy for a hot summer take on a new appeal, wonderfully warm and satisfying. Autumn and winter are thus an ideal time to combine a trip to Prague with a foodie adventure, exploring Czech cuisine.
Autumn is also a favourable time for picking mushrooms (one of the most popular outdoor hobbies among nature-loving Czechs), or harvesting fruit (especially plums, apples and pears) and looking for game on the restaurant menu – with roe-deer or red-deer venison but also the more exotic fallow-deer or wild boar meat.
Classic pearls of Czech cuisine
If you want to try at least one of the domestic culinary masterpieces, we’d recommend either roast duck or ‘svíčková’ (beef sirloin in a creamy vegetable sauce). The duck is typically slow roasted to a crispy finish and served with two types of dumplings – potato and bread-dough – and stewed red or white cabbage, or both. This simple, but taste-wise quite brilliant combination is an archetypal Czech dish. As with most Czech dishes, roast duck goes down smoothly with a beer.
If you should see goose on the menu, mostly served in a similar arrangement as the duck, do not hesitate. Goose tastes similar, but a little more tender. Traditionally, goose with potato curls and cabbage is served on 11th November on the Feast of St Martin, the first tasting day of a young wine from the current vintage, the Czech equivalent of a Beaujolais Nouveau.
Although duck is rather a Sunday-roast kind of dish, the svíčková sirloin is quite a special-occasion meal in Czech households; its preparation is both laborious and time-consuming. Fortunately, you do not have to wait for such an invitation, with a delicious svíčková on the menu in quite a few restaurants. In essence the lean beef sirloin is marinated and then slowly roasted (it can be wild boar or fallow deer, in season) stippled with bacon. It is then covered in a special creamy sauce, sweet and sour, blending the flavours of root vegetables with several kinds of spices. Svíčková is also served with bread-dough dumplings, which do come in useful for mopping up the tasty sauce.
Many tourist guides mention goulash as an iconic Czech food. This common dish, which might be described as diced beef in a thick sauce, is a popular pub classic, but does not really belong in the treasure-chest of Czech cuisine. It derives from Gulyás, the dish of Hungarian herdsmen – but the Czech version is much less runny and less spicy.
Wine and vintage
Autumn is inseparably linked with wine-harvest festivals – the vintage. Wine is definitely not a newcomer to the Prague scene. The first mention of a local vineyard dates from the 10th century. (The vineyard at Prague Castle was supposedly founded by Saint Wenceslas himself), but it was Emperor Charles IV (1316-1378) who literally besieged Prague with vineyards. His city is now belatedly repaying its debt to him (and wine) not only by restoring the former vineyards, but with the burgeoning of local viticulture and the wine trade. There are generally a whole range of domestic wines to be sampled in the metropolis throughout the year, including both natural and amber varieties, as well as Central European and world wines. At the beginning of the vintage, this range is enhanced with a seasonal speciality – the burčák, which is a partially fermented grape must or Federweisser. At the end of autumn, it gives way to St Martin’s Wine, the first wine from the autumn vintage, which is quite inseparable from roast goose, cabbage and “lokše” potato flatbreads. The St Martin’s Feast menu of 11th November features in many Prague restaurants.
Do you want to learn more about the dining scene in Prague? Then come to one of our tourist information centres for our guidebooks Prague:beer and Prague:wine, where you will find many interesting tips; You’ll also find them online at prague.eu/en/beer and prague.eu/en/wine.
Autumn Vintage and St Martin’s festivities:
13 & 14 Sep | Jiřího z Poděbrad square, Prague 3 – Vinohrady | prague.eu
14 Sep | Troja château garden, U Trojského zámku 1, Prague 7 – Troja | prague.eu
Prague Castle vintage
14 & 15 Sep | Prague Castle Gardens, Prague 1 – Hradčany | kulturanahrade.cz
St Claire vintage
14 & 15 Sep | Prague Botanical Gardens, Trojská 800/196, Prague 7 – Troja | botanicka.cz
20 & 21 Sep | Grébovka (Havlíčkovy sady), Prague 2 – Vinohrady | vinobraninagrebovce.cz
Wine Festival on the embankment
28 Sep | Náplavka – Rašínovo nábřeží embankment, Prague 2 – New Town | vineckofest.cz
St Wenceslas vintage
28 Sep | Villa Richter, Starozámecké schody 6/251, Prague 1 – Hradčany | prague.eu
St Martin’s Feast and Roast Goose
9 Oct | Farmer’s Market, Náplavka – Rašínovo nábřeží embankment, Prague 2 – New Town | svatomartinskeslavnosti.cz
St Martin’s Wine and goose at the ‘Jiřák’
11 Oct | Jiřího z Poděbrad Square, Prague 3 – Vinohrady | prague.eu
The Letná goose and St Martin’s wine tasting
16 Oct | National Museum of Agriculture, Kostelní 44, Prague 7 – Holešovice | nzm.cz
Text: Prague City Tourism