Now it's official! I'm an authentic Czech citizen with the passport and all. The European dream is just one step and a month away, and then I can sail towards the region of my roots, even though these roots are still foreign to me, and at the moment, leaning more towards dim memories and splinters of information from my family members. Many books have been written about the Czech Republic in general, and about Prague more specifically, including comprehensive information about history, customs, and the prevailing culture of the country. I however, have chosen to concentrate on the Czech culinary culture which seems magical to me, a stamp of which has been left on me by my grandma's cooking, the taste and scent of which is still with me to this day. Only recently did I realize that Little Prague, a bar-restaurant located right under my nose, salutes the Czech-Slovak kitchen and offers and traditional authentic menu.
Little Prague has got 3 locations in the centre of the country, and the Bat Yam branch is right on the boardwalk, excellently located, offering nighttime revelry in a traditionally and authentically designed Czech pub. It invokes the atmosphere of a fine bar and meat restaurant (at least according to the smell). The design is all wood – starting form the parquet floors, moving on the furniture situated in every corner (the owners are mad about the Jaffa flea market), and finishes with the walls, which are also covered in wood. All this is softly lit, giving the restaurant's bar a quiet and romantic atmosphere, while in the background soft rock is softly playing, which increases in volume as we get closer to midnight, well matched to the changing crowd. It finally turns into hard rock at the hands of Leon the bartender.
We started the evening off, according to tradition, with some authentic Czech beer: Kozel, a dark, but not heavy, and environmentally friendly beer, and Pilsner, the world's first lager, with a bitter yet delicate taste. We ordered a few starters to go with the beer, according to the waitress' recommendations: a pretzel, which is actually a traditionally baked Czech bagel and langosh, round Czech bread which is fried and served covered in grated cheese and garlic. The breads came along with a Czech spread and liver pate. The special spread is composed of hard grated cheese with garlic and mayonnaise, and is served with toasts, pork sausage and pickles. The liver pate stood out in both taste and distinctiveness, with its bits of pistachio. It was served with a dominant onion jam, bread and butter.
We made our way from starters to mains with a shot of Becherovka – a 38% alcohol light coloured bitter Czech digestive, made of various herbs, both medicinal and culinary. Then the mains arrived at our table, extra large and with names we couldn't wrap our tongues around like knedlo vepro zelo, cordon bleu, chernohorsky steak, and koleno.
Knedlo vepro zelo is a succulent, tasty and pleasant dish, made up of slices of roasted pork and served with a cabbage and caraway stew (a main Czech ingredient) and knedliks – steamed Czech dumplings. The combination of the meat gravy and the dumplings was amazing, and reminded me of my grandma's house. Cordon bleu is, obviously, a French dish, but here it's made, with a Czech flare, of filet and stuffed with layers of ham and smoked cheese, then fried in a crispy breading. The chernohorsky steak is also made of filet, and is coated in potato flour and garlic before being fried, and is then served with grated cheese on top. The dish reminds me a bit of schnitzel, but with a special flavour due to the melted cheese.
Koleno is actually ossobucco – marinated and slow roasted pork knuckle with caraway and spices, and served alongside red cabbage cooked in red wine, white horseradish and mustard. The meat, tender and dissolving in the mouth, was well complemented by the ideal assortment of accompanying flavours.
The sweet and well worth it finale was provided by two fat, heavy palacinky (blintzes), one filled with nutella and other with cheese and raisins, served along with chocolate sauce and sugared apricot. It was hard for me to wipe the smile off my chocolate covered face as I once again set sail on a nostalgic wave, and remembered how much I loved my grandmother's palacinky as a child. My visit to Little Prague made me feel like she was there, right beside me, smiling as she spread the filling. As we walked to the car, drunk off both the food and the alcohol, I thought that with or without a Czech passport my family and I have a common history and beholden connection to the Czech culture and nation. And right here, just a couple kilometers from my house, this culture lives, thrives, and allows me to keep this deep connection alive.
83 Ben Gurion, Bat Yam