Search for authentic insider tours in Prague driving trend, says Mirka Charlotte Kostelková of Eating Prague Tours.
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Throughout the travel industry, tailor-made tours have grown in popularity, with travellers searching for more authentic insider tours and local experiences during their travels. One such company that offers just this is Eating Prague Tours, and back in November I joined them for an exciting tour of my adopted city of Prague to find out more about its food culture, discovering hidden cafes not even I had found, tasting delicious traditional Czech cuisine paired with interesting history. You can read my full review here
I caught up with Mirka – Eating Prague Tour’s Operations Manager after the tour to find out why she thinks tourism has seen such a dramatic rise in insider tours and what is so special about their tours that has made it feature in TripAdvisor Top 10. If you are considering taking a Eating Tour, this will definitely help you make that decision.
1. Why do you think insider tours are becoming so popular?
I think insider tours are a phenomenon that is not just limited to the Czech market, I’ve noticed food tours springing up a bit everywhere in the world, so it’ s something more global and it has become actually a trend in the tourism industry in recent times. It might be linked with globalization as everything is becoming more international and world-wide available including chain restaurants etc. Today it’s harder to find a real, local experience and people are looking for this – something more genuine and authentic. Such kind of tours makes people feel their stay in Prague was a special experience.
2. What makes Eating Prague Tours different to normal city tours?
At present Eating Europe covers 4 cities: Prague (Eating Prague Tours), Amsterdam (Eating Amsterdam Tours), London (Eating London Tours) and Rome (Eating Rome Tours). The company was created on the belief that one of the most exciting parts of getting to know any city is through its cuisine and its local food culture. In cities like Prague achieving this can be difficult since most visitors arrive with little knowledge about Czech cuisine and navigating through the city to find the really good stuff can be a challenge. We wanted to make this easy and fun so we created a tour that showcases the best food in Prague at some of the city’s truly special places and lets people come away with an understanding into our local food culture. We offer tailored tours for small groups of tourists and we take them to interesting local food places, off the beaten track, to taste some of the best Czech cuisine that Prague has to offer – something that people would not find themselves if they just came to Prague. We talk to them about the history of Czech cuisine and culture (because we believe that cuisine is definitely part of the culture), why we eat these foods, how we prepare them and how it has changed throughout the years.
3. What type of restaurants and cafes do you focus on?
We focus on places that are frequented by locals and are not always so easy to spot as they don’ t necessarily feature in any guidebook or might be just new as well. We are looking for businesses that combine traditional Czech cuisine with good quality ingredients and a nice and interesting setting and/or story behind it. The reputation of a restaurant or café can change quickly with a new chef, change in staff or a new owner, it is not easy to stay up-to-date. But there are many new places opening every month and gradually, more and more places are able to meet these standards.
4. How many stops are there on each tour?
We try to adapt our tours also to the weather conditions that can be a bit chilly, rainy or even snowy in winter, so at the moment there are 7 tastings at 6 different food stops on our winter route.
5. Which is the most popular stop with visitors?
Different people can be familiar with different foods, flavors, settings, concepts and cuisines, so it is not easy to generalize because it can be a different thing that is surprising for every person. Our visitors are generally the most amazed perhaps by the stop at Henry’ s tower – a 600 y. o. romantic belfry where they get to taste a delicious sauerkraut soup which is much of a surprise for most of them as it is very different from the sauerkraut taste they know from back home. Usually most people don’ t like much the sauerkraut they get with hot dogs (one of the few ways of eating any sauerkraut in some countries) and they prefer not even to try to imagine how would taste a sauerkraut soup… But then they just love it and often they mention this tasting as their favourite one and they love also the setting in the bell tower (the first dining experience in a belfry for most of them).
6. What criteria do the places you visit have to meet to feature on your tour?
Trying to put together a food tour route is kind of a brain teaser. The criterion number one is that the place needs to be really non-smoking – an absolute standard in most countries while smoking is still officially permitted in most places in the Czech Republic. Then, being a walking tour, we need to take in account also the distance in between the different stops and adapt it to the total distance, time and habits of our clients. Another challenge is the time planning as some places want us to respect their busiest hours and ask us to come after lunch/before dinner hours etc. Also we wish our clients can experience a varied choice of settings and varied foods – we want to make people taste all the most typical Czech foods that should include both sweet and savory dishes, traditional alcoholic beverages, desserts, baked goods, smoked meats, soups, starters and according to the time of the year, also seasonal and holiday foods. We try to avoid businesses that are in the guidebooks and we look for places that are genuinely local but at the same time offer good quality and are interesting with a good story behind them.
7. Do you have a favourite stop and a favourite dish?
Sure, I do have one even if the choice is always tough! Whatever the season, a real must, (especially in chillier weather), is a stop at one of the two Old Town premises of the wonderfully smelling family choco factory and cafe called “Choco cafe” (in Klimentska or in Liliova street) with 50 flavors of an awesome hot European-style (thick) chocolate! My personal pick would be the chilli one. You can push it even further by ordering “horicke trubicky” (Horice rolls) – fine rolled wafers filled with fresh homemade whipped cream and a cup of hot dark (70%) chocolate aside to dip the rolls in. It used to be Napoleon’ s favorite sweet treat and today the rolls are registered on the EU list of Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) foods. Surprisingly the dessert is not very sweet and doesn’ t feel heavy while the contrast between the fresh whipped cream and the hot chocolate, as well as the difference in textures is just…mmm, amazing! And Choco cafe is the only place in Prague where the rolls are served in this way, so don’ t miss it…! 😉
8. Where is your favourite place to eat in Prague?
Well, that’ s a tough question because I like various foods and cuisines and I enjoy to go to a different place every time while I also love trying out new restaurants as well. I have to say that I really like the restaurant Sansho in Petrska that has great quality food cooked by a British chef/owner and offers very interesting fusion of Czech and Asian cuisines. But I also love small hidden cozy cafes serving delicious homemade desserts in beautiful green courtyard and garden settings as Styl & Interier in Vodickova street, Galerie Le Court in Hastalska in the Old Town or Alchymista in Jana Zajice near Letna park. These are among my favorites 🙂
9. What is typical Czech cuisine like?
Typical Czech cuisine consists of rather hearty dishes and big portions, so nobody leaves hungry after a Czech meal. Dating back to the huge Austria-Hungarian empire that once covered more than 18 modern day countries, there is some kind of a common legacy and regional culture and history that also involve food in this region and that the Czech Republic is part of. So, you might find some similarities among the cuisines within the region.
Usually, in Czech cuisine includes a lot of meat – mostly pork (Prestice pork is the best Czech pork one can get), then beef but also duck and of course different smoked meats like Prague ham etc. One of the cornerstones of Czech cuisine are open-face sandwiches that were invented some 100 years ago. Soups are also very present in Czech cuisine (even if it has been slightly changing in the recent years) and we eat a lot of sauerkraut as well (a great source of vitamin C especially in winter and in the past when there were no imported fruits during that season). Many main meals include some kind of meat, a variety of sauce and dumplings (usually bread or potato dumplings) – e.g. “svickova” (braised beef sirloin in creamy sauce served with a slice of lemon, cranberry compote, whipped cream and bread dumplings) is arguably the most traditional of all Czech dishes.
As for desserts and sweets, the most typical ones would be apple strudel, “koláče” – round sweet baked pastries (some visitors actually call them “small sweet pizzas”) with different fillings as poppy seed, sweet cottage cheese, plum jam etc.; “buchty” – sweet buns filled with similar fillings as “koláče” and “hořické trubičky” (Horice rolled wafers filled with freshly made whipped cream and at some places served with a glass of a European-style dark hot chocolate aside).
As the Czech Republic is a country with the world’ s largest beer consumption (157 liters/41 gallons – or nearly a pint of beer per day) and beer is among the cheapest drinks on the menu in every bar or restaurant, you shouldn’t leave Prague without at least tasting one of the famous Czech beers (you need also to know that Budweiser here is a completely different beer than the one sold in the States under the same name – the two brands have the same name but they are completely separate and each one makes their own, and very different, beer). If you prefer a non-alcoholic option, you can try a “kofola” which is our local “coke” drink and it can be found on tap in many places.
10. What do you think of Prague’s restaurant scene?
Until recently, many Czechs wanted things that were just really cheap – and actually a big quantity for a very cheap price. But now, more and more Czech people are becoming progressively more and more aware of the importance of the quality of ingredients, the quality of food and the quality of preparation. This means also that nice new restaurants and cafes with quality food can open as there should be customers for them. Of course, this change doesn’t happen overnight, it is a lengthy process but things are changing and I am happy for that. So, I can say Prague restaurant scene is getting better and more interesting, even with an increasing number of options for amateurs of healthy foods (vegetarian, raw, …).