Prague Food Festival- Tastes of the World
We attended Taste of Cape Town two days before we departed for Europe and have been regulars over the last few years. I was really excited to attend the Prague Food Festival in May this year to get an idea of similarities and differences between the two, if any.
My husband’s best friend’s girlfriend (deep breath, that was a long one) Zlatka lives in Prague, and so we arranged tickets for the festival and planned our days around it, months in advance.
The Prague Food Festival, which was held on the majestic grounds of the Castle (Royal Garden, Ball Game Hall and Royal Summer Palace), spanning 6 hectares ran from 27 May till 29 May 2011. Boasting 43 stalls, this festival is enormous. We attended on both the Saturday and Sunday, which gave us ample time to browse, wander, sample and chat and go back for seconds. The weather was warm and Prague was out in full force- youngsters, families, couples, friends. The festival is the brain child of renowned restauranteur and businessman Davel Maurer who publishes Maurer’s Grand Restaurant Guide in the Czech Republic.
The official theme for this year’s festival was “Tastes of the World” and cuisine from a variety of countries including Argentina, Belgium, China, France, Chile, India, Indonesia, Italy, Spain, Japan, Thailand, Austria and the Czech Republic itself were represented.
The grounds of the Castle are immaculate and surrounded by fruit trees young and old, lending itself to an idyllic setting to sit in the shade, lean on a table with a plate of something delectable or stroll around leisurely massaging your full belly, absorbing the magnificence of the surrounds.
My partner in crime over the weekend, and for the rest of our stay in the Czech Republic, was Agata (my fellow F.C. Barcelona cheer leader), a Polish lass, twitter-buddy and now firm friend. Gata met us the night before for the first time, for drinks at a bar called Zanzibar.
You can just tell by that mish-mash of countries in one paragraph that we were all going to get along swimmingly. Then there’s that thing about the Champions League final and Barca too, but I’m getting way ahead of myself now.
The queues to the festival snaked for a block or two but luckily moved along quickly.
Inside, the lines at the food stalls were at least 15-20 people long. It was a case of picking a line and enduring it or starving, so we got into the queue for sushi from Kobe. Sushi is extremely popular in Prague, unsurprisingly as it is in so many countries.
I found the platter we ordered to be average. Seafood as you know, has to be flown in, but it wasn’t the freshness of the fish I had an objection to. I’m pretty certain we ate a roll made of tinned tuna in mayonnaise with chives- perhaps an anti-bourgeois statement? Capetonians, you are spoilt.
As Zlatka explained, mussels are wildly popular because they are not easily available and the Belgian mussel and oyster stand Les Moulles had a constant queue.
My Favourite Foods
My favourite meals of the weekend included the burger and steak tartare from Cowboys, the barbequed Asian style salmon in bamboo from the Kempenski’s Le Grill & Garden, the duck from the Mandarin Oriental and the rolled pork with dumplings from the ‘local’ stand. There is a local version of goulash, served with dumplings that we also enjoyed at the festival and at a few restaurants.
Naturally Czech Pilsner Urquell
was the drink of the festival, it being the main sponsor, but also a beloved local brand. Goodie bags of their new products were handed out to patrons exiting and we in turn gave all ours to Zlata- we had accumulated a scary load of stuff by the last week of our trip and couldn’t add to it, even with amazing beer products, sadly.
Local wines (including a bio-dynamic variety), French champagne, fruit juices and smoothies were also available. I made friends with the Spar stand producing the freshly squeezed juices. The sun was shining and the masses were thirsty.
For those looking to engage their hands and minds, there was a well run roster of cooking demonstrations, talks and even cocktail making sessions. I preferred to stroll lazily with an ice-cream in hand, people gazing and staking out my next snack.
And those ice-creams were made by a local company producing exquisite flavours such as Catalan creme, beer and Gorgonzola with walnuts and the wait was a good 15 minutes, but worth it.
Roman Uhlir of Hilton's Cloud 9
I had a good chat to Roman Uhlir, Master bartender and manager of the bar and bar-tending school at the Hilton’s Cloud 9
( which we visited later and I can tell you, is extraordinary). We chatted about the festival and Fernet Stock’s new products, including Z Generation, a ginger flavoured spirit.(Fernet
is the Czech Republic’s largest herbal bitters manufacturer and I first tasted it in Prague 4 years ago. For some reason the citrus flavoured bitters is marketed as a women’s drink; it sure is strong!). Roman also personally made some of our cocktails that weekend. Sublime!
The Prague Food Festival is well-spread out and naturally much larger in size than the South African festivals.
There seems to be a culture of well-established and popular fine dining establishments at the 5 star hotels that are well represented, as is the case in London, New York and Tokyo.
Maintenance staff were cleaning constantly and minding after the Castle grounds, a UNESSCO World Heritage site. The festival was as slick as it was delicious!
- It’s not necessary to speak Czech to communicate well, but if you speak German it could help to speed things along a bit. English is well-understood, we found. Having a local with us helped bundles.
- Try to take two days to enjoy the festival, in a relaxed fashion. We spent the Saturday morning and afternoon as well as Sunday afternoon at the festival and got to sample the things we missed on one day, during the other.
- Bring a cloth shopper or large lightweight handbag to carry gifts or any wine you may buy, with ease.
- Wear comfortable shoes (this is an obvious one ladies, and I know those Eastern European girls just glide over the cobble-stones in Louboutins, but I wore the Converse sneakers with pride and no regrets).
- May is spring time in Europe and you will inevitably take your cardigan off- slather on sunscreen and carry some with you too. The leafy trees can only hold so much of the rays back.
- Carry a small bottle of water with you- if you have thirst issues when eating or walking, it can take a while to get a drink and is even harder to find water.
- There are ATMs available on the grounds, but I advise you carry extra cash with you as inevitably you will need more tokens. Trust me on this one.
- Our hotel had a direct entrance to the Castle grounds, but we travelled to the festival from town each time, not using it. If the Prague Food Festival is held at the Castle next year(not sure why it should change), this is the place to stay, or at least a comfortable suggestion.
Tickets cost 400 CZK (R160) and included 250 CZK worth of “Grands”. Like at Taste of Cape Town, the currency accepted were these tokens or grands.