One of the major complaints I had when living in the Czech Republic was the food. The Czech Republic is not known for its culinary delights, or for its fine grocery stores or farmers markets. Food is more of a necessity there than a pleasure. Traditional Czech food is bland. In fact, when I first moved there back in ’06, I deemed it “The Land of the Bland”. If you eat a typical Czech meal your plate will be covered in various brown or beige foods – mostly meat and potatoes. You’ll be lucky if you get any pepper, as Czech spices begin with salt and end with pepper. If you happen to find any fruits or vegetables they will most likely be cooked to death or made into some sort of dumpling. Prague has its share of good food,but nothing to write home about. Put it this way, Prague isn’t one of those European cities that will ever be known for fine dining.
Cooking at home in the Czech Republic is not much different. Sure, you can add actual spices to your food, but only if you can find them in the stores. There are a few specialty stores in and around Prague that sell such exotic spices as ground cumin, but it doesn’t go much farther than that. Cooking and eating in the Czech Republic is a lesson in settling for what you have. For example, the best Mexican food in Prague doesn’t even come close to the Mexican food in California, or some places in Texas. Same goes for burgers. I think us expats lower our standard of what constitutes “good food” so that we don’t jump into the Charles River out of pure culinary boredom.
Now that I am back in America I am cooking up a storm. And baking. And buying spices. And sour dough bread! I have a choice of markets at which I can shop, and they are all very well stocked. Of course, American supermarkets are full of junk food, but so are the Czech ones. I went to to Central Market here in Austin this evening and saw some garam masala, (an ingredient I needed for my lentil soup, but never could get ahold of in Prague) ancho chili powder, and even truffle salt! I didn’t have to make a special trip, or post to a Facebook group before I went shopping. I also didn’t have to spend a fortune on a bottle of cumin. The possibilities and inspiration flooded my spirit. I was elated and excited and overcome with joy. I almost cried.
I miss being in Prague every day, but it seems I can soothe my sad little soul with wonderful herbs and spices, fresh baked bread, and homemade cookies.