Restaurace Stara Praha
Prague 5 – Mala Strana
If you’ve spent any time around Old Town, Prague, you quickly come to realize that all seasons are tourist season. Memories of cheap beer and affordable, hearty Eastern European fare are quickly dragged back into reality. In 2008, post-EU and the after the first, second, and third waves of tourism from Europe, North America, and Asia, Old Town is essentially one large tourist trap. Even old time institutions like U FleckU and U Medvidku have pushed most locals out, with higher prices and annoying tourists. Locals have fled to the suburbs, where 20kr pilsners are still available.
Just across the bridge from Praha 1 in Mala Strana, lies a small bastion of Czech culture. Not quite the suburbs, but far enough off the tourist track that locals still socialize uninhibitedly. Here, Stara Praha, a restopub sponsored by Staropramen Brewery, maintains their commitment to cheap beer and good food. After days of eating heavy pork, doner kebabs, and rich Eastern European fare, I was craving some good old simple food. Nothing dressed up, nothing fused with French techniques to create Nouveau Czech dishes, but honest food. My first attempt was met with a completely booked service. Luckily, I was able to get away for a lunch later that trip.
In Prague, there are five major breweries of which Staropramen is the largest. To extoll the virtues of Czech Beer would require another essay completely. Let’s just say, all you have to know is it is tough to go wrong with any Czech Beers. Staropramen brews a particularly good pale, lager, and dark. Just like most other Czech Breweries. The Pale was particularly good – hoppy, well-fermented, slightly bitter, with fruit notes on the finish, this is the perfect beer to go with the heavier dishes served in Eastern Europe. I really liked the dark as well, though I find it a bit heavier, and only drink it on it’s own, or with snacks, not with a full meal.
The food at Stara Praha was fantastic – probably the best example of “home-cooked” Czech food i’ve had. I had two basic dishes. The first was drstkova polevka – tripe soup. Recommended by a poster on Chowhound, they were bang on in how extraordinary this soup was. The sharp spices cut through the days of accumulated pork fat that had collected within my system – alternating spicey bursts with the rubbery, crunchy chewy bits of tripe was perfect. Now i know tripe isnt for everyone, but this was one fantastic soup.
My entree was the goulash. This was honestly the first goulash i had in Prague that i truly enjoyed. Previous goulashes were bland, plain, and excessively oily, with poor quality, chewy beef. This goulash was peppery, and flavourful. The meat had been simmered for an appropriate period of time and was tender yet firm. The sauce was reduced to concentrate the flavours – and delivered with strong notes of pepper, tomatos, clove, paprika, nutmeg, and allspice. A touch of sourness in the sauce, and in the dumplings, helped counter balance the excessively oily nature of the goulash itself. This was excellent goulash.
I have a definite love-hate relationship with food in Prague. While i think Czech food in general is underrated, I found it tough to find good honest food around Old Town. To some, this may sound like expecting great food in Disneyland, but I was hoping for less of an impact from the throngs of tourists – hoping against hope there would be some honest eateries left. Stara Praha is one of the few places in the central core that served a meal that was high in value – great food at great prices – and based on the lineups and full houses they entertained, it is not surprising to see that the locals feel the same way. With great beer and great food, if you find yourself in Wenceslas Square overwhelmed by photographers and touts, and craving a good meal, head west, past the Tesco, over the Vlatava, into Mala Strana. It’ll give you, and your wallet, a taste of how Prague was in the 90’s, before Praha was “discovered”.