Friday, February 03, 2006

Beware, Bramboráčky!

Not everyone likes Czech food. This is, to me, a great mystery. When I look at guidebooks that bewail the allegedly dull and heavy nature of Czech cooking, I am astounded. True, it is not traditionally a vegetarian cuisine, but the flavors can be delectable, and a proper Czech meal normally balances its elements so that meat gets highlighted by the side dishes and beer. This is not to say that every meal is good or that every dish will be to one’s liking, but that’s true everywhere.
There are, however, certain quirky items that can only be described as an acquired taste. For example, fried cheese. How it ever occurred to anyone that cheese should be breaded and deep fried, I cannot imagine. In fact, I had never heard of it until American vegetarians who had visited Prague started raving about this wonderful stuff. Since I had never been served it in a Czech home, I concluded that it was a new invention designed to satisfy the influx of vegetarian tourists. Yet apparently it was not. I have now concluded that it wasn’t considered elegant enough to serve to guests. And, gradually, I have gotten to like it, although it is generally served with French fries and those are not something I normally eat unless I’m on some sort of long-distance drive. Leaving aside the French fries, fried cheese with tartar sauce is a tolerable dish.
There are also various odd appetizers designed to go with one’s beer. I have not tried many since I don’t usually drink beer between meals, but marinated cheese, while a bit bizarre, does go well enough with beer.
The snack that defeats me, however, is bramboráčky. These are small spiced potato pancakes fried in what must be a vast quantity of oil. The first time I had these was on a visit to a relative of some Czech friends. I have always heard that she is an admirable cook, and in fact that she continues to cook herself soup every day in her old age. On this occasion she had made countless bramboráčky. I recall thinking that the first one was simply divine. The next two or so still seemed pretty good, but the flavor seemed to deteriorate rapidly as I ate, and not through any fault of the cook. I cannot imagine how many of the things lay on the serving plate, but there were at least six of us there to eat them and I am quite sure I managed to force at least eight or ten down my throat before I concluded that I could not possibly stomach another one even if this meant a grave affront to the cook. The last few seemed thoroughly noxious.
Since I know that the first one was heavenly, it seems clear that the key to eating bramboráčky is to have very few at a time. After all, I do not always tolerate oil and fat very well, so there are many foods that quickly make me feel rather sick, such as alfredo sauce (alas).
I’ve gotten up the nerve to try bramboráčky another couple of times over the past nineteen years, but I’m afraid that these weren’t cooked with the skill of the first ones. The second time, they were nasty from the first bite, oily and badly seasoned. The second time, when Megan and I met a friend of hers for beer recently, they were edible, but still too oily, not very well seasoned, and rather limp. With the help of Megan and the beer, I got through most of the plate of four. By the time I got home, I was sorry I hadn’t gotten something safe like marinated cheese.

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4 Comments:

Blogger Julia said...

Bramboracky isn't my favorite either - from home or restaurant, but I do love homemade Czech knedliky. It is so much lighter than what you find in most restaurants and grocery stores.

February 04, 2006 4:52 PM  
Blogger Hubert said...

There are also those really big bramboracky which contain sauteed mushrooms, pork, and onions. I love that stuff, but maybe only once per year.

February 09, 2006 9:05 PM  
Blogger Hubert said...

By the way, Karla, how do you get those diacritics into you blog? Let's see if this works:

+ěščřžýáíé=

February 09, 2006 9:06 PM  
Blogger Karla said...

I usually cut and paste from Word, but sometimes I set the keyboard to Czech.
The little bramboráčky the other night at the Fulbright conference tasted good to me, whereas for some reason the chicken-pepper směs beside them was problematic. (I will try to avoid bringing in any more dental matters.)

February 09, 2006 10:46 PM  

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