July 16, 2014

Happily Eating My Way To an Early Grave

1e69bb0bec_67507501_o2I love Czech cuisine. Okay, maybe “cuisine” is too fancy a word for what is usually just a piece of meat and some form of starch. But, ever since the day I first arrived in this country, when it comes to eating Czech food, I’ve felt like a kid in a candy store.

That’s actually a pretty apt metaphor for the Czech diet, because it seems as if it could have been invented by a child. Meat. Yum! Potatoes. Yum! Dumplings! Yum! Gravy to soak up the potatoes or gravy with. Yum, yum, yum!

Vegetables? Um, no, thanks. Not necessary, really. Okay, maybe some chopped onions on top of the goulash. They’re vegetables, right? Spinach? Hmm. Can it have a little meat juice on top of it? It can? Well, then, sure. Yum!

Now, at this point, I’m sure some of you are thinking, “But, what about cabbage? Have you forgotten that the classic Czech dish is pork, dumplings and cabbage?” Well, yes, okay, that’s true. And, in fact, cabbage can be very healthy, because it contains natural compounds such as sulforaphane which have cancer-fighting properties. Unpasteurized sauerkraut is also teeming with beneficial lactobacillus bacteria – even more than in live yogurt – which help the immune system fight infection and aid digestion.

So, what do Czech people do with this wonderfully healthy vegetable? They cook it… in fat! Does it taste good that way? Yes, of course it does! But, from a healthy lifestyle perspective, it’s like smoking while you jog, or eating a pint of ice cream while doing sit-ups, or spicing up your vitamin drink with a dash of cyanide.

A recent study found that over the course of 60 years, between 1950 and 2010, the average Czech person ate 30 pigs and a total of 4.7 tons of meat. That’s impressive. It’s why I’ve often thought that this country’s slogan should be: “The Czech Republic. A little cholesterol in the heart of Europe.”

During those same sixty years, the average Czech also managed to eat 3.8 tons of bread. Considering that one slice of bread weighs just 30 grams, that’s also pretty amazing. And, among all the ways that Czechs consume bread, my favorite is definitely topinky. If you’re trying to lose weight and eat healthier, doctors will tell you that two things you should definitely avoid are bread and deep fried food. So, what did the Czechs manage to invent? Deep fried bread!

Yes, it’s delicious! It’s great just by itself, rubbed with a clove of garlic, or you can spread something even unhealthier on top of it, like some spicy minced meat. The Czechs call that “Devilish Toast.” I ate it once in a pub in Prachatice and then had the runs for two days. But it was so delicious that the next time I visited Prachatice, I went back to the same pub and had it again, along with the two days of diarrhea after it. It was painful, but worth it.

When I came to this country, the first dinner I had in a restaurant totally blew my mind. It was called vepřové žebirko, and it consisted of a piece of grilled pork, on top of which was a slice of ham, and piled on top of that was a fried egg! And, as if that weren’t heart-threatening enough, it was served with French fries to soak up the juice from the meat mixed with the egg yolk. It was so outrageously good that I ate it every night for something like two weeks.

Then, I discovered goulash, and that was when I decided to live here for the rest of my life, which I figured wasn’t going to be very long, but, what the hell. At least I knew I was going to enjoy it.


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