Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Prague, day two: the Secretest Sauce in Central Europe


Prague, Czech Republic
Feeling the desire for fresh summer fruits, we visited the Dejvice farmers' market for breakfast. Our plans fell flat when we found that the raspberries were much too expensive, so instead we ate sugar-laden doughnuts - a good substitute I think. 
Everything looked great, however, and we took in the flourishing stalls. The rest of the morning was spent reading in the shade of a tree, watching locals use what we decided must be a library box with aplomb. They would approach, open the glass cabinet and flick through books, throwing them into large duffel bags. Though I never actually saw them put books back in, I figure they must have because the quantity of books didn't seem to diminish. 
Returning to the Dejvice market for lunch, we harkened back to our trip to Vietnam with a colourful bahn mi (baguette filled with pâté, grilled pork, fresh vegetables and herbs). The sandwich compared nicely to our Hanoi experience, but didn't quite top it. Following our example, Fabienne ordered the same and sampled her first ever Vietnamese cuisine. Hesitant at first, after her initial bite she was hooked. We continued the culinary education and by the end of our Prague visit she had tried bun cha and pho bo. 
A quick stop allowed us to see where Protestant noblemen plotted a rebellion against Catholic Hapsburg rule in May 1618: Smiricky Palace. Their plot devised, they performed the second Defenestration of Prague by throwing two officials out of a window at Prague Castle. The officials survived (either due to a miracle if you believe the Catholics, or a well-placed dung heap if you believe the Protestants), but the attempt heightened religious conflict which led to the Thirty Years' War. 
The first Defenestration of Prague was carried out by crazed Hussites who were riled up following Jan Hus' immolation. Clearly religious unrest is a longstanding issue in the Czech Republic, though why they like to toss those who disagree with them from open windows more than other nationalities isn't so obvious. 
A stroll down to the Kampa had us reading in the shade of a tree for the second time that day. The long grassy area was popular with dog owners (they were everywhere) and picnickers. A particularly pleasant picnic we saw involved someone's birthday, balloons, champagne and friends. Aaaaaw someone's got friends. How nice. 
Dinner was had on a warm streetside table at Café de Paris, where we were reeled in by their short-but-sweet menu and tale of their 'special sauce' (which the entire restaurant was founded on). The only dinner main on their menu is the steak entrecôte - a piece of boeuf served with said sauce, frites and salad. While my two dining companions opted for the steak, I chose one of the two specials: pasta filled with goats cheese in a tomato sauce. The salad served to start was...tangy. By tangy I mean that the vinaigrette contained far too much mustard - enough that it actually hurt at the back of your throat when you took a bite. I love salad, but I couldn't eat half of that. From there, the meal improved considerably. The steak, though an unusual choice of cut, was perfectly cooked. And the sauce was very flavoursome. Unchanged for 75 years, it is said that the owner doesn't even let the chefs know the recipe and instead prepares the sauce himself. I do love a good mystery. 
Having scoped out a potentially profitable gelateria earlier that day on the way to the Kampa, we returned for an after dinner treat. Our theory that great gelato is served from covered metal canisters has proved to be correct again (this notion of ours began with Grom in Italy). It may be because the covers keep the temperature stable more efficiently than open tubs. Most gelaterias use the open method because they need an eye catching way to lure in hungry patrons. But places with the metal covers don't need to attract by sight alone - they let the taste speak for itself. And boy, did Angelico's flavours sing. 
Not only did the gelato exceed expectations, but the staff were friendly as well. When we ordered, Yannick asked the server how many flavours he was allowed at once. (This is a typical Yannick question, and you have now been granted the privilege of hearing a 'Yannickdote' - an anecdote which almost always involves Yannick eating or trying to eat copious amounts of delicious food.) The server said that there wasn't really a limit, and that a guy had ordered seven earlier that day. Another staff member piped up, saying that she got to serve him, and sounded proud. He's already become something of a folk hero. 
In order to get back to our tram stop, we needed to cross the Vltava River. The closest bridge was Charles Bridge - one of the most crowded tourist spots in Prague and probably a minefield of pickpockets. To avoid it we would have had to take a long detour to another bridge, so we clutched at our bags and braved the throng. We may have looked akin to drug addicts for how jumpy we were, but we were not robbed! Worth it. We even paused to take a photo of one of the many statues of saints that line the walkway, my eyes affixed to Yannick's pockets the entire time. 
Safely on the tram, we breathed a sigh of relief. That feeling turned to hilarity when an enormous group of Australians piled on and talked loudly about fans and how to acquire them for hot hostel rooms. A few stops later, I heard "Contiki off, Contiki off!" and they all spilled out.