Italians’ survival guide to Prague
Italians and Prague, spaghetti and astronomical clocks. No doubt: Italians love Praga; in Spring, as the snow melts on the alpine passes they come screaming in hordes, wearing flashy sunglasses and jackets good for Arctic sled racing. Italians love to argue, usually move in packs, and travel the world thinking Italy is the golden standard. The following is a list of tips that should help Italians survive their short stay outside of their home-country and hopefully reduce the bitching to a tolerable minimum: the locals will be thankful.
We’re sure that mamma cooks you always pasta al dente: not too soft, not too hard, just right. While the general food situation here has improved the al dente philosophy hasn’t exactly made strides; in fact most of the pasta that is served in most restaurants around town is served in record time and it’s obviously precooked. After all pasta with ketchup and edam cheese (that Italians wouldn’t eat even if that was the only food in Guantanamo) used to be the flagship Italian dish here until not too long ago. But there is hope: luckily Mr. Aldo Cicala (Trattoria Cicala, Zitna 43, Prague 1), a wise man from Rome that has set foot in Czechoslovakia a long time ago opened a typical family-run trattoria like those you can find in Trastevere and won’t even look at you wrong if you ask him for the original tomato-less underground version of amatriciana called gricia. This is the only place I’ve seen anywhere outside Italy that clearly states on the menu that the carbonara is made without cream and that if you’re really so twisted you want it added you have to ask for it! Of course probably Mr. Cicala will give you a mean Clint Eastwood look and maybe you’ll have to count yourself lucky if you’ll make it out of his trattoria alive!
The first day the Italian will wake up in Prague he’ll soon realize he’s in espresso hell. Not only here the coffee doesn’t taste like the real thing but they use a totally different vocabulary. The coffee menu is full of faux-amis, fake friends that sound like what you want but aren’t. Be careful italiano! Everywhere around you there’s a coffee trap: a latte is actually milk and coffee, not just milk, an espresso looks like a coffee soup, the cappuccino is mechanically constructed with pre-heated milk and foam added on the top of it with a spoon! Eech! What you want is a piccolo, or maybe in the places that have it, a ristretto. At least if it’s bad coffee you’ll be done in one gulp or maybe water it down with milk that is almost invariably served with your espresso on the side. Luckily though even in Prague there are a few places where you’ll feel right at home such as Dum Kavy (Jirechova, Prague 7), Cerstve Prazena Kava and Kaficko (Truhlarska, Prague 1, next to Palladium), Coffee Lounge (Plaska, Prague 1), La Bottega di Finestra (Platnerska, Prague 1), Prazirna (Lublanska, Prague 2) or Al Cafetero (Blanicka, Prague 2) all excellent places that serve coffee on par or better than in Italy.
As with coffee, bread is another thing that Italians will find difficult to get right in Prague and that’s because in Italy the only bread worth eating is white bread which actually exists here but is used for breakfast and looked down at for the rest of the day. Also, asking a baguette in most restaurants might be dangerous: in the best case they’ll bring you a toasted baguette that’s been rubbed with garlic and butter, in the worst they’ll make you a sandwich. Take your chances, ask explicitly for white bread, hold your breath and try not to complain whatever bread basket you’ll be served; and if you’re eating something with potatoes on the side don’t be surprised if the waiter will think you’re completely nuts to eat bread when you already have potatoes!
But what if you didn’t plan your honeymoon carefully and your soccer team plays a big match while you’re in Prague!? Kde mužu videt partita! Soccer, Milan, Juve, football, the meaning of life, capesc?! Where can you go to cheer and suffer together with your other brothers of the same football faith? Your best bet is to head over at Ristorante Pizzeria Pepe Nero (Vinohradska 83) and ask if the match is being shown in the underground hall.
As you’re strolling all day around town at some point you’ll try to figure out a way to use public transportation. This might as well be the most important experience you’ll live here: a chance to take some civic lessons from the Czechs and bring them home. Both trams and metro are usually on time: the department of transportation goes great lengths to ensure a quality service and as a result lot’s of people use the available city transport means Prague offers. But the most important lesson of all is that you’ll have to have a ticket. Controls here are frequently held and if the Communist ate bambini, the public transport ticket controllers, as vampires, like to suck the fresh blood of virgin tourists. Trust me: you don’t want to get into an argument with one of these guys, the daily ticket is cheap (about 5 EUR), just get one and get done with it. Finding the place that sells transport tickets, called jizdenka, can be a little exercise sometimes unless you’re near a metro station or a trafika shop.
As much as I’d love to love them and drink local, Moravian wines aren’t as good as Italian wines but are nearly as expensive. Trust people that say otherwise at your own risk and always keep in mind you’re in beer country here, at least in Bohemia. Stay clear of the house wine by the glass at all costs: there’s a reason why locals here drink it almost always together with water.
I know, I know, in Italy every order is an exception and the menu is used for inspiration only. Can I have a margherita with this, could you make that without garlic, but add some extra parsley, can I have the coffee served in a glass cup, macchiato freddo, caldo, whatever. I’ll tell you this as clearly as I possibly can: DO NOT ASK FOR FOOD VARIATIONS. It’s not that you can’t find the odd waiter trying to make you a happy customer, but most will just ignore what you said and bring you the basic offer or actually surprise you with some creative interpretation that is not what you want.
And last but not least a little (how do I dare!) fashion advice to the people that would make Oscar Wilde feel so last season: if you enter a Czech home, maybe because you’ve been invited to a house party, there are two rules you shouldn’t break: one is to bring your own booze, the other is to take off your shoes… so make sure your socks have no holes.