Foooood!! It helps us survive and we all love it AND it’s also the “method” I used to familiarize myself to the city ofBrno. It’s one that includes seeking out as many new eateries as I could find. Part of this was for fun but the other was to push myself to learn to navigate better. Finding a new place to experience also helped get me out of the apartment and into the community. I wasn’t having super meaningful conversations but I was meeting some new people and having short interactions with all the people stopping to make sure I was alright. Each day I used Google maps and plotted my new course I can’t see the map itself but I can hear the directions. After a little while I began to become familiar with certain streets and turns. Some places felt mysterious and tucked away while others were hopping hip joints. I made sure to also clock the degree of access apparent to me. Admittedly, it was very rare to find anywhere which was totally wheelchair accessible. Another problem for me was the incompatibility of my screen reader and the Google live translate. This made it challenging to order food spontaneously or sometimes at all. I had to count on wait staff to help me and most of the time it worked out. When in doubt, I just said, “Goulash?”Here is a little nibble of all the places I have “Czeched” out!
The Joy of Cooking…in a Very Precise and Efficient Way
After visiting Prague During my fellowship in 2018I talked to several other people who had visited the Czech Republic. Several of them said to me something like, “it’s beautiful there but the food is terrible. “ . I totally disagreed. I had found so many great places to eat with a variety of options. Vegan goulash? Sure! Excellent Vietnamese? Absolutely. Thai, Mexican and Italian are all at your finger tips. Not to mention the hearty local food. So, I was confused at these people’s opinion of what food was like there. One thing these folks I spoke to had in common was that they had been here a decade or more ago. Hmm.
Sure, places like Sweet Greens don’t seem to exist and the usual laundry list of salads can’t be found on most Czech Restaurant menus but I couldn’t understand this attitude towards the food here.Goulash is a very Czech dish and it’s different than the goulash you may have had in the states or if you have had Hungarian goulash. Czech goulash consists of three components: roasted beef, dumplings from rice flour and a tomatoes/meat gravy sauce. I really enjoy this meal well as other traditional Czech meals like sicca which is beef sirloin, dumplings and vegetable cream sauce. Many other traditional Czech meals are similar to this, a combo of meat, carbs and something cabbage or potato. The absolute best soup I’ve ever had is their garlic soup. It’s on my list of things to learn to make. While I am happy to dig into these meals, I am also spoiled by the variety we have in the states an have missed getting a burrito the size of my head.
A little while ago, a friend shared a link with me about the “Communist cookbook”. In the article, it detailed how during the Communist era in the Czech Republic, food preparation was highly regulated in the homes and in restaurants. The recipes were meant to provide the most efficient meal. Ones that were proportioned well for optimal ntrition and abided by an attitude that you should have an aversion from opulence. So, for decades, there were only a handful of recipes which were even allowed to be cooked and the legacy of this timecontinues even though no one has to remain limited by this cookbook mandate.
Previous to the Communist era, chefs in Prague rivaled those of Paris and Vienna. It had once been home to a Holy Roman Emperor and other Austro-Hungarian royals. Some serious quality of cooking was going on. Nowadays, contemporary Czech chefs are going back to these older recipes and revitalizing them. Now you have local Czech ingredients being usedd in new ways like, roasted pumpkin topped with ouzo sauce and roasted pumpkin or a mushroom barley burger. What I really like is even when you go to a fancy swanky newfangled type of place like Soul Bistro, you can still get the traditional marinated cheese starter. Which is camembert marinated in olive oil and herbs spread on slices of hearty brown bread. Then, you get the veggie udon noodles!
Bojana, Coming to You Live From the Streets of Brno!
I had to take a new route because the usual one I took was under construction. I didn’t mind this so much when I came across what looked like a nut vendor on the corner of one of the main streets, Masaryk ova. I went to take a closer look and saw what I thought were chocolate covered almonds, which seemed normal since it was a table full of nuts. They asked, “One kilo?” I agreed, still not remembering how much of a difference a kilo was from a pound. I paid a few dollars and received a much heavier bag than I expected. I thought, “Woohoo, that’s a lot of chocolate! Yum!”. After a day of roaming around, I finally got home a shoved my hand into my backpack to grab a greatly anticipated chocolate covered almond. I bit into it. Instead of that lovely sweet, velvety crunchy goodness, I instead found something hard, tasteless and yucky. I had bought the equivalent of almost three pounds of some sort of bean I couldn’t identify. It seemed too large for a kidney bean…I guess I’ll soak them, cook them and make bean soup out of “lemons”.
Everyone loves a food festival, especially me, especially now. I get to be around lots of people who are happy and tons of different food options await! It takes a little more work for me to figure out what things are but I make do. I try to eaves drop as much as possible to anyone speaking English as to pick up on any tips. As I began my journey into the “Tasty Food” Festival in the main square called Freedom Square, I heard some English. I moved closer to these potential leads. One person was asking his friend “Hey, that means potato, right?” and their friend wasn’t really paying attention. The first person, who seemed to be talking to no one in particular now, said, “Yeah, I think that means potato.”. I thought to myself, “Ah! Potatoes! I can’t go wrong with potatoes!”. I went over to where I had thought they had been. I said hello and asked if they spoke English. They didn’t. I took a chance and said, “Potato?”. They started pointing at things and naming them in Czech. They pointed to something that looked like cut up roasted potatoes. I pointed at this and gestured towards it. It looked like cubed fried potatoes when I got a closer look. Lovely, I was off to a good start at the food festival and popped one of the potatoes into my mouth. Now, there been very rare occasions when I have ever spit something out of my mouth. I came close about three years ago when I was given pimento cheese, which I didn’t’ realize was an amalgam of mayonnaise and other things. I can’t do large unveiled quantities of mayonnaise or chunks of fat. What was in my mouth was definitely a huge chunk of fried fat and not a friendly potato chunk. I chewed this now moist gushy blog in my mouth, attempting to at least finish this piece. Nope, my body rebelled and I felt my stomach churning. And I immediately stealthily spit it into my napkin. I still had a big old’ pile of fat chunks and had to get rid of them I spotted what looked like a garbage can, I hit it with my cane and got a closer look, was definitely a garbage can and not a baby carriage. Looking away, moving as if my left hand was separate from my body, I tossed my worst food nightmare into the bin and walked away quickly.
I had to quickly cleanse my palette and the quesadilla stand was just the place to do that These folks were super nice and I decided on a plain cheese quesadilla. It came with a little bit of tortilla chips, salsa and an avocado paste. The quesadilla hit the spot– gooey inside slightly crispy outside and I was well on my way to forgetting about the fat aster. I have had Mexican food in California, Chicago and New York and this didn’t taste like any of the Mexican food I had in those locations but it was very tasty and I would definitely go back again. Later, I passed poutine, potato pancakes the size of your head and piles of glistening baked goods. I decided to get one more thing and headed to a stand which drew my attention by its colorful design. I asked what food were they selling and it was hot dogs. I asked for the classic hot dog, completely forgetting what that might mean here. When I got my 10-inch sausage on a large thick bun topped with onions, pickles and sourkraut, I remembered. And I finished it all.
I was checking in on that Living in Brno group Facebook page and saw someone had started a food blog. A group member suggested that the blogger check out the Eggo Food Truck. Egos?? I love Eggos! And they are making sandwiches out of them? Sign me up! I found them on Google maps and I had probably passed by them a million times. I made plans the next day to investigate. The next day I headed over to the Cabbage Market Square and stopped right before getting into the square area to check my google maps. An older woman who didn’t speak English asked me if I needed help and I I showed her the google map address and pointed to the square. She repeated the name of the square to me. I then realized this may not go anywhere and tried to tell her in my bad Czech that I was fine. She was skeptical. I began to turn to walk and she seemed very concerned an put her hand on my arm to get my attention. She was calling someone to help. She then gave me the phone. “Um, hello…I’m fine I told the English -speaking person on the other end of the line. I followed that with, “Please tell your person that I am fine and don’t’ need her help.”. I handed the pohne back to their person. I began to walk towards the area where I could find the food truck. She went with me holding my arm. When we got to what seemed to be the right food truck I said goodbye to her. She finally felt like her work was done. Uh boy. Multiply this by ten and you’ve got a good idea of my monthly goings on.
I had heard these two food truck guys were very friendly and the hype was true! I asked what they had and the one person who spoke English told me that hey had one portion left on the last day of their tiem in Brno for a while. I told them, “Okay, give me that! Wat is it?”. Turns out, it’s not eggos or waffles at all, ibut instead some kind of magical melty sandwich. When the weighty sandwich was bestowed upon me I could sense I was in for a good food time. I appreciated that this food truck guy didn’t treat me like I needed a lot of help but instead talked to me in a very casual, jovial way. I have noticed many waiters here will kneel or crouch to talk to me and I’m not sure how to take that. I’m surprised by questions like, Do you need help opening the door, taking off your coat, sitting down, finding your plate, etc….And while some listen to when I say “I’m fine”, others don’t wait, they instead are already doing it or are about to. It felt different with thee guys and they also gave mesome good suggestions for other food places. It made me feel like I was back home.
We Built This City. We Built This City on Food and FOOD
Some of the places I have come to really love here, like Skog Urban Hub, Soul Bisro and Café Mezzanine are not necessarily completely accessible. At Skog, the entrance is wheelchair accessible as is the entrance to the bathroom but the stalls are not. In trying to find a coffee shop to meet with a friend who uses a wheelchair, I couldn’t find a place tthat was totally wheelchair accessible. She knew of a library which had a café. It seems that libraries have taken up the charge in providing more accessible spaces. Soul Bistro has one step to enter and no wheelchair accessible bathroom. The ways I found it to be relatively accessible to me were in the interactions with the waiters. Sometimes when I enter a restaurant, I can feel the nervousness of the waiters. They are either unnerved by me or they expect that someone will be joining me. When I hear other people being served right away and I am not, I wonder. This can lead to me waiting over 20 minutes to just get a “Hello.”. Yes, service in restaurants is a little different here. It is normal to wait a little to be served. Yet, I can tell you I have waited for 15 minutes for a waiter to come and ask me if I wanted anything. I gave them the benefit of the doubt, assuming they were busy. They said hello to many other people coming in but not me. I was getting annoyed. Finally as a person sat down next to me and the waiter greeted her and asked if she needed anything, I immediately shot up out of my seat and grabbed my coat. He tried to speak to me but I told him I was leaving. As I can’t see him and flag him down, I don’t think it was too much to expect a waiter whom I had interacted with on several occasions to check in with me. They had also been brusque with me when I was asking several questions about he vegan quesadilla dish. There isn’t a menu online and so I had to rely on the waitstaff to tell me what they had. It was one of those things where they took a deep inhale and exhaled sharply before answering me. Whatever dude.
Some of my favorite moments have been at Skog, a hive of hipster scum and villainy, or so the locals would have you believe. It has been a nearby space where I always feel welcome and it has a diverse group of people sipping the artisanal lattes. My favorite server, Anna has become an especially friendly face. When she was visiting New York for a week, I took it as my solemn duty to create a kick ass list of things to do for. Her. I got an artsy vibe from her and I tried to use that to inform my choices. I separated items out in categories of coffee, pizza, restaurants, art and misc. I remember one time when I I first started coming to the café, and I was ready to pay. She asked me, “Is that all together?” and then she was like, “Oh sorry, you’re always by yourself.”. We both started to laugh. I was like, “Yeah, I’m just a lonely gal, out here by myself,”. One evening, I was getting ready to pay my bill and had to go up to the counter because the night waiter never came to my table. Anna was at the counter and we stuck up a conversation. Turns out my artsy radar was correct and she was studying art history. I relayed to her eexactly what I was researching in the Czech Republic and it seemed to really spark a thought explosion in her . We had a fabulous conversation. I have now had multiple conversations with other people in similar circumstances.
Going out to eat hasn’t just been a way to satiate my hunger, but a huge part of my socializing. I meet people I want to get to know and then spontaneously meet others. These places have become familiar spaces which represent a place I feel welcome in and hold the potential for future connections. There have been many days where I have been lethargic either from the emotional or psychological challenges of being here but I always make sure I get out to a café. I know from experience it is best for my mental wellness to get out and be around people in a low-key environment. I am a human that thrives on face to face interactions. When I don’t get it, it’s like Superman being exposed to kryptonite. Last story from Skog. I had one of those days, I hadn’t done anything, I slept really late and it felt like I only got a half hour of daylight. I decided to go to Skog and work on some writing. I had ordered a little snack and settled in to typing away. Several people were seated near me and one person had a booming deep, distinctive voice. He sounded earnest and gregarious, two characteristics I am drawn to in people. I couldn’t help but tuen in here and there. He was a rapper and was performing at some of the larger local venues. He was also a vegan and was looking to find a vegan spot for dinner. I had to chime in. I said, “Excuse me, I couldn’t help but hear you were looking for a vegan place to eat. “. The rapper chuckled and said, “I know my voice is loud.” We had a nice laugh. He was from Chicago and we talked late 90’s Chicago spots for a while. I gave him my food suggestions and he gave me his rapper name, Disl Automatic. Disl was a really cool guy and it was a prime example of the lovely little social interactions I have found. It was funny to hear that the other two friends he was with decided to not go to my suggestions because they didn’t know where they were and wanted to go somewhere with a familiar route. At first I thought, “Huh?? You all can go anywhere you want,, you can see all the things!”. Then I realized this kind of thing is relative to the people. I’m super adventurous and don’t mind getting lost. At