Chlebíčky – Slavic Snack Supreme

Delicious Chlebíčeks about to be savoured at the Ema delicatessen in Brno.

Art on Bread

Czech cuisine does not have a reputation for being particularly artistic when it comes to presentation. Many Czech dishes are hearty and delicious, but put presentation second to piling the plate high. The ubiquitous Czech open faced sandwich, the chlebíček, flies in the face of that norm.

If the Czechs demonstrate their artistic side in culinary endeavours anywhere, they do so most visibly when creating chlebíčky. Everything from the bread the snacks are made on to every one of the possible toppings are carefully considered and placed.

The chlebícek is likely to be one of the first items of traditional food that a new arrival in the Czech Republic will encounter. The snack’s popularity as a quick bite on the go and as party food make it a staple product for delicatessens (lahůdky) across the country and display cases full of the snacks are a frequent sight anywhere you go.

A Taste of History

The chlebíček traces its history to 1916 and was created by Prague deli chef, Jan Paukert. From his deli, Paukert served the who’s who of Czech society of the day including the first president of Czechoslovakia, Tomáš Masaryk and opera soprano, Ema Destinnová.

Paukert’s creation was a hit from the start. In his original recipe, Paukert spread potato salad made with homemade mayonnaise on the bread and then topped it with Prague ham, hard boiled egg, Emmental cheese, Hungarian salami and a slice of tomato.

It was designed to be a quick and convenient snack for busy people that they could consume in just a few bites while on the go. It worked back then and it still works today.

Another chlebíček, fresh from the deli to be enjoyed at home.

Chlebíčky, Bottom to Top

The toppings on a chlebíček can be highly variable and limited only by the imagination of the maker. However, there are certain things that help keep a chlebíček traditional in the truest sense. Let’s take a look:

While it is possible to find or order chlebíčky on different types of bread, the proper type of bread is called veka. It’s a white bread that is similar in look to a French baguette.

Before the toppings go on, a base is spread over the slice of bread. There are a few different base spreads: butter, mayonnaise and horseradish cream are typical as are vlašský salát and pochoutkový salát. Often, the toppings will govern which base spread is used.

Traditional topping components include slices of cheese, hard boiled egg and meat along with fresh vegetables like lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers and sweet peppers. Typically, you will also see a slice of pickle and sprig of parsley to fully top things off.

Getting Your Hands on Chlebíčky

If you come to the Czech Republic, accessing this snack will be no problem at all; perhaps the biggest issue you may face is which to choose. Every delicatessen and bakery will have a selection, sometimes very wide, and you could find yourself with more choices than you imagined possible.

If you don’t live in the Czech lands, but in an area with a significant Czech ethnic community, you will probably be able to find chlebíčky without to much problem if there is a traditional delicatessen or bakery in the area.

Don’t fear if neither situation applies to you, this link will take you to a website that will give you the recipe for veka bread and all the other information you need to make this Czech treat for yourself. This link will also give you a recipe for veka as well as a good list of topping suggestions and recipes for base spreads.

Further Reading and Learning More

If you’d like to know more about the history of the chlebíček, I recommend checking out this article. Not only will it give you more historical information on the snack, it will also give you some idea of the dizzying array of toppings you might see on one.

Ovocné Kynuté Knedlíky – Sweet and Flexible

Blueberry filled dumplings in raspberry sauce with a cream topping, just waiting to be enjoyed.

Sweet in the Main

At first mention, the idea of fruit filled dumplings will likely send your mind to ideas of a sweet dessert to follow up a hearty Czech main dish like svíčkova or moravské vrabec. You could certainly be forgiven for thinking that if you don’t come from a culture that includes some sweet dishes as main meals in their culinary catalog.

Czech cuisine features a number of sweet dishes as main meals, the fruit filled dumpling dish known as “ovocné kynuté knedlíky” is one of the best known of them and a staple in restaurants across the country. It’s also a favorite in many Czech households, with family recipes being closely guarded and handed down through generations.

This is a dish that has been with the Czechs for quite some time. The first known written recipe for it dates to the 17th century and it probably goes back further than that.

Heavy and Hearty

There are a number of regional variations on ovocné kynuté knedlíky, but all are very filling and a main meal in their own right. They are also flexible to the time of day as a meal with some people taking them as breakfast, lunch, dinner or a snack.

I can tell you from my own experience with this dish, you won’t be hungry afterward and proabably will wish to delay dessert if not bypass it completely.

Unlike many savoury Czech meals, I would not recommend taking beer as an accompaniment to fruit dumplings. However, a cup of good quality coffee does follow this dish up nicely.

Another view of ovocné kynuté knedlíky.

Variations on a Theme

In most cases, the dumpling part of this dish is based on yeast dough. However, some variations use potato based dough.

The filling for the dumplings can be quite variable, some typical fillings include: plums, apricots, blueberries, strawberries or cherries. Very often, the filling is dependant on what fruit is in season at the time. In late spring, for example, rhubarb can sometimes be seen as an option for filling.

The topping options for the dumplings also show a lot of variety. At the most basic level, the dumplings may simply be served with a dusting of confectioner’s sugar over them. Other topping options include: fruit sauce, cream, cinnamon, poppy seeds or grated tvaroh cheese.

Making Your Own and Learning More

You don’t need to travel to the Czech Republic or have a Czech specialist restaurant near you to enjoy ovocné kynuté knedlíky. Like many Czech recipes, it involves more preparation than some people like to put into a meal. However, it is very possible to make it yourself if you’re willing to try. Just make sure you use fresh fruit, frozen or canned fruit will ruin the dumpling part by making it soggy.

These recipes from the Czech Cookbook website and the Cook Like Czechs website will both give you all the information you need to make this sweet and filling dish at home.

If you’d like to know more about the history of this dish and where it fits into Czech cuisine, this article will tell you more.

Made in the Czech Republic – Modrotisk

Some examples of the print patterns you can find on modrotisk. These are from the Danzinger workshop in Olešnice.

A Rhapsody in Blue

As with all countries, the Czech Republic offers a wealth of traditional souvenir items you can take home with you: Bohemian crystal and other glassware, ceramics, Bohemian garnets, marionette puppets, traditional alcohols, spa wafers and so forth.

Many of those souvenir items are known worldwide, but do you know about modrotisk?

Modrotisk, translated to English as blueprint, is a traditional block printing technique that has been practiced in the Czech lands since the 16th century. In November of 2018, it was inscribed on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage list.

Once a widespread craft practiced in small towns across the country, today there only two modrotisk operations active in the Czech Republic; both are in the eastern reaches of the country and still run by the families that established them generations ago. In Olešnice, north of Brno, you will find the Danzinger family operation which dates to 1816. In Strážnice, in the deep south-east near the border with Slovakia, there is the Joch family workshop that was founded in 1906.

Both the Danzinger and Joch workshops have kept the modrotisk tradition alive through the generations and many of the tools and techniques they use for the dyeing process have changed little down the years. Many of their techniques are, not surprizingly, closely guarded family secrets.

At that, let’s take a closer look at Modrotisk:

A scarf from Danzinger.

A Deep Blue History

At its heart, modrotisk is an indigo dyeing technique. Indigo dyeing is among the oldest of textile colouring techniques, it originated in China around 4,000 years ago and made its way west along the Silk Road which connected Asia to Europe from the 2nd century BC to the 18th century.

In the Czech context, indigo dyeing was traditionally done on linen as flax was a common crop at the time the art form reached the Czechs. Cotton was also a traditional fabric to use for modrotisk.

The white patterns that modrotisk is known for are created through a block resist printing technique where a special water resistant paste is applied to white fabric with carved wood printing blocks before the indigo dye is applied. Finally, the resistant paste is washed out when the dyeing is complete. Many of the printing blocks still in use are very old and have been passed down through the generations.

Modrotisk became a fixture of Czech folk costumes in the late 18th century and experienced a wave of popularity with the public at large through the 19th century. Men’s and women’s clothing with modrotisk motifs became very popular through the 19th century and availability of modrotisk garments became more widespread when synthetic indigo dye was created in the 1880s.

By the early 20th century, the popularity of modrotisk went into decline and a majority of producers ceased operations.

Getting Your Hands on Modrotisk

Many of the souvenir items I mentioned at the start of this article are very traditional Czech items, but can create a headache to take home due to their weight or fragility.

If you’re looking for a souvenir from the Czech Republic that will be light and easy to transport home with you, modrotisk might just be the thing to consider. Don’t worry if your visit doesn’t take you near the two remaining modrotisk workshops in the country, modrotisk is a common item in souvenir shops across the Czech Republic

Another advantage of modrotisk is the flexibility it has for style. You can buy all sorts of items made from the material in a wide variety of print patterns. Tablecloths, wall hangings and aprons are all very common items you can find made from modrotisk as are scarves, shoulder bags and other garments.

If you want the most traditional of modrotisk, you can try to visit the Danzinger or Joch shops personally to have a look. Alternately, you can try to order from the online shops on their respective websites. Both websites are fully in Czech, but respond reasonably well to online translator functions.

This article will go further in depth into the history of modrotisk.