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.
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.