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.

A Summer Sunday in South Moravia

The COVID lockdown is easing up and more and more people are getting out.

Today, I went to the city centre here in Brno. The city’s technical museum had some of their historic public transport vehicles out and about, a drum group gave us some African vibes, we had a short spat of rain and I knocked back a few pints of draft.

Wherever you are, I hope restrictions are easing for you as well.

Made in the Czech Republic – Vasky

You may know Baťa, but do you know Vasky?

Youth and Tradition

The Czech Republic has a long history of shoe production, over a century in fact.

Beyond the shadow of any doubt, Baťa is the first name that comes to mind for most people around the world when they connect the idea of shoes to the Czechs. However, Baťa is far from the only name that Czechs have put on a pair of shoes.

The name Vasky may not be immediately familiar to you if you do not live in the Czech Republic; but if you like shoes and find yourself in the country, you may want to take the time to check them out.

While Baťa represents the history of Czech shoe production, Vasky is the here and now. Company owner and founder, Václav Staněk, was only 18 years old when he officially established the company in 2016. Since then, he has taken a position of prominence among young Czech businesspeople and earned a spot on the prestigious “30 Under 30” list in the Czech edition of Forbes magazine in 2019. The Vasky name comes from an unusal diminutive form for the founder’s first name.

Built on a philosophy that puts a carefully handcrafted finished product made from high quality raw materials of primarily local origin at the forefront, Vasky is a clear indication that the tradition of Czech shoemaking is in very good hands and has a bright future.

Let’s spend some time with Vasky:

A pair of pink, ladies’ slip ons from Vasky.

If the Shoe Fits…

As Baťa did before them, Vasky calls the south eastern city of Zlín home. In fact, Vasky has their headquarters in one of the many former Baťa buildings that give Zlín its unique architechtural face.

One does not need to be in Zlín for very long to see that it’s a city that remains very aware and in touch with the role shoemaking has played in its development over the years.

It is not only the makers of shoes that connect the city to the product, but also the users of them. Legendary Czech distance runner, Emil Zátopek (1922-2000), left his mark on Zlín.

Zátopek started working for the Baťa company in Zlín when he was 16 and it was while he was working for the company that he began his career in running. Zátopek’s legacy is as ingrained into the city’s history as the Baťa legacy is and you will see tributes to him alongside monuments to the historic shoe company if you visit Zlín.

In certain ways, Václav Staněk and his company’s place in Zlín closely mirror Baťa and Zátopek:

As with Tomás Baťa (1876-1932), Staněk is a native of Zlín. Just like Emil Zátopek, Staněk has a history in competitive athletics. Through his teens, he held several national titles for running and worked his way up through the European level to the World Youth Championships before leaving competitive sport.

He also has a direct family connection to shoes as his father owns another Zlín based shoe company, Flexiko, which specialises in walking and work shoes.

While he may not have started out with dreams of building a shoe company, Václav Staněk definitely had a strong combination of history and influences to draw on in Zlín when the idea of creating his company hit him.

A mens’ low cut shoe that shows the Vasky logo stamped on the heel.

Fashion and Function

While Vasky has branched out into accessories and clothing since it was established, shoes are still very much at the heart of the brand and are set to remain so.

As mentioned earlier, Vasky places strong emphasis on a handmade end product constructed of high quality raw materials that are primarily from Czech suppliers. If you go to the company’s website or social media pages, you’ll find no shortage of pictures and stories about the individual people at the company factory who are behind the design and manufacture of Vasky shoes.

The average price for a pair of standard Vasky shoes is around 3,000 Czech crowns and towards the higher end of the 3,000 crown range if you use the self-design function of their website to create something more unique for yourself than what’s available in their standard offer. As such, they qualify as a luxury shoe brand in the Czech Republic.

In spite of their luxury standing, Vasky shoes do not sacrifice function for fashion in any way; they are made to be worn regularly and withstand some of the everyday wear and tear that other luxury category shoes might not hold up so well to.

To this end, elegance through simplicity is key to making Vasky shoes what they are. The majority of Vasky shoes are built around classic designs and comfort. The leather used in their construction is high grade and from Czech suppliers that Vasky has direct connections to.

Wearing a pair of Vasky shoes will not only make sure you’re comfortable while looking fashionable, you’ll also be supporting local Czech businesses at the same time.

A pair of blue ladies’ lace ups.

Getting a Pair and Learning More

If you’d like to get a pair of Vasky shoes for yourself, it may be something of a challenge if you are not directly in the Czech Republic. However, it’s not impossible.

If you are in the country, the easiest way to get a pair is to visit one of their physical shops. Visiting Brno, Ostrava, Prague or Zlín will give you access to a Vasky shop where you can find not only shoes, but a range of shoe care products and leather accessory items like belts, wallets, shoulder bags and laptop computer cases.

Purchasing via their website will pose something of a challenge if you do not speak Czech or Slovak, as those are the two languages their website is directly available in. However, I have found their site responds reasonably well to online translators into English.

If you order through the website, you can choose for the shoes to be delivered to you by post or to be delivered to one of the Vasky shops for you to pick up in person if you are near to one. It is also possible to have the shoes delivered abroad if you order them from outside the Czech Republic.

If you wear a pair of Vasky shoes outside the Czech Republic, it’s worth a trip to their website to report it. There is a map of the world on the website where they mark where people have worn their shoes, so you can send them a picture of yourself wearing their shoes and your story of wearing them on your travels.

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.

Milotice Chateau – Baroque in the Wine Country

Front facade of the chateau

Pearl of Slovácko 

A bold and well preserved example of Baroque architecture, Milotice chateau and its gardens are nestled in the deep south east of the Moravian regions of the Czech lands.

Standing proud in the lush vineyards of the Slovácko region, Milotice provides a contrasting attraction to the folkloric traditions and wine tourism that the region puts front and centre for visitors. Yet, at the same time, the chateau is not incongruous in the broader picture given the number of noble families that once kept homes in the area.

The current Baroque face of the chateau dates to a reconstruction carried out in the early to mid 1700s, but there’s more than that to the history of this grand old home.

Let’s spend some time with Milotice Chateau:

Rear facade of the chateau.

From One Hand to Another 

As it is with so many old homes of the nobility, the ownership of the chateau at Milotice changed a great deal in its history. The chateau was first built between the 14th and 16th centuries, but it would not be until 1648 that the first long term owners, the Serényi family, would take possession of it and make their mark upon it.

The Serényi tenure at the chateau saw the construction of the chateau gardens, which had been in planning before they took ownership, and an extensive reconstruction of the building from 1719 to 1743. Little has changed in the appearance of the chateau and gardens since the late 18th century and so Milotice has the distinction of being one of the best preserved examples of Baroque architecture and garden design in the Czech Republic.

The last male heir of the Serényi family died in 1811. The management of the chateau was overseen by his daughter and, in turn, grandaughter until 1888. It was then, through marriage, that the chateau came into the ownership of Seilern family. It would remain in their possession until it was seized by the state in 1945 after the end of World War Two.

The chateau has been open to public visitation since 1974.

Chateau library and study.

A Look Inside

There is a single guided tour available of the chateau interiors at Milotice. The tour takes one through the representative halls of the chateau.

The tour and the interiors you will see on it show the chateau as it was in the early 20th century when occupied by the last Seilern count, Ladislav Seilern-Aspang, and his family.

What is presented on this tour is based on a very detailed account of life in the chateau at that time provided by the count’s eldest daughter, Marietta (1918-2008).

On the tour you will see the typical life of the old nobility as it was in the early 20th century; modern conveniences like electricity taking its place alongside the more historical noble trappings such as the collection of items from the Far East in the Oriental salon.

The tour will take you through the well appointed chateau library as well as the dance hall and game room among others. As it typical for tours at Czech chateaus and castles, most of the tours are offered in Czech and you can request a text transcript of the tour in English, German or possibly other languages to help you follow along. If you wish a tour in a language other than Czech, you will need to make a reservation through the chateau website.

A section of the chateau’s supply garden.

A Walk Around the Grounds

The chateau at Milotice has impressive gardens to compliment the building itself.

The gardens at Milotice date to the mid 1600s and are comprised of an ornamental section with fountains and an avenue of trees as well as a supply garden off to one side for the growing of fruits and vegetables to feed the occupants of the chateau.

The gardens are French Baroque in style and include auxiliary buildings such as a pheasant house, hunting pavilion and an artificial Gothic ruin.

Stepping out in Baroque style!

In the early 19th century, the gardens were partially converted to English style. However, these changes were restored to French style in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

If you want to see the chateau gardens in style and really look like you belong there, you can borrow a set of historic clothes and walk around the gardens in them for half and hour or so.

If you wish to wander around in historical clothes, you will need to reserve a time to do so in advance. There is an email address on the chateau website to make a reservation through. However, there is no guarantee of linguistic flexibility, so it is best if you have a command of Czech or can enlist the help of someone who does to make the reservation.

The view towards the chateau from the ornamental gardens.

Paying a Visit and Learning More

As with most state chateaus and castles, Milotice is open to the public from mid April to the end of October every year.

It’s not the most easily accessible of chateaus and it’s best to use a car if you’re travelling to it from any significant distance away.

A good way to visit the chateau would be to spend a few days in the area and incorporate a visit to the chateau during that time.

For example, you could take lodgings in the nearby small city of Kyjov and travel to Milotice on one of the regional buses that make a stop at Milotice a number of times per day. The region also caters quite well to bicycle touring and the chateau is close enough to Kyjov that you could try renting a bicycle to get to the chateau.

This link will take you to the official website of the chateau where you can see what tours are on offer as well as photo galleries of the chateau and gardens:

Official Chateau Website