There was a niggling fear in my heart when I arrived in the Czech Republic; I worried that I was going to encounter vegetarian food-related issues like those I encountered in Bosnia. I was pleasantly surprised to find fantastic Czech desserts all over the place. The country has a dumpling mania and there are everything from sweet fruit dumplings to savory dumplings too.
Visiting Prague was not an issue for me as a vegetarian — it’ a big city and there are several tasty places. Added to that, Prague has a good number of ethnic restaurants. This is often the case in the world’s capital cities, and it’s usually easy to find Chinese, Indian, Thai. And while this makes a good choice for dinner, sticking to the ethnic restaurants would have made me miss the Czech Republic’s delicious dumplings craze.
Once I left Prague, I faced food issues in Český Krumlov, which made me start to research more and get creative on my food choices. Like much of Eastern Europe, traditional Czech food includes a lot of meat. The daily specials in town? Always meat. And those lovely pastries in the windows? They also have meat inside. I had to double down on talking with the locals, because otherwise, what’s a hungry girl to do?
It’s in these conversations that I learned that a few traditional Czech dishes don’t involve meat. They both happen to be desserts, however. What a shame, right? It was a hardship to sample the Czech treats every day, but in the name of research I set out on a task to try all the fruit dumplings and trdelníks that I could find.
Traditional Czech Desserts
Dumplings are a specialty of this whole region, not just in the Czech Republic. Slovenia offered up specialty dumplings as well, and I definitely sampled those during my time. But it has to be said, I far prefer the Czech Republic’s take on the traditional dumpling. They make several types, but the fruit dumplings are served with just the right amount of tart to counteract the sweet sugar and the pat of butter topping most traditional servings of the dish.
Dumplings are a staple part of the diet the world over and I like them in just about every form they come in: from the Tibetan dumplings I chowed down on in Northern India to Polish pierogies and the even steaming hot Chinese dumplings. The Italians have a version of the dumpling — ravioli — and every culture has pulled flavors and ingredients into interesting fusion versions of all of these dumpling treats. In Czech, I fell in love with their version of the traditional dumpling.
Locals often eat the dumplings as a meal, or in a sit-down restaurant, but other desserts are eaten as a snack. While not a dumpling, the Czech like their sweets, most namely the Trdelník. This was an easy way to much on a sweet treat in the afternoons as I wandered the city. Let’s take a closer look at each dessert. At the end I will also share links to recipes and cookbooks if you’re looking to make these dumplings in your home!
Sweet Fruit Dumplings
The dessert dumplings come in a variety of sizes. They might be served as tennis ball sized mounds of warm jam-stuffed deliciousness. And sometimes they come out as smaller, cumquat sized balls filled with gushy blueberry oozing out. Traditionally, the Czech use a potato or curd that cooks up doughy and soft. Inside of these potato dumplings, the most traditional fillings are plum and peach. The plain potato dough is not inherently sweet, which nicely counters the sweet fruits and sugar in the rest of the dish. I found this tradition of savory and sweet in traditional desserts all over the world. Though an American pie crust channels this concept, it’s a bit different in other regions of the world like Asia and Eastern Europe. They use foods we think of as dinner: potatoes or beans and craft them into more nutritious dessert creations.
In Czech, one of the best parts of these sweet treats? They’re served with a generous dollop of melted butter over the top, heaps of whipped cream, and then sprinkled with crumbled cheese and/or sugar. It’s a bit decadent, but the flavors all blend well together!I can’t claim that they are even remotely healthy. Not a chance. But man, they are a piece of warm and pleasantly sweet heaven right in your mouth.
In addition to the dessert dumpling, the sliced wheat and potato dumplings are quite traditional and worth a try. For me, I tried them just once, but they aren’t objectionable in any way, just a bit bland. They eat these as a side with their meaty-tastic dishes that I avoided like the plague. If you are a meat-eater, these savory bread dumplings are often served in the same way that a North American dish might have a side of bread.
TrdelníkThis tasty dessert is a tradition born right in the Czech and Slovakia region and the two trdelník stands in Český Krumlov hark back to different time altogether as you pass the delicious smelling wooden street-side window stands.
The sales window of the shops look directly onto the street so that you can get your trdelník fix in only the time it takes you to dig out 20 crown from your pocket (about a dollar).
These treats are made from rolled dough and then grilled on a stick and coated with both sugar. You can also add an extra topping from their list. The most popular addition, and the only option they offered most days, is cinnamon. The limited choice was fine by me though as I have a love affair with cinnamon. If you’re partial to other flavors then you’ll have to arrive earlier in the day before they sell out.
These desserts are hollow and you can wear them like a bracelet as you eat them — just like those day from childhood when we gnawed on candy necklaces. It’s not the classiest way to eat a trdelník but it made it a bit more fun and interesting!
Czech cuisine may not be particularly ideal for most vegetarians, but at the end of the day I was more than willing to fill up any empty space in my belly with the tasty traditional Czech desserts. Between the sweet treats and Laibon, a wonderful vegetarian restaurant in Český Krumlov, I ate well. Laibon comes highly recommended. It’s set right on the side of the Vltava river and serves amazingly nuanced vegetarian food.
Enjoy Czech Cuisine at Home!
- Quality Dumpling Recipes: Dumplings are a big part of Czech cuisine; round, square, fat, thin, small, large, there are many varieties. The book has sections for dessert dumplings, as well as popular savory ones.
- Ovocné Knedlíky sweet dumpling recipe: This online recipe will give you a chance to test out the flavors and see if you want a full cookbook!
- Czech Cooking Dumplings: Knedlicky: A dumpling cookbook that will have you making all kinds of delicious dumplings for your friends and family.
- Czech & Slovak Food and Cooking: A few vegetarian options available in this beautiful cookbook featuring both Czech and Slovak dishes.
- The Things About Prague: How I Gave It All Up for a New Life in Europe’s Most Eccentric City: The story of a woman from Australia who moves to Prague, her ancestral home. A truly captivating read.