Karlovy Vary (Carlsbad in English), the spa town about 120 km from Prague, is renowned not only for its miraculous hot springs but also for its famous cuisine which goes back to the time of Emperor Charles IV.
The legend of the discovery of the local hot springs
According to legend, Charles IV discovered Carlsbad’s hot springs while hunting deer in the local woods. After drinking from the waters, he allegedly experienced relief from his ailing leg. The emperor thereupon proclaimed that the local springs could ward off many illnesses and attested to their beneficial effect. He founded a town at the spot and started the settlement of the area. Charles IV was a regular guest in town, not just to drink the miraculous mineral waters but also to enjoy the local hospitality and food that was mainly influenced by the natural mineral-rich spring waters as well as by the neighbouring woods, rivers and valleys.
An imperial appetite
Charles IV loved hunting and hosting subsequent royal feasts. The menu, served on golden (for the emperor) or silver plates, was always very varied and consisted of several courses. Charles and his guests dined mainly on deer (red and fallow deer), mouflon or wild boar from the surrounding woods, fish from local rivers, or baked chicken, quail or partridge accompanied by a fine wine. An interesting fact is that people back then ate so much meat that it was almost impossible to get drunk. For dessert, there was an endless choice of cakes, pies and – for anyone who didn’t like sweets – the regional speciality of pike caviar.
Traditional cuisine with a modern touch
The local cuisine has changed since Charles’s times, mainly refined by the taste of the millions of guests that have visited Karlovy Vary over the years. A world-famous speciality are the Karlovarské knedlíky (Carlsbad dumplings), an upgraded version of the original Viennese dumplings with a local selection of herbs boiled in a buttered napkin and served with traditional Czech sauces such as goulash or svíčková. Another Carlsbad speciality are Karlovarské kynuté koláče (Carlsbad yeast cakes) with marmalade made of berries from the local woods. Thankfully this heavy traditional dish has been transformed into a modern and much healthier form, also reflecting the guests’ special dietary needs and requests (e.g. vegan or vegetarian) of today’s guests. Today, instead of the Carlsbad dumplings, you could try mashed or boiled potatoes and seasonal vegetables from local producers. The hearty sauces may be swapped for boiled meat (e.g. mouflon with blueberries, trout from local rivers, etc.) and sweet desserts could be substituted by fresh or dried fruits and fruit smoothies.
“Na zdraví” as we Czechs say
When speaking about Carlsbad’s cuisine, I should not forget to mention Becherovka. Becherovka is an herbal alcoholic drink made from local spring waters with a specific chemical composition that helps patients with their digestive problems. Together with a secret recipe of herbs and spices, this drink can also be used as a medicine. It is a pity that Charles IV didn’t have the chance to try Becherovka, as it was not invented until the 18th century. Becherovka is often described as having a gingery or cinnamony flavour and is usually served chilled. So, “Na zdraví!” as we Czechs say instead of “cheers”. This actually means “to our health” – and is not just an excuse for drinking here but, in the case of Becherovka, absolutely true.
Hungry? In the mood for a drink? Then see you soon in Restaurant Dvořák at Vienna House Dvořák Karlovy Vary!