Saturday, October 15, 2011

Blog Action Day 2011: Food

Hi Everyone,
Today Czech Off the Beaten Path is taking part in BlogAction Day, and the theme is about food. Food is central to our daily lives; we each have to eat in order to continue life and thrive. Not only do we need food to live, we are also emotionally and culturally tied to food. Each of us grows up eating the food that is traditional in our family, culture and nation. There is a social component to food that weaves its way through all of our lives. We share food with family and friends on each day, special occasions and holidays. Each time we share food together, we develop relationships and open ourselves up to those around us with conversation and an exchange of ideas.


Expat Life

I’m an American expat living in the Czech Republic, and am married to a Czech. My expat adventure began almost five years ago, back in 2006. My life has been completely changed after living outside of the US these past years. I have to say, my life has changed for the better. Expat life brings many new challenges, new ideas and opportunities, along with new realizations, not only about yourself, but the world, as well. It is almost impossible not to be changed on some level when you live overseas, unless you live completely isolated in your new home. Expat life also opens the door for social exchanges between people of different cultures. One of these cultural exchanges involves food. When a person moves from one country to another, they begin a new adventure with food. Expats have different ways of dealing with the issue of their daily food choices in their new country.

Czech and American Cuisine

Similarities and Differences
My husband is Czech, and this means I have close ties with Czech people. One half of my family is now Czech, and my husband’s friends have also embraced me and most of my “Americaness.” Through these Czech ties, I have been introduced to Czech foods. Czech cuisine is in some ways similar to the cooking I grew up with, but it is also very different in many ways. Some of the differences have to do with the parts of animals that are eaten, including blood and other parts. Americans eat more vegetables than Czechs. Czechs do eat a lot of potatoes and other root vegetables, but don’t enjoy broccoli and other veggies as much. Another difference is that Czech meals are heavier and contain more fat and sauces than the American cuisine I grew up with. This difference (in the amount of fat in Czech cooking) has meant I’ve gained weight since moving here. Living in the Czech Republic has meant a definite change in the foods I eat, and has even enlarged my dietary choices (along with enlarging me!).


Another food related issue is the fact that Czech children are taught to completely clean their plates at every meal. In past times, under different regimes, Czechs led hard lives, and food was precious and at times hard to come by. So, everyone must clean their plates in order to avoid waste, which Czechs hate. Plus, not eating all the food on your plate could be seen as an insult to the chef of a restaurant, or to a friend who has cooked a meal to share with you. Thus, my adventures in gaining wait began with my move to the Czech Republic. I’m definitely not happy with this. I am currently in the process of losing weight, with the hope I will lose all the weight I’ve gained since moving here. 

Food and Diet Challenges
One other detail I would like share is that I have many allergies, both airborne and food allergies, so this also has a large influence on what I can or cannot eat. I am extremely allergic to wheat, rye and oats, along with several other foods, spices and drinks. I have to be very careful when eating at someone’s home or when eating out. It’s not easy to have such food allergies, but it’s important to remember there are always worse conditions and problems. I have ten years of experience eating with these allergies, and have completely adapted to this lifestyle. Even so, I have faced some challenges with Czech cuisine and my allergies and the wheat/gluten-free diet.

One of the best things I have enjoyed about cooking in this gluten free existence has been using fresh ingredients and learning to cook from scratch. Before I was diagnosed with food allergies, I cooked from bags and boxes, rarely using fresh ingredients. I rarely cooked completely from scratch. After diagnosis, my life completely changed, and I had to learn how to cook from scratch with fresh ingredients. Cooking from scratch was a necessary precursor to my expat life and learning to cook a few traditional Czech dishes.


Traditional Czech Cooking
Traditional Czech cooking includes many sauces that are thickened with wheat and other ingredients. So, there are many dishes I can’t eat. However, recently a new restaurant  came to my attention, Na Zlaté Křižovatce. It is the only completely gluten-free restaurant that I know of in Prague. I must tell you; this place has helped me to enjoy some Czech food I’ve only dreamed about. One of my first meals at Na Zlaté Křižovatce was Svíčková. Svíčková is a traditional Czech dish of marinated beef served in a sauce usually made from root vegetables, topped with cream sauce and cranberries. Along with the meat and sauce, houskové knedlíky (bread dumplings) are served on the side. This dish is straight from heaven. It is also very fattening, so I’ve had it only once or twice, but boy…is it good. I have learned to cook a few Czech dishes in gluten free versions, but have not yet mastered svíčková. I hope to add this dish to my repertoire one day. I have learned how to make bramborák (potato pancakes), bramboračka (Czech potato soup), guláš (gulash) and řízek (schnitzel using pork or chicken). These dishes are very good, and can be easily made with gluten free ingredients.

My husband is a good sport with eating gluten free. He’s also very good about eating a diet of mixed Czech and American cooking. Most of our meals are truly a mix. I make more of our dinners with sauces than I ever made back home, in the US. Typically, my family would use gravy occasionally at suppertime, but most often on holidays. Czechs like sauces, which are a bit lighter than gravies. I make sauce to go with any meat now, and I have to say that I like a meat served with sauce, rather than eaten dry, as my family eats in the US. My sauces are light, and don’t contain much fat. I typically use bullion cubes that are gluten free, but which add much flavor, along with other fresh ingredients.


Czech sweets, such as cakes and cookies, are very similar to sweets that my family has made over the years. Czechs typically have cookies, bábovka (cakes) and kolačky (pastry) for special celebrations and holidays, though a kolač can also be an every day treat. Czechs also eat more bread than Americans typically do on a daily basis. Bread here comes in a wide variety; from loaves of bread to what Americans call rolls and knedlíky. I have yet to conquer baking Czech breads. Baking bread is very tricky with gluten free ingredients, especially when it comes to making Czech breads, some of which are very specialized.

My expat adventure has had a definite impact on my daily food choices, and has broadened my food tastes and cooking abilities. When we get together with our friends, who are a mix of nationalities, our appetizers, meals and desserts are always a blend of American and Czech dishes. Food has been a wonderful way to get to know new people and learn more about Czech culture. Food is a universal social connection—one way of connecting with others, in my expat life, for which I’m very thankful. 

Thanks for stopping by! Be sure to check out other blogs participating in Blog Action Day!

Have a great day!

God bless,

(c) 2011 by Sher Vacik. All rights reserved.

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