Friday, February 1, 2013

The Chief Expat Complaint

I've been busy and have not had much time to dedicate to writing or thinking of topics to write about. Finally, I decided on one.

Since I've been here I have discovered that there is a very large expat community in Prague. I knew there were expats, but it is a pretty large number. I don't just mean Americans hiding out from the political strife at home, or for whatever other reason they are here, there are people from all over the world. I've met Russians, Italians, Spaniards, Brits, Romanians and a surprising number of Slovakians. It's pretty great to be able to interact with people from such varied backgrounds. You can put people from six different states together and it is great, but there are a lot of things that will be the same. The conversation is completely different. For one, you won't have to explain yourself as much. I'm not complaining about that, I actually enjoy explaining myself to people who don't know about culture, or perceived lack of it, in the states.

The one complaint I hear over and over from the expats here is that they don't like the food. At first I didn't really think too much of it, but I started to see that, yeah maybe the food isn't so great.
I think what I notice most, having lived in the southwest for so long, is the lack of anything spicy or hot. Czechs just don't like spicy food. I used to joke a lot about British food being devoid of spice and flavor, and traditional English food is pretty bland from what I hear. But our friends on that little ancestral island have taken a keen liking to curry in the past few years and there is for sure some spicy curry. I still tease my English friends about not liking spicy food, but it's really not so true anymore.
I've eaten a few jalapeños since I've been here and they have, quite frankly, been a pretty poor excuse for spicy. They all looked like jalapeños, but really that was about it. As far as anything remotely resembling green chilie goes -- I'm out of luck.

I am told there are a few good Indian restaurants and I might look for some curry. I'm also told of a mythical Thai restaurant with some very hot cuisine. Of course an English person told me about this, so I will have to see for myself.

I will say the variety of meat you can get at a restaurant is impressive. The other night I was at a mede hall with some friends and the menu had duck, rabbit, pheasant, beef, chicken and pork. They might have had a few other things, but that is all I can remember. You would be hard pressed to find a place in the states that had all those things and did cost at least $100 per person to eat there. The other interesting thing is that there is tartar far more frequently than you will find it in the US. And it is pretty cheap. I think the last time I had some tartar I paid 100kcc for my whole meal.

Not bad, some DYI tartar. I liked it.

Then there are of course all the usual fast-food joints. I've been to Burger King maybe twice. SURPRISE! It tastes like Burger King. I even broke with my strict rules and ate at MacDonalds. My reason for this was to have the famous Royal With Cheese, thank you Quinten Tarantino. Guess what?? It was horrible, but it did come with popcorn shrimp which as you can imagine were aweful.

There it is, right in the middle, the famous Royal. The small, closed, box on the right contains shrimp, yuck.

It also turns out KFC is pretty big over here. Who knew. I haven't been there yet. There is no Taco Bell, so my runs for the border either entail an actual border or the "non stop" burrito place around the corner from my flat. It's not a terrible burrito and it's "non stop" which means it's open 24 hours.

The problem doesn't really stop at restaurants though. Quite frankly with the cost of really good beer so low a not-amazing meal doesn't really tick me off. The mede hall I went to the other night, I had duck. It was ok, but it was overcooked and dry, but I had four beers for like $8 so some slightly dry duck isn't a huge deal. Of course I'll eat pretty much anything that won't kill me and not really mind. Anything but eggplant or squash and even then I'll try it from time to time just to make sure it still repulses me.

That isn't to say there are zero good restaurants in Prague. There are in fact some very good, very reasonable restaurants. It just takes a little looking to find them. The great thing is you really remember a good place to eat.

No, things at the grocery store aren't really a whole lot better. The bread isn't really that great. Granted I don't often buy bread from the store, bite into it and say, "wow, this bread is amazing." Bread is after all, for me mostly a device for holding meat and cheese together while I eat a sandwich. They have this thing called a Rholik, I'm pretty sure it translated to "bullet." They are kind of like little baguettes, but not as good. I'm convinced they are baked and left to sit for at least two days to harden and then sold. I really don't mind them, they just aren't good for much in my book. If you like hard, dry bread in miniature baguette form a rholik might be for you.

Then there is the cheese. Or so it is called. You can go to the store and see a vast array of cheese for sale. It all looks different, except for the fact that it is pretty much all white. It all tastes the same. It's a bit rubbery and pretty bland and when it melts it stretches out like crazy. I suppose it is like flat string cheese, but more boring. Sometimes there are holes in it, like swiss cheese. It tastes the same as the variety without holes. So, I've located a  British food import store with some various types of sharper cheddar that are pretty good. Yes, I realize I just admitted to resorting to British food to get a bit of flavor.

On bacon. In the US bacon is a religion. I have often heard it referred to as "meat candy." It is. Canadians and Brits think they know what bacon is, but they are using the complete wrong side of the pig. And they cure it differently. Those basically make hard ham. Here in the Czech Republic I usually buy Salina Anglicky. I'm pretty sure this translates to American bacon. It's pretty close but almost all of it is deli shaved thin. I was at a store today that had slab bacon for sale and I might have to get some at some point so I can have a slice or two at the proper thickness. The slab bacon was also named Salina Anglicky. 

I really like mustard. Maybe I didn't give enough emphasis. I REALLY like mustard. The spicier the better. It's not so good here, but Germany is close so there is hope. I'll survive. If not a friend has told me it is easy to make your own mustard. We'll see.

And now for the most confusing thing I never thought would confound me. Eggs. Granted, anyone who know me knows I've only been eating eggs for a few years. Heck, I still don't know all the names for the ways to prepare them. There's over something, sunny-side hard or something like that. Really, I don't know. The first time I had juevos rancheros the person asked me how I liked my eggs and I could only reply, "what are my options?" I've started cooking my own eggs and I'm getting better at it. I can scramble them up pretty good, and make an ok omelet. Here is the rub about eggs when you buy them at the store: You can buy them in packages of 6, 10, 15 or 30. The reason this bothers me is this: If you have half a carton of eggs and that has 6 eggs in it, why the hell on God's green earth is a full carton of eggs 10? It only makes sense to have a full carton consist of precisely double a half a carton. Then you run in to problems like this: I use 3 eggs to make an omelet. If I make three omelets I have one egg left over, it's a bit frustrating. It might make me strange.

For all the bad things about the food I will have to say this. Czechs know their way around a pig. There is pork everywhere and they can prepare it very well. The delicacy here is pork knee. I haven't had one yet but I will. 

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