28 September 2011

Street Food Memories

Putting together the photo book from my travels this year, I'm shocked by 2 things.

One, this photo book is MAMMOTH.  I'm wondering if they'll even be able to bind it once I'm done.

Two, how many pictures of food did I take?  It's embarrassing.  Really.  But not embarrassing enough for me to leave even one of them out!

Today, drooling is my inspiration.

This time it's not over something with a million layers of sweet cream and chocolate eaten in a room where everyone from Napolean to Reagan took their tea.

This time it's street food.

Wrapped in paper, no fuss-no muss.  I just gotta tell you about the Trdelnik, Lángos and the smoky ham on a spit!

It all started with a Vienna sausage.

It was our first night and we had tickets to the Opera, my first, and I was starving.  We only had 20 minutes.  I remembered we'd passed a Wurst stand across the street from the opera house so I grabbed Cody and off we ran in our fancy duds.

Beyond my expectations!  We shared a bratwurst and it was just what I needed to quiet my Belly Beast.  It was about a foot long, juicy, the skin had a nice pop and the bun was like panini bread--buttery and crisp.

The coolest thing about the sausage I can't show you--it was nighttime and the flash blew out the image--ugh.  But I can tell you about it.  They took this long bun and impaled it on a stick that looked like a sharpening steel that warmed it from the inside.  Then they squirted ketchup and mustard into the bread hole and shook it.  Finally, they plopped the bratwurst into the hole.  I think I applauded.  The bread was warm, fit the wurst perfectly and there was no squirting of ketchup or annoying bun splitting.  Genius!!

My favorite street food in Prague was the first thing I tried, the Trdelnik.  It's a very touristy thing I guess, but I can tell you it's a better memory than a pressed penny or a commemorative shot glass.

It's sweet yeast dough wrapped on a metal cylinder (trdlo) then rolled in cinnamon, sugar and ground walnuts.  They roast it over an open flame until golden brown.  The roasted bread is pushed off the cylinder onto a tray full of cinnamon and sugar to coat it again.  Then they wrap it loosely in paper and serve it to you warm.  Magical.

It's lightly sweet, crusty on the outside and soft and flaky on the inside.  I liked peeling the rings apart and dangling them into my mouth.  Have you ever peeled apart the individual layers of a Hungry Jack biscuit?  It's like that but 1000 times better!

They come in different flavors like vanilla, caramel, walnut, etc..., but the original is not only the best, but the only one worth trying.  The others were hard and flavorless. 

The first time I was in Prague I noticed these bands of men going through a lot of trouble (in the freezing cold) to build these huge fires in portable metal troughs.  Criss-crossing through Old Town Square over several hours it became clear that they were preparing to roast meat.  No, not just meat, ham.  Parma ham.

It was bitter cold and the idea of pulling my hands out of my gloves to stand in the street and chew on ham did not sound like a good idea.  Stupid.  This decision haunted me after I got home.  Why?  Why?  Why?

I got lucky and got a second shot at the ham this summer.  It was the first must-do on my list and as soon as I set foot in Prague, I made my way to those mad pit-masters and ordered a plate o' pork.  It wasn't cold this time, but it was pouring rain!
**Side note--I'm a big fan of bacon.  I like pork, but bacon's really the thing for me.  I can honestly say that I have never tasted better pork products than I have in the Czech Republic.  Bacon, ham, pig's knee...I had it all.  I don't know what they feed those pigs, but it was the most decadent, buttery pork I have ever tasted.**

How was it???





It was worth the wait.

I didn't bother with the bread.

Before heading to Budapest I read something about Lángos in one of my guide books.  I knew it was a fried bread snack of some sort.  I was focused on the pastry and the Turkish baths (don't judge it was AWESOME) so I didn't pay much attention.

I was a little giddy from exploring of the Great Market Hall when I stumbled onto the food stalls on the second floor.  It was crowded with people munching on these pizza-esque snacks from paper plates.  The toppings varied from plate-to-plate and before I knew it I was in line at the Lángos stand.

There were lots of choices for toppings, but they all started with garlic.  There was ham, mushroom, cheese, sour cream, ketchup, tomatoes, cabbage, the list went on and on.  I was staying away from cheese on this trip (among other things) and so I went with the garlic, ham, mushroom combo.

It was about 10-inches across and warm and more garlic than I have eaten in 6 months!  Salty and crunchy and satisfying.  This was not pizza.

I left thinking it was pretty good and I was glad to try it.  I also figured that the other ingredients like sour cream would have made a big difference.

So when I was on my eating binge in the rain in Prague later in the week I found a Lángos stand (Langose in Czech) and got in line.  For the record, Mr. "Doom" didn't scare me.

This time I went with the ketchup.  My thought was they wouldn't offer it if it wasn't fantastic.  Also, it's the first ingredient listed...major clue.  I have a similar policy about fried eggs--if there's a dish on the menu with fried egg on top that's what I'm ordering.  I know it's gonna be outrageous. 

No cheese this time either. Just garlic sauce and ketchup.  I know.  BUT, let me tell you, this Lángos was outstanding.  Much better than the one in Budapest.  It was chewy, still crispy and a little salty but not nearly as salty as the first one.  Less garlic, but still nice and garlicky.  The bread wasn't greasy either.

What really made this Lángos pop?  The ketchup!  It added acidic zing that rounded the whole thing out.

Garlic and ketchup on bread--who'da thunk it?  Just goes to show you that it's worth trying some things twice.  You never know what you'll discover. 

Ice cream and sorbet were virtually on every street corner of all the places I visited.  So much so that they apparently have a cone problem.  At least it's the 4th Don't on the list!

The yogurt gelato with blackberry coulis was addictive.  There's just something about the dairy products in Europe that make the tastes a little bigger (less pasteurization I think).

Even the soft-serve which I pooh-poohed in favor of the gelato, knocked my socks off once I finally tried it.  It tasted rich, like French Vanilla. 

In Prague, during my dairy-free jaunt, I went for a watermelon sorbet that tasted like pure, pureed watermelon.

So refreshing.

Look at the color!  It wasn't full of sharp ice crystals either.

If I knew their secrets I'd open a shop tomorrow and make millions.  Until then I'll just keep looking at my pictures and reliving every amazing bite.

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