During the heady days of the Velvet Revolution in November 1989, Czechs were in a great mood. People were happy, smiling at each other, but also a little frightened at how the revolution would turn out.
Little did they know that on top of the Czech Republic’s coming political transformation, the food Czechs ate would also undergo a radical change.
In the center of Prague, where demonstrations against communist rule took place, there was a famous diner offering various specialties popular among Czechs, such as boiled pork with mustard and horseradish, goulash, tripe soup or smoked meat.
The diner was covered in Formica, and each table featured the standard salt shakers and cheap cutlery seen in nearly every Czech eating establishment at the time. In a sense, the diner was a symbol of what all that Czech cuisine was pre-revolution.
At that time, there were only a few restaurants serving foreign food in Prague, including a couple of Italian pizzerias, Yugoslavian wine bars, and some establishments attempting French cuisine.
In Prague’s luxury hotels, foreign food could also be had for a price.
However, only three truly well-known and well-established restaurants in Prague offered what was considered good foreign cuisine at the time. For those who wanted something extra, Prague provided unprecedented gastronomic experiences in the form of a Russian restaurant called Berjozka, a Chinese restaurant (which was so popular customers had to make reservations a full month ahead), and an Indian restaurant called Mayur.
Otherwise, most Czech restaurants and pubs resembled one another like two peas in a pod, with dumplings, goulashes, sauces of unclear color and origin, all standard fare on restaurant menus. The culinary highlight for most Czechs was chicken breast with peaches.
More complicated, more exotic and better cuisine, however, was mostly the privilege of people with power and foreign tourists.
Thirty years ago, most Czechs fighting for freedom and democracy barely registered food options as a real reason to end communist rule. But once the revolution succeeded, it was a welcome bonus that changed the way all Czechs eat.