Goulash Heaven Disguised as Tourist Trap

Suspicious Tout Lures Newbie to a Surprisingly Satisfying Meal

First Impressions is a Prague Wandering series that chronicles the early days of expatriate life for young Americans studying in Prague. The series is intended to capture the shock and awe that many foreigners experience when venturing outside their comfort zone.

 

By Ray Paul Biron

Photo by Ray Paul Biron

Crude Dutch patrons (not pictured above) did not detract from the dumpling experience. Photo by Ray Paul Biron.

An unkempt, sweaty man hurried me to a table outside Corsaire restaurant in Old Town. Next to me sat a group of men clad in cleats, high socks, and bright orange attire, excited for the upcoming Holland vs. Czech Republic soccer match that afternoon. I sat down at the round table as he excitedly opened my menu to the English translations of the restaurant’s traditional Czech dishes full of meat and sauce.

“Our burgers are the best!” the exasperated man had said earlier, as he noticed me walking up the street in my gym shorts and Boston Red Sox hoodie. I tried to make myself appear weary to avoid his attention, but that just seemed to create even more of an invitation.

“You want goulash? Our goulash is the best in town.” He looked pleadingly at me. His shirt was unbuttoned a quarter of the way down and his stomach protruded over his faded pants. “Look, if you are not 100 percent satisfied then, you can kick my ass afterwards.” I replied with confidence that it would not come to that as I took a menu from his outstretched hand. The man was hard to resist despite his lack of personal hygiene.

The Holland fans sitting next to me were small, beady-eyed men who talked loudly and whistled even louder at the girls walking by. Three of them appeared to be no older than 30; one seemed several decades older. A young woman caught their gaze and they crooned and hollered before turning their necks in an effort to stalk her as she hastened away. My beer, a 25-koruna (1.16 USD) Svijansky Maz, arrived as I overheard them asking the man, whose sole job was to lure tourists to the restaurant, for various pick-up lines in Czech to supplement their flirting repertoire.

“Look, if you are not 100 percent satisfied then, you can kick my ass afterwards.”

“How do I say, ‘You are beautiful’?” said one with a toothy smile. Another interjected, “How do I say, ‘Do you want to do it’?” They all laughed. Two of the younger ones exchanged high-fives. The man entertained their questions, never letting on that mid-afternoon on a Tuesday might not be the time Czech women preferred to make love to beer-filled Holland football fans.

By the time my goulash arrived the Dutch men had finished their last beers and were on their way laughing and slapping backs up the street. I was alone. The waiter, now drenched in sweat, attempted without great success to convince others to join me. “Best schnitzel in town! Promise you won’t be disappointed!” he said.

The goulash came with potatoes and dumplings, paired with a heavy gravy. The dumplings were my favorite part; they soaked up the gravy perfectly. After I finished my meal, the man rushed over to take my plate. “Good?” he asked eagerly. The goulash had been just okay, but my Czech was limited and that was not what he wanted to hear anyway. “Ten goulash je dobry,” I said. (This goulash is good).

Usually when I force out some Czech, the listener responds with a polite grimace, but the man seemed to jump in surprise. He told me to wait a second and soon returned with a middle-aged lady. “Can you repeat what you said to my manager?” I repeated myself and she too smiled, saying that she would tell the cook right away. It was hard to tell if they were more excited about my limited Czech or that their goulash had actually been praised.

I placed down a weathered 20-koruna coin as a tip and stood up to leave. A white-haired couple had just sat down two tables down from mine and were intently looking over their menus. The man gave me a broad smile and a nod as I began my walk up the street the same way the Dutch soccer fans had gone. The street merged onto a large cobbled road and I was soon swept into a mob of orange singing and shouting as they made their way towards Old Town Square.

Ray Paul Biron is in the Tufts University Class of 2016. His hometown is Dartmouth, Massachusetts.

This article was adapted from an assignment for the travel writing class at New York University in Prague.

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Categories: Fall 2014 Issue Number 1, First Impressions, Travel

Author:The Prague Wandering

The Prague Wandering is an NYU based study abroad webzine- the only one of its kind. It focuses on issues in contemporary Czech culture and the city of Prague, exploring beyond the study abroad bubble.

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