Klobasa v. KFC

Culinary Imperialism Takes on Fried Cheese

By Devan Schulte and Juan Pablo Quintero

It is Thursday at 11 p.m. in the middle of Wenceslas Square and our hands are covered in cheese, ketchup and yogurt sauce from the aftermath of another Czech fast food binge. Although we spent the previous night in a booth at KFC Kaprova with a bucket of fried chicken, tonight, gyros and sausages satisfied our cravings.

Czech fast food can be defined in different ways, with global chains competing with local stands to sell quick and cheap foods for locals and tourists throughout the country.

But what is more fulfilling, a Big Mac or a foot-long sausage? That’s the question two reporters set out to answer through intense mouth-on research.

Global chains may be threatening local food vendors in Prague. Photo courtesy of Peter Slattery.

Sausage stands have become a rare sight in Prague as global chains rule the fast food market. Photo courtesy of Peter Slattery.

Fast food trends in the Czech Republic have been unmistakably shaped by the country’s past. The first Czech McDonald’s opened directly under the Museum of Communism in 1992, and for much of the ‘90s you needed reservations to eat there.

“Eating at McDonald’s was a status thing,” said Salim Murad, a professor at NYU Prague and the University of South Bohemia.

Unlike fast food in the United States, McDonald’s was seen as a luxury in post-communist Prague. “The price of McDonald’s food was very expensive, it was the price of very high dining,” said Murad.

Prior to the invasion of global dining franchises, most meals were eaten at work or at home. Traditional Czech fast food consisted of smaller snacks served at kiosks such as chlebicky (sandwiches), klobasy (sausages) and fried cheese in a bun.  

During the long era of Communist rule in the Czech Republic, very few foreign foods were sold throughout Prague. After the Velvet Revolution toppled the totalitarian regime in 1989, however, international food flooded the Czech Republic. The influx started with Italian pasta restaurants and American fast food, and later, Chinese, Vietnamese, Mexican and Middle Eastern cuisine came to the country’s capital.

The Czech Association of Franchises reported that 1,450 franchise chains were operating in the Czech Republic in November 2005, compared to 130 in 1999. McDonald’s is the only chain that came directly from the United States. KFC, Starbucks and Burger King outlets in the Czech Republic came from the Polish-owned AmRest Corporation.

Czechs quickly developed a large appetite for American fast food. 93 McDonald’s, 68 KFCs and 13 Burger Kings have opened their doors in the Czech Republic in the past 23 years, along with a multitude of gyro restaurants, burrito shops and sausage stands.

These global chains immediately brought competition to the classic options to which Czechs were accustomed. In 2012, Oldrich Lomecky, mayor of Prague 1, said the sausage stands in Wenceslas Square have been “part of the local color” for years.

When the city threatened to replace the local sausage vendors in favor of news stands to make the square “more attractive to tourists and Prague residents,” Lomecky fought hard to preserve a part of the Czech Republic’s national heritage.

Although American chains outnumber the remaining sausage stands, this Czech staple remain an important part of both tourist and local culture.

Young Czechs heading home from a night on the town eat a range of sausages, gyros, hot dogs, Whoppers and more, which led us to a variety of Prague hot spots.

Our stops included Original Döner Kebab, Bageterie Boulevard, Vaclavsky Gril and Burrito Loco, as well as some of the city’s many KFC, Burger King and McDonald’s locations.

We discovered that non-chain, local options in Prague are generally cheaper than the global brands. Customers can buy a Durum Kebab, the most popular item at Original Döner Kebab in Holesovice, for 80-koruna (3.30 USD), or an Old Prague Sausage at Vaclavsky Gril in Wenceslas Square for 70-koruna (2.90 USD). In contrast, a Classic Box at KFC costs 165-koruna (6.80 USD) and a Big Mac meal at McDonalds costs 149-koruna (6.15 USD). 

An Old Prague sausage is the most popular klobasa offered at Vaclavsky Gril. Spiced with salt, pepper, garlic and paprika, both tourists and locals favor the coarsely ground sausage typically set in a dark bread roll with globs of mustard and fresh onions to top it off.

With all the variety, it was difficult to choose our personal favorites.

Standing out among the Czech fast food was the Wenceslas Sausage from Vaclavsky Grill, a subtle take on the best-selling Old Prague Sausage. Instead of spice, this sausage offers a smoky flavor and hints of sage which pair wonderfully with fried onions and ketchup.

The Durum Kebab from Original Döner Kebab was impressive as well. For 80 korunas, customers get a 30-cm long wrap stuffed with finely shredded lamb and crisp purple cabbage. The yogurt sauce and chili flakes complement the salty flavor of the meat and add spice to the meal. The Durum Kebab tends to be a bit messy, so ask for some napkins to go.

And the American fast food chains in Prague deserve an honorable mention. Because of the European Union’s strict agricultural standards regarding GMOs (MON 810, a strain of genetically modified corn, is the only GMO crop permitted to be grown commercially in the Czech Republic), ingredients are generally fresher in Czech restaurants than back in the USA. Although we liked the taste of a Big Mac in Prague better than the taste of a Big Mac in New York, we still prefer the local flavors of Czech fast food.

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Jakub Karhanek, a Czech college student and resident assistant at New York University in Prague, said that global brands attract attention because of their non-stop service and central locations, but locals prefer cheaper gyros during a late night out.

For example, Original Döner Kebab in is a popular hot spot that has been attracting locals for two years. It typically sees a late-night rush from party-goers because it is open until 11 p.m. Monday through Friday and until midnight on Saturdays.

”The restaurant really has little competition because we’re the only option for people who want quick food in Praha 7,” Nodir Alijonov, the cook at Original Döner Kebab, said.

Although the presence of American chains has received hefty criticism as symbols of culinary imperialism, residents of Prague seem to welcome alternatives to Czech fast food.

“Czechs question the quality of the food, if it tastes good, if it’s healthy. Not whether it’s American,” said Murad.

Simon Kryl, an international relations student at Charles University and residential adviser at NYU Prague’s Osadni dorm, agreed. “I would not eat anywhere where the food would taste disgustingly awful nor somewhere I know they have problems with hygiene,” said Kryl.

When Kryl is looking for larger portions, he tends to look towards the American fast-food chains.

“If I’m hungry, I go for something bigger, something American,” said Kryl.

Devan Schulte is in the Bucknell University Class of 2016. Her hometown is Wycoff, New Jersey.

Juan Pablo Quintero is in the NYU Stern School of Business Class of 2017. His hometown is Bogota, Colombia.

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Categories: Spring 2015 Issue Number 1

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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