Hopping to the Czech Pub
Updated: 2011-08-14 07:48
By Mike Peters (China Daily)
Before I describe one of the best meals I've had recently - the Moravian-style rabbit at the new Czech Pub near Beijing's Ritan Park - I have to 'fess up.
Although I pride myself on being an adventurous eater, I never sank my teeth into rabbit for the first 50 years of my life. Yes, it's that Peter Cottontail thing. Rabbits are cute, they're pets. A meal of rabbit was just too close to eating the Easter Bunny.
Even when I visited my grandfather's native Moravia - the largely rural eastern part of what is now the Czech Republic - my rabbit-is-food epiphany eluded me. One family of cousins invited me for Sunday dinner that was going to be braised rabbit, and I smiled and said, "That sounds great!"
But that morning, my cousin Jarmila casually asked if I'd like chicken for lunch. Somehow I'd forgotten about the rabbit and, eager to please, I said "Yes, that will be nice." So she cooked chicken for me and rabbit for everyone else. I'd never felt more like The Ugly American.
Fast-forward to this spring, when Beijing's newly opened Ceska Hospoda offered Moravian-style rabbit as a house special at 65 yuan ($10). Perhaps after two years in China, it was easier to fling caution to the wind about food that once gave me pause. Perhaps it was a moment of redemption. Or challenge. Or maybe I was still smarting from my cousin's Mona Lisa smile as she watched me eat her fried chicken.
Perhaps it just looked yummy.
Whatever the stimulus, it was yummy: Tender and served on the bone, the moist and flavorful meat came with a side of spinach and egg, scrambled with thin rounds of garlic that had been lightly sauted before the main ingredients hit the pan.
And although restaurant manager Marie Vykopalova can't get exactly the flour she wants for dumplings, the boiled bread seemed just like my grandma's - sliced into rounds and served on the side.
If you are one of those Westerners who despair of finding sausage made and cooked in the familiar way, you're in luck: Housemade sausages here come both steamed and fried, with a creamy sauerkraut and more of those dumplings (50 yuan). Czech beer is available on draft or in bottles, and the dark Staropramen (20 to 35 yuan, depending on size) provided a nice hoppy counterpoint to the platter of meat and kraut.
The extensive menu also includes a savory goulash (53 yuan), a soupy but flavorful rendition with a dark, rich broth.
There are desserts, but I found it more fun to prowl the special offerings behind the bar.
There is Becherovka, an herbal bitters from Prague flavored with anise seed, cinnamon and more than two dozen other herbs. It's 38 percent alcohol by volume (76 proof) and best served ice-cold; it's considered to be an aid to digestion. The Czech Pub also offers it in a variety of cocktails.
Besides Becherovka, there is Czech plum brandy and slivovice, another plum-distilled drink that is Moravia's answer to baijiu. There's nothing like a little firewater to wash down your first rabbit.
You can contact the writer at email@example.com.
Li Xing, China Daily's assistant editor-in-chief and veteran columnist, died of a cerebral hemorrhage on Aug 7 in Washington DC, US.
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