As stated in a previous article, the traditional main dish for Christmas in the Czech Republic is carp. As a side, potato salad is served.
Currently, the stores are making the most of it by presenting enormous displays of eggs, mayonnaise, and pickles near the entrance; most of what you need for the salad.
What else is served?
Carp was the traditional Christmas dish for centuries, but as Catholicism slowly lost its dominance in this area, schnitzel became more popular. Some families serve both – breaded, fried carp, and (to take advantage of the breading material already handy) pork schnitzel.
This is a sweet, braided bread containing dried fruit. Often, it is topped with flaked almonds. At this time of year, it is everywhere – in the grocery stores, in the bakeries, at the Christmas markets.
The first written mention of the vánočka dates from the 16th century. Until the 18th century, only bakers belonging to a guild were allowed to make this particular treat. The 18th century brought a change in Christmas baking, when ordinary families would make them at home.
At one time, the woman making the vánočka was expected to undergo a strict routine. She had to wear a white apron, and a white kerchief. She was not supposed to speak while working (and since the vánočka is leavened by yeast, it needs to rise, which takes some time). She was even meant to jump up and down while the dough rose, which seems like a recipe for fallen dough. If a coin was baked into the loaf, the person who found it would prosper the following year.
Traditionally, Czech cookie baking begins on the first Sunday of Advent. It continues through Christmas Eve – that’s how seriously this tradition is taken. Among the favorite Christmas cookies are the Linzer cookies (Linecké cukroví); these are two-layer butter cookies with a filling of jam.
The top cookie usually has a shape cut out of it – a star, for example, or a heart. Another favorite is the vanilla crescent (vanilkový rohliček), a cookie that is rolled in powdered sugar. The Czechs also have wasps’ nests (vosí hnízda), a nut cookie. The exterior is made mainly of ground nuts and the popular piškoty; inside is a combination of butter, sugar, and rum.
Bears’ paws (medvědí tlapičky) are made of cocoa, powdered sugar, flour, and nuts. Sometimes, they are rolled in powdered sugar, with white chocolate applied to symbolize claws. Other bakers choose to dip them in dark chocolate.
The Czechs really know how to do gingerbread. It can be bought in many shapes, including hearts, trees, snowmen, fish, bells, flowers, crescent moons, and much more. The gingerbread is lavishly and impressively decorated, and can be used as an ornament as well as for eating. Of course, eating it is far more fun.
While carp is not for everyone, most people have a sweet tooth, and right now, goodies are available at Christmas markets, bakeries, and grocery stores, so indulge and enjoy!