The 100th Anniversary of Chlebíčky, or Czech Open Faced Sandwiches
When you hear about Czech food, most probably the first thing that comes to your mind is a rich dish of roasted pork, lots of cabbage and dumplings as a side dish, and of course, rivers of mouth-watering beer to help swallow it all down. There’s no denying that the Czechs love their steaks, but the one thing that you will inevitably find at any family or official event is the Czech classic chlebíčky. They are easy to make, quite affordable and absolutely delicious; no wonder they are a staple of the Czech diet. Be it a formal gala or just a friendly meet-up, for breakfast or as a quick snack, all Czechs young and old, love to stuff their faces with chlebíčky.
What is this dish and why is it so special, you might ask? Well, basically, it’s an open-faced sandwich with many varieties when it comes to the spread and topping, with ham and egg being the classic Czech ones. It might not sound so enticing at first glance, but trust me, once you’ve had one, there is no going back, you’re hooked on them. Read on to find out about the long tradition of this delicacy and most importantly, where to find the best ones in Prague!
A Bit(e) of History
The story of Czech chlebíčky goes back to 1919, when Jan Paukert and his wife Štěpánka first opened a deli shop close to the National Theatre. Their deli became a symbol of quality. The sandwich became so popular that they had to move the shop to a much bigger space in the building next door. In fact, it was so popular that it became the dish of choice for the Prague artistic elite. Imagine the roaring twenties stylish dancers trying, usually unsuccessfully, to prevent the toppings from dropping on their fashionable clothes. That’s how incredibly popular they were. Even the first Czechoslovakian president Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk (who was a real old fashioned gentleman) loved them!
But how did this specialty of the Paukert deli came into existence, and why is it so unique? After all, we all know that open-faced sandwiches are popular in some form or another around Europe. There are, for example, the Scandinavian smørrebrød, the Dutch and Flemish Uitsmijter or the Spanish tapas style open-sandwiches. They all work on the same principle, adding fresh ingredients to a bread base according to the specific climate of the region.
Now, when it comes to Czech chlebíčky, legend has it that the finger-food that the Paukerts served before was not enough for their family friend, a popular artist and a famous gourmet called Jan Rytíř Skramlík. One day, he asked Paukert to send him something big enough for two to three bites to his studio. Paukert used his culinary magic to help his friend and that’s how chlebíčky were born!
The delicious phenomenon grew in popularity so much that it became a part of Czech everyday life. During its 100 year lifespan chlebíčky were there to witness some of the most important events of Czech history. This dish is so important, that we even had a “Chlebíčky Scandal!” In September 1941 the Czech prime minister Alois Eliáš poisoned a group of pro-nazi journalists by preparing them a plate of open-faced sandwiches soaked in iodine poison. They were all hospitalized and one of the journalists died a few days later. It is unclear, though, if it was as a result of the poisoning, or of typhoid infection. In any case, the Czech prime minister was sentenced to death for this as well as other anti-nazi activities.
During the Communist era, Paukert deli was nationalised and the types of possible combinations of toppings and spreads was strictly controlled by the government. In spite of the restrictions, the dish only grew in popularity. The open-faced sandwich Paukert sent to his friend was allegedly made of fish paste and anchovy. Later, the sandwiches were usually made from one thin slice of white bread called “veka,” a special, soft baguette, very different from the classic French one. On top of the “veka” usually there was potato salad or mayonnaise, a slice of ham, pickled cucumber, and hard-boiled egg. Salami, cheese, and pickled fish were also among the most popular toppings.
After the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989, the borders of the country were opened to influences from all over the world, so the contents of the dish changed. Suddenly, there were chlebíčky with salmon, mozzarella, hummus… the choice was endless and we loved experimenting with these new ingredients!
Today, the focus is leaning more towards healthy food, so mayonnaise tends to be swapped with light cream cheese, white bread with dark, and beetroot, avocado, and carrots are among the most popular toppings. But of course, the traditional version still survives as it is embedded in our Czech identity.
The Best Chlebíčky in Town
Now, if you are craving some chlebíčky and you’re wondering where to find the best ones in Prague, here is a list of our favourite ones:
- The traditional Jan Paukert Bistro, in the Karlin district.
This venue follows the steps of the famous creator of the dish, Jan Paukert, but adds a mediterranean twist to it, as the current owner is Gianfranco Coizza, a world renowned Italian chef who gives a warm southern touch to the Czech classic.
Address: Rohanské nábřeží 671/15, Prague, Czech Republic
Info: + 420 603 303 030
Opening Hours: Monday-Friday: 07.30 – 21.30
- Zlatý Kříž (The Golden Cross)
Located right in the heart of Prague, with a completely authentic interior that hasn’t changed since the communist times, you will be transported back into the Czech past in a split of a second! Can it get more Czech than this? Oh yes, and there are over 50 varieties of chlebíčky to choose from.
Address: Jungmannova 34 110 00, Praha 1
Info: +420 222 519 451 / +420 222 220 989
Opening Hours: Monday-Friday: 06.30 – 19.00
Saturday: 09.00 – 15.00
- Sisters, located near the Naměstí Republiky square.
They offer a modern twist to the typical Czech dish. They love to experiment with their sandwiches, and trust me, they end up looking like a work of art, and on top of that, they taste like a piece of heaven too! Plus, each chlebíček tells a unique story, just ask the staff, they’ll be happy to explain. Bonus: This month’s special is steak tartare on fried bread.
Address: Dlouhá 39, Praha 1110 00 Prague 1
Info:+420 775 991 975. [email protected]
Opening hours: Monday–Friday: 8:00–20:00
This deli is the families’ favourite, and no wonder: their offer is huge, the products are always fresh, and they have enough room to fit a whole stadium in. They owe their fame to two things: great cakes and even better chlebíčky, so don’t be surprised when you see the huge queues just go with the flow and join them, you will not be disappointed, we guarantee that! In fact, Ovocný Světozor is so famous that it has several locations all over Prague. Here are some central locations:
Address: Pasáž Světozor, Vodičkova 39, 110 00 Nové Město
Opening hours: Monday-Friday: 08-20.30
Address:Havlíčkova 1682/15, 110 00 Nové Město
Opening hours: Monday-Friday: 08-19.00
Of course, if you want first-hand, local info about this famous dish be sure to take part in our food tours, such as “Evening Prague: Traditional Czech Food Tour in Old Town,” or “Prague Food by Food.” Chlebíčky are a Czech classic for a good reason, and they surely are the stars of all our food tours!
October 9, 2019