Walking tours have to be the most cost-effective way to explore a city, to get to know likeminded people and find out that little bit extra that only a befriended local guide could tell you. We had signed up for walking tours in almost every city, and received much more than the gratuity we offered up deserved. Our guides in Prague, on both the Old town and Jew Quarter, as well as the Castle tour, were brilliant and passionate ambassadors for their city and country, putting in a concerted effort to make sure all of us went away even more excited about their city than before.
The tours tend to last two to four hours, with several stoppages in between. There is usually a short lunch break in the middle, but the rest of the stops are for introductions to certain historical facts tied to a certain place, or to myths and legends associated with lesser known landmarks. Great guides tend to be great storytellers, and ours were no less able to create animated narratives which sharpened the enlivening context with which we looked upon the city of Prague.
We had originally signed up for just one tour, but were peer pressured into undertaking a different one in the afternoon. This effectively meant that we walked around the uneven cityscape of Prague for over five hours before we were done, and were pretty hungry and exhausted by the end after denying ourselves food until we could properly sit down and eat. We were well and truly pining for a nice ice-cold beer and some traditional Czech grub.
Lokal, Prague’s premier institution for affordable and homely Czech cuisine, was the place was where our research took us. It would have been easy to pick up a sausage and chips at one of the stands in the main square, in this case Wenceslas, but our desire for a pint encouraged us to go to find a place that did both food and drink, and did them well.
From the outside, the Lokal we visited looked rather small, about the size of your average dive or pub around the corner. But once entered you soon realise that the place goes much deeper, and opens up into a high ceilinged elongated space that reminded me very much of old cafeterias that fed strongly populated industrial workforces. The Lokal interior design was simple: wooden furniture, white walls turned beige with age, concrete arches, and narrow windows just below the ceiling to let in some natural light. Even though the place was bigger than expected, it still managed to hold on to a cosy and comfortable feel about itself.
We sat ourselves down, instead of waiting to be sat, because we read that people didn’t do that in Prague. People would rather stare at you awkwardly, awaiting you to do something, than go through the frankly unnecessary bother of leading you to a seat. I suppose it is alright in restaurants with certain pretensions, but there was not of that here. Not long after we found a nice spot by the wall, our waiter with a rationed smile nodded at us as he walked past and placed two Lokal menu sheets in front of us on the table. Unfortunately, however, the whole thing was in Czech.
Maddy cheekily pushed both menus to me without a word and began organising her photo albums on her phone. Having me around allowed her the luxury of taking the back seat in situations where one had to sometimes awkwardly interact with those who might not speak English. Funnily enough, and much to our comfort, most of the people we spoke to on our trip did speak our language, which made things a lot easier.
Before signalling down a waiter, I thought I’d try and match some of the Czech on the Lokal menu to the names of dishes on my list. I had only made it through the starters before our server, on his second pass, without a word, replaced the menus with English ones right from under my nose. I raised my head to thank him but he had already walked off holding a heavy tray of about six mugs of beer to a table of three in front of us.
We learned later from one of our guides that people in Prague liked to drink all of their beer before the head lowered by half. Though our pints did hold on to their foam for more than a few minutes, it seemed incredible that people drank so quickly and still maintained reign over their senses. Each table was given a piece of card with about a hundred small printed pint glasses to tick off to keep track of how much one drank. I made a mental note to, on our wait out, sneak a peek at the card on the table with the six pints to see their ‘score’.
In anticipation of our own Pilsners, we excitedly put a line through two printed pints. By the time they arrived, and I am not exaggerating, the aforementioned neighbouring table were calling for their next half dozen. I think it is important to bear in mind that this was happening all around us, not at just this one table, at half past noon.
Our food was able to give us some insight into how Prague natives stayed sober. Everything we ordered, recommended to us by the waiter, was robust and gratifying, demonstrating an obvious propensity for alcohol sponging. We had a creamy almost porridge textured lentil soup accompanied with some crunchy bread, and an assortment of slender sausages with a savoury whipped cream to start. For our mains, ordered purely for the sake of variety rather than necessity, Maddy ordered an utterly tremendous plate of fried cheese and buttered potatoes for herself, and for me a plate of indulgently sauced pork cheeks and dumplings – the latter said to be a limited feature on the menu. While mine was tasty and immensely flavourful, Maddy’s was probably one of the most addictively good dishes I had ever tried. Her fried cheese was a cutlet of crispy breaded gooey Eidam cheese with a light sprinkling of garlicky white sauce, that not only looked incredibly appetising but gave visitors pass to comfort food heaven. If it weren’t for the fact that we were awfully full, a state that cannot be helped in Prague as we were beginning to leave, we would have definitely had more.
As I paid the bill I remembered to check our neighbours’ card. They had over twenty scratched pint glasses and showed no sign of stopping. Maddy and I ended our afternoon on two, with the risk of passing out after any more, just with how well fed we were. Lokal is a great place to come for a large yet affordable meal. They also have arguably the best fried cheese in the country, so it is worth visiting if only for that.