The popular Czech špekáček : unhealthy for your body, but so good for your soul

Špekáček, photo: Magdalena Kašubová

The traditional špekáček – a short fat sausage best roasted on a stick over a campfire – is a Czech summer staple. It is a treat that Czechs associate with their childhood and one that is linked to socializing on carefree summer evenings when friends get together, roast sausages over a campfire, drink beer and talk long into the night. The špekáček – which literally translates as “fattie” is more than just food – it is a phenomenon that links people across generations.

Špekáček,  photo: Daniel Konewka
A circle of friends sit around a campfire on a forest clearing on a warm summer’s night. They talk, laugh and sing much-loved tramping songs to the sound of a guitar. Children chase each other around the fire and eventually someone hands out the špekáčky – stocky, short sausages -which are sliced at the ends and pierced on sticks of wood to be roasted over the fire until they are reddish-brown, crisp and dripping with grease. This summer staple is eaten with mustard and a slice of bread and downed by cold beer drunk straight out of a bottle. Health food advocates would be aghast, but as Jaroslav explains for many Czechs the špekáček is more than just food.

“In the Czech Republic the špekáček is a social thing. It tastes best when you eat it with other people, when you are sitting around a campfire, singing, playing the guitar and relaxing. That is what it is about. In the company of friends the špekáček tastes twice as good.”

People enjoy this form of socializing on weekends spent in the country, away from the bustle of big cities, but many family gardens here in Prague and other big cities have a campfire where friends meet on hot summer evenings to relax and spend time together over a tasty špekáček and beer.

Barbora, a student in Prague, says she looks forward to getting out of the city for this simple summer treat. She says there’s a special charm to eating food with your hands, out in the open, with friends.

“I must admit that I adore špekáčky. It is my favourite food. Sometimes, just for the feeling of easting a špekáček again, I’ll put one on the grill, but it tastes nowhere near as good as the ones you roast over a campfire. One of my friends has a cottage up in the mountains and we go there quite often with a group of friends. Špekáčky are part of the experience – we talk, we sing, we eat spekáčky and are glad to be together. It is very intimate and very nice.”

Photo: Magdalena Kašubová

The famous Czech špekáček has been around for over 120 years. It is believed to have made an appearance sometime in the second half of the 19th century. The first written records of it date back to the Agrarian Fair in Prague in 1891. The original recipe stressed the importance of using quality meat and respecting the stated amount of fat. The traditional špekáček was meant to contain 50 percent rump beef, 20 percent pork without skin and 30 percent fat. It was seasoned with garlic, pepper and a touch of nutmeg.

Photo: Daniel Konewka
In 2011, the špekáček was placed on the European Commission’s list of traditional Czech specialties.

Today there are dozens of recipes and every region, meat shop and delicatessen will offer you a wide variety of špekáčky to choose from. Food expert Petr Pipek from the Prague University of Chemistry and Technology says it pays to go for the authentic špekáček and choose with care.

“Today the market offers a wide variety of products at a variety of prices. The really good ones are labelled “traditional guaranteed specialty” with a blue sun or bear the label “traditional Czech specialty” in Czech or English.”

Other sausages closely resembling the špekáček may come under the name vuřt, buřt or opekáček – but they are only distantly related to the original product.”

So if you come to the Czech Republic and decide to try one –remember to get the real thing and keep in mind the fact that no matter how well it was made a špekáček will never taste good if you eat it alone.

Photo: Daniel Konewka
Invite your friends and the špekáček will take you to a long-forgotten world – a world where people had the time to meet and talk for hours on end instead of texting each other, when they played the guitar and sung instead of listening to a CD and when they didn’t count calories but bit into a crisp roasted sausage, dripping with grease to swallow it down with beer drunk straight out of a can or bottle.

Today this experience is a brief escape from the hustle and bustle of our busy lives and a fleeting nostalgic memory of our childhood.

Jaroslav says that this short, unhealthy roll of meat is much more than it seems.

“The špekáček has been a part of my life since childhood, as it is with most Czechs. It is more than just a sausage. Once you have tasted a špekáček, you crave the taste for the rest of your life.”