Search for authenticity driving “insider” tour trend, says Mirka Charlotte Kostelková of Eating Prague Tours

Photo: Štěpánka Budková

Tailored tours for relatively small groups with particular interests have become a trend in the tourism industry in recent times. One such excursion available in the Czech capital goes under the banner Eating Prague Tours and sees locals taking visitors to restaurants, cafés and food stores and offering them an “insider’s” insight into Czech cuisine. I discussed its services – and more – with Eating Prague Tours’ operations manager, Mirka Charlotte Kostelková.

Mirka Charlotte Kostelková, photo: Ian Willoughby
“We try to find some interesting places, off the beaten track, something that people would not find themselves if they just came to Prague.

“We try to avoid places that are in the guidebooks – something more local, but at the same time interesting. It should be everything together – food-wise and the place itself, maybe the history. These kinds of places.”

Do you focus on more high-end, better quality places, or more places for local people?

“It’s more places for local people, but we try to find good quality ingredients. I think this is something that is changing currently in the Czech Republic.

“Maybe before people wanted things that were really cheap – and a big quantity for a very cheap price. But now they are becoming more and more aware of the quality of ingredients, the quality of food and the quality of preparation.

“There are more and more new places that meet these standards. So yes, we’re trying to do something local but at the same time of high quality.”

Do you approach restaurants, or do they come to you, if they hear about what you’re doing?

“We are still quite new, so usually we approach them. But sometimes we also get proposals.”

I understand that you don’t only go to restaurants – where else do you take your tour groups?

“We do a selection of different places. We do a tour that is really varied. It can be restaurants but also cafés, bistros, butcher shops, bakeries. We have a brewery. So yes, it’s really a variety of places.”

How many stops are there on the tour, usually?

“At the moment we have seven, but it might change – we might have six maybe.”

When you take people on these tours, what Czech foods are foreign visitors most interested in?

Chlebíčky, photo: Štěpánka Budková
“I would say some people have an idea about Czech cuisine and others don’t really know what to expect; maybe they have heard about dumplings or that meat is a big thing here. But usually they don’t know much more.”

“So I would say they are surprised, because we try to present them with open-faced sandwiches, for example…”

Chlebíčky.

“Chlebíčky, yes – the traditional ones but also the modern version that we have today. For example, we have an open-faced sandwich with beetroot spread, goat-milk cheese and a sweetened walnut on it. So they are surprised and they really like it.”

“Then we have sauerkraut soup. Some people just imagine the sauerkraut they get with hot dogs back home… Most people would not expect it to be something good and then they are amazed. The sauerkraut soup is actually their favourite food on the tour, usually.”

As for the particular places you bring your guests, which are the most popular?

“Again it would be the place where we have the sauerkraut soup. It’s in a tower that was built 600 years ago. It’s a bell tower. People love the place and they love the food.”

Where is it?

“It’s the St. Henry’s Tower – Jindřišská věž.”

Jindřišská věž, photo: archive of Radio Prague
Tell me, where are your favourite places to eat in Prague?

“This is difficult to say because there’s so many places. But actually there’s one place that we have on the tour, Choco Café.

“I really enjoy their Hořice rolls, hořické trubičky. They’re amazing because they serve them with dark hot chocolate. You dip the rolls, which are filled with home-made whipped cream, into the chocolate. The combination is just amazing.”

You were telling me you’ve lived in France. You’ve travelled a lot and lived in different places in the world. How do you find that Czech food compares with food from other countries?

“Well, the traditional cuisine is not so light. It’s a little bit heavy, sometimes.

“But I would say that it’s changing. The eating habits of Czechs are changing. Maybe before they were working more manually, and now they’re more in the office.”

They can’t afford to eat all that heavy food?

“Yes, exactly. Maybe they eat that kind of food once a week, at the weekend when they go to visit their grandmother or something like this. But it’s getting more international and lighter during the week. I can enjoy many international places.”

There are many great international restaurants in Prague. Have you considered introducing something similar for non-Czech places?

“I don’t think our company is ready for this – we are a young company. But I think the idea of an ethnic tour would be interesting.

“Or an alternative health tour would be nice, because there are so many vegetarian places. Even raw food is a new trend – there are maybe seven raw food restaurants in Prague at the moment, which is quite a lot.”

Sauerkraut soup, photo: archive of Radio Prague
As somebody who has travelled a lot, how do you find the standard of restaurants in Prague, both in terms of what they serve and the price?

“I think it’s getting better, and I’m really pleased to see this. Maybe before it was really expensive to eat in the centre, but I think today you can find decent restaurants in the centre with decent prices and good quality.”

Why do the people who go on your tour do so? Why do they want to be brought to particular places? Why don’t they just find whatever they find, or use a guidebook?

“Actually some of these places they would probably not find themselves, because they are not in guidebooks, they are really local places.

“And also because we put some added value into the tour. We talk to them about the history of Czech cuisine, why we eat these foods, how we prepare them and how it has changed throughout the years.

“On the way we also have some of what we call ‘digestion stops’. For example, we talk about David Černý and his artworks. These are things they are not going to find out if they just walk in town.”

Also one thing about Prague – there are so many restaurants in the city centre that seem to exist only for tourists. Nobody would ever go twice to these places – there are so many terrible restaurants in Prague.

“And it’s surprising that they can survive, because today there’s like TripAdvisor but apparently they can still exist.”

Photo: Ian Willoughby
Your company isn’t the only one doing this kind of service. There are others doing food tours and others doing tailored, insider tours. Why do you think this is becoming a popular trend today?

“I think it’s something that is more global. It’s something that is not only in the Czech Republic but it’s probably in the whole world – that there are food tours that are just springing up.

“Maybe it’s linked with globalisation, because everything is becoming more international. It’s harder to find a real, local experience.

“And people are looking for this. It’s not so easy to find, it’s something more authentic. It gives some special, I don’t know, special experience to their visit, to their stay in Prague.”