Taste of Prague’s Jan Valenta on Prague’s food renaissance

Taste of Prague is an Instagram page, food tour business, and now a bistro run by husband and wife duo Jan Valenta and Zuzana Valenta Daňková. I spoke with Jan to talk about how the business has grown over the years, and how Prague’s food scene has developed and grown since they got started.

If you’re an avid food lover in Prague, chances are your Instagram algorithm has showed you content from the account Taste of Prague, run by husband and wife duo Jan Valenta and Zuzana Valenta Daňková.

But the pair do more than social media – they also run a food tour business here in Prague, guiding visitors through their favourite spots in the city. Jan explains:

“We’ve been running food tours in Prague for 12 years now, and it’s very simple; we take people to places in Prague they might not have visited, we order food they might not have ordered, and we tell them things that they wouldn’t google.

“It’s a lot of history, and my personal history.

“We try to explain the Czechs, because all food tours are really cultural tours, so we talk a lot about the present and history here in Prague and Czechia.

“When my wife and I travel, we always want to know how people live, and that’s what we want to provide to our guests.”

Providing an authentic local experience is important to the pair.

Jan says many tourists who are only visiting Prague for a few days tend to stick to the city centre, and miss out on the neighbourhoods where Czechs really live.

“We make it a point to always drag our guests out of the city centre to get them exposed to something more real.

“I think the theme of gentrification is universal, maybe here it happens along different lines, not ethnic lines very much because we don’t have ethnic diversity in the way other countries do.

“But along generational lines because I think the younger a neighbourhood is, the richer it becomes, there’s a different dynamic between how wealth is distributed along the age spectrum.

“I want our guests to notice how young people are when we walk into a restaurant, and ask ‘why aren’t there older people here', so we talk to them about this.”

The pair didn’t always work in the food business, as Jan explains, his wife Zuzana, or Zuzi, was a lawyer before they started taste of Prague.

“Zuzi was a lawyer, but she didn’t like it, it just wasn’t her calling.

“She struggled, and I told her ‘we don’t have a mortgage, we don’t have kids, just leave.’

“So she left, and she always gravitated towards food. We were travelling and we saw a food tour in San Sebastian in Spain, and we didn’t go, but we saw that it existed.

“Zuzi thought ‘I could do this’, and it was around the time Lokal and Čestr opened, and it was like the first modern Czech restaurants.

“Before that, Czech cuisine was relegated mostly to blue collar, working class food.

“But at that time when we started, it was like a resurrection of Czech food that had begun.

“People stopped seeing Czech cuisine as communist heritage, it can also be like a grandma’s tradition. The narrative around Czech cuisine began to change.”

After starting the food tours, in 2017 a guest on one of the trips showed the couple Instagram, a new app the couple weren’t yet using.

Photo: StockSnap,  Pixabay,  Pixabay License

Since then, they’ve grown their page, garnering 113,000 followers.

As Jan says, the Instagram is a gesture for guests who join them on tours to guide them towards their next bite in the city.

“We thought of it as a service to our guests primarily. We understand that people come here for three days and our tours only last four hours.

“So inevitably, people have to find other places to eat during their stay, so we give them tips.

“We’ve been doing this for 12 years now, so we’re pretty connected with the restaurant owners and chefs, so we usually know something is opening way before it opens.

“It’s also a very small pond, Prague is not a huge metropolis and what I would call ‘quality cuisine’ is not a huge group of people.”

Those recommendations they provide are ever changing given the development of the food scene in Prague.

But Jan says the diversity when it comes to different foods from other ethnicities still needs some time to develop.

“I think the Vietnamese community here in Prague has made the scene a little more earnest about the fact that there are other foods besides Czech cuisine.

“I think we have a way to go – but I think Czechs are pretty well travelled given what they earn.

“Czechs as a nation really like to travel, so I think many people have a good idea of what is out there, what is authentic and what is not authentic, but it doesn’t apply to all the cuisines I think.”

That interest in new cuisines and quality food, comes from the younger generations of Czechs, Jan believes.

“I think the younger generation has reached a level of affluence that they can support the restaurants that exist here.

"It’s about that a lot and I think it’s a global trend that people care about what they eat.

“It’s a cool thing with Instagram too, you can take a picture of what you just ate, so it’s important to people.”

Jan and Zuzana have also opened a new business venture – Sodo Bistro in Prague 6 – as a place to build a Taste of Prague community. Jan describes his favourite aspect of the new business.

“I think it’s meeting the people, I really like the people who work in the food industry. It’s just the sense of community.

“We opened the bistro four months ago. The frustrating part of running the Taste of Prague tours is that you don’t have regulars.

“You see people once in your lifetime for four hours, and you just share a fraction of your life with them, and they share a fraction of theirs, and you’re never going to see them again.”

Photo: neshom,  Pixabay,  Pixabay License

That absence of regular customers and a strong community was the vision that led Jan and the rest of the team to make Sodo a place where guests would keep returning.

“We wanted to open a bistro where – I know this sounds like a cliché – but we wanted to open a place where we could build a community around it.

“I really wanted to open Cheers – where everyone knows your name.

“Turns out we opened The Bear! The first month was so crazy, everyone was depressed and a little shell shocked.

“But I wanted to open a neighbourly place, and I think that’s what I like most about the food industry – the sense of community.”

It’s been a busy few months for Jan and the rest of the Taste of Prague team, and with tourist season in full swing, his schedule is booked.

“It’s high season right now with Taste of Prague, so I’ve got my work cut out for me! I can’t imagine doing anything else right now.”