Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Czech Food Icon: The Rohlík

Everyone has their own view of what defines the Czech foodscape.  After nearly four years of living and eating in this country, I feel I deserve to weigh in on the matter. Thus, I present to you the humble rohlík - a bullet-shaped bread roll.

Now, this bread roll is no ordinary bread roll. First of all, it's simply too skinny to slice in half, stuff with meat and veg, and call it a sub sandwich. So it looses most of its practical value from this American's perspective. Its oblong shape presented a challenge to me at first. The top is not flat enough to spread jam on it. It kinda slides off. Peanut butter has the staying power necessary, but you just won't find Skippy, Jif, or the rest of the gang in the Czech supermarkets.

Since I never found a suitable purpose for them, I pretty much stopped eating rohlík altogether (save for a three-day stay in the local hospital, where my upset tummy was given nothing but stale rohlík). Once I stopped looking for rohlík, I noticed rohlík started looking for me. Really. They started popping up everywhere. The first spotting was when a friend gave me a ride to the train station. She popped open the trunk for my bags and, lo and behold, there he was. A single rohlík staring at us from the trunk. No groceries, no bag it fell out of, it was just rolling there. She shrugged it off, but I knew this was the beginning of something strange.

The second sighting was kayaking on the Vltava. Amid peaceful canoers and rowdy party-rafters, there he was again. A rohlík slightly bobbing in the water, letting the current show him a good time. After these, and numerous other sightings, I decided proof was needed. I saw him while walking down the street, casually resting on the ledge of a building


A little while later, I saw a half-rohlík reserving one of the washing machines in the laundry café.


Nothing beats, however, the rohlík I spied one sunny afternoon. Someone had lodged the poor guy into the tram-stop sign! (Note: I was not that someone, promise!)

And then, passersby had the gall to look at me as if I'm the strange duck for taking a picture of it! That's when I knew that the rohlík is truly the quintessential Czech food item. They are everywhere! They originate in big bins in the supermarkets and bakeries, where people buy them up by the dozens. In the mornings, you can see students and working chaps carrying around clear baggies with 5 or 6 of them. I imagine their favourite spread is somewhere in their backpacks. It seems many here use the rohlík as a dipping rod, scooping up a radish/mayo/cheese spread or something similar. One expat site has posted a lengthy discussion among foreigners regarding what they put on their rohlík. Solutions spanned the basics (butter, honey, vegemite, nutella) to the more gourmet (salmon and goat cheese, or haggis). The main debate centered around to cut, or not to cut? I empathize. I too want to treat it like a sub, or baguette, and slice that sucker open. But I've learned my lesson. There's simply not enough room or surface area to make stuffing it full worth it.

If you've got pictures of 'rohlíks on the run', I'd be glad to post them...just send me an email!

The only question that remains: What do you put on your rohlík?

Dobrou Chut'/ Enjoy!

4 comments:

  1. If you are not one of the lucky dwellers of Czech Rep, and want to spend an hour of your time to get your very own rohlíky, try this link

    http://www.praguepost.com/archivescontent/39301-filling-the-need.html

    I've heard it's got one of the best rohlík recipes out there!

    ReplyDelete
  2. My grandma always prepared for my breakfast two 'salty' (dusted with crystals of salt, variation of rohlik) rohliks, sliced at lenght to get two halfs, filled with butter and few slices of ham.

    I just got this imprinted in my mind and sometimes I do it again. Buy a few rohliks and prepare it with butter and ham inside.
    Otherwise I avoid these bakery, it is like some dummy filling for you stomach, not food really.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I like that you can still indulge in your grannies 'comfort food' :)

    Now you've got me thinking about stuffing it with ham and cheese and sticking it in a grill machine. Mmmm...hot and melted cheese would def improve the taste!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Thats good old trick, you seem to be in czech long enough! My flatmates do this with older 'gummy' rohliks, toaster makes them crunchy and delicous :D

    Though I tried it just once. This way of rohlik preparation utterly reveal its nutrition properties.

    But there is one more sure use for rohliks. When you grate old stony rohliks you will get fine breadcrumb. Only breadcrumb at our home origins in the rohliks.

    ReplyDelete

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