Trying new foods is part of the fun of travelling, and over the years I’ve tried some strange ones indeed, including things like scorpions and guinea pig. On my recent visit to Prague, I dined in some of the city most interesting eateries, but there was one treat you don’t get in a restaurant. It’s called a trdelnik.
What’s a trdelnik? The word looks like it’s missing a vowel, but it’s pronounced almost like “turtle neck”. And it’s a traditional treat that’s been eaten by Czechs, Slovaks and other Central Europeans for a couple of hundred years — in fact, legend says it originally came from Transylvania. Nowadays it’s a popular street food, and a favourite with tourists; you see trdelnik stands all over downtown Prague.
Basically, a trdelnik is a sweet pastry that’s rolled into a long strip and wrapped around a pole (called the trdlo), then cooked over a low flame. The result is a long, tubular bun with a hole through the middle. And it does look delectable, golden brown and still steaming from the fire. Once it’s done, it’s traditionally rolled in sugar, and sometimes nuts. But these days, trdelniks have gone a bit nouveau: you can get them filled with chocolate, Nutella, caramel, jam or whatever’s in the pantry.
I passed any number of trdelnik bakeries as during my visit to Prague, but somehow it never seemed the right time to sample one: I was on my way somewhere, or I’d just eaten, or dinner time was looming. So when hunger pangs hit on my second-last night in town, I knew what was on the menu.
I ventured down near the Mustek station, a popular tourist area at the end of Wenceslas Square, and soon found a trdelnik shop, with its fires glowing cheerily in the dark. I stepped up to the counter and ordered my own trdelnik, traditional style – no chocolate, no Nutella. I wanted the authentic experience.
In a minute I had it, golden and warm and frosted with sugar. It took a lot of will power, but I delayed long enough to take a picture before I tucked in. It was surprisingly tender, more like a raised doughnut than a flaky croissant, and sweet, with a slightly nutty flavour. It was also quite rich and filling: I’m not a big eater, and halfway through, I was done. The rest was for breakfast.
So, I’d seen Prague Castle, walked the Charles Bridge, watched the glockenspiel in Old Town Square, and drunk the good Czech beer. And now I’d tasted a trdelnik in Prague: it was time to go home.