Topinky in Prague
Every year in April, the small Czech city of Pardubice hosts a small, friendly co-ed softball tournament. Teams come from Czechia, Germany, Belgium, and the U.K.—our team, a ragtag collection of players from various teams in London’s considerable number of softball leagues, a large but close-knit community boosted by thousands of expats from the world’s baseball and softball nations.
The Czechs, too, have a robust softball scene. Pardubice, 60 miles east of Prague with a population of 90,000, has several local teams. (The tournament is organized by a team called Wayne’s World, because their captain is named Wayne, naturally.) Pardubice is a factory-heavy city famous for its gingerbread. It’s not exactly buzzing, but after several tours there, we’ve gradually discovered some things: a very happening Irish bar and a wonderfully cheesy night club called Excalibur.
Back in London, weekend summer softball tournaments are pretty much a day-drinking endurance exercise, with team coolers of beer cracked open for 10 a.m. game times, so a weekend in Czechia would be no different. We dutifully started racking up the glasses of Pilsner soon as we arrived (and at just one pound each, we all agreed, it would be rude not to).
After the tournament, some of us spent a few more days in Prague. The beer was excellent and plentiful, the food was consistently delicious—but the real highlight was the humble topinky, a common starter dish or beer snack in Prague’s unpretentious beer taverns. A staple garlic bread, it’s just those flat, oval slices of rye bread (and it really should be rye or brown bread) fried in oil, then served with chunks of peeled garlic clove to grate/rub into the bread’s rough, toasted surface while it’s still hot. It was crunchy and addictive, and tasted not unlike the Hungarian langos, but was far less greasy. I liked the sharpness of the just-smashed garlic paired with the wash of cold, watery beer.
Topinky was a revelation. Where had this simple but genius snack been all my life, growing up in Vienna, just 180 miles west along the Danube river? Why did the Austrians not have the good sense to adopt this way of making garlic bread when the Austro-Hungarian Empire stretched across Bohemia?
In an act of carb-pairing heroism, for a final meal, we went to one of the countless beer taverns just to order a few plates of topinky to go with our last heavy glasses of Pilsner. Now, it’s the only way I make garlic bread.
Photo by: Geolina163/Wikipedia Commons